Three religion reporters leave dailies, but the job isn’t vanishing

Get Religion

St. Louis Post-Dispatch religion reporter Tim Townsend is leaving the paper for the Pew Research Center. He’s the third religion reporter at a daily to leave in recent weeks: Ann Rodgers is leaving the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to become the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh’s communications director, and Tennessean religion reporter Bob Smietana is heading to Christian publisher Lifeway.

“In journalism, we all know that three examples make a trend,” Bobby Ross Jr. writes, wondering “why no one wants to cover the religion beat anymore.” That may be overstating the case a bit, he allows.

Last fall, Pew reported that nearly 20 percent of Americans said they were unaffiliated with any religion. At the time, Huffington Post religion reporter Jaweed Kaleem told Poynter that stat didn’t mean his job had suddenly gotten 1/5 easier: “If one in five adults is a quote ‘none,’ then absolutely you have to achieve a sense of parity in your reporting and cover every kind of religion or lack thereof,” he said.

A Pew poll released last year said only 19 percent of Americans thought journalists were “friendly” toward religion.

But is religion reporting on the downswing? Is it even correct to say there are fewer staff jobs reporting on religion? The Post-Gazette plans to fill Rodgers’ spot, Executive Editor David Shribman told Poynter in an email, and the Post-Dispatch will fill Townsend’s spot, Editor-in-Chief Gilbert Bailon said. Tennessean Executive Editor Maria De Varenne says her paper is “looking to fill the position in the future.”

But Nancy Haught, who reported on religion for the Oregonian, told Poynter in an email she’d been laid off.

“My impression is that coverage of many topical beats, including science, environment, and health as well as religion, have been cut back at many papers as staff and news hole have shrunk,” Pew’s Alan Cooperman wrote in an email to Poynter, adding that “there is still a lot of good reporting” and noting Religion News Service in particular.

That service is based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, which is also home to the Religion Newswriters Association.

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  • Guest

    Yes, I think it’s correct to say there are fewer
    staff jobs reporting on religion. When I
    was laid off from the job in November at the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale,
    the position was simply cut. The paper published no local religion story for Christmas
    or Easter. I don’t know if the Miami Herald cut its religion writer position,
    but no one replaced Jaweed Kaleem after he left in 2011.

  • mfarmer

    What a privilege it has been to work with so many talented and committed religion reporters over the years. Too many of them are no longer actively covering the beat, but we all still remember them. Dick Ostling, Mark Pinsky, Helen Gray and Cathy Grossman, just to name a few. Now the loss of these three influential religion writers. Godspeed to you all and we hope to still see you at RNA.