Postscript: Why the column ended, and “now what”?

16 Jan

As today’s column says, my weekly “Face to Faith” column in the Johnson City (Tenn.) Press has ended. My column did not explain why.

The column is another casualty of the shaky economics of the newspaper business. The editors decided to end my column as one of their cost-cutting measures. It wasn’t that expensive, but I guess things add up, and a “freelance” column (rather than being from the Press staff), it was an obvious target for the accountant’s spreadsheet.

The Johnson City Press is a midsize paper in midsize town, so I don’t expect this change to rattle any windows in New York City or Chicago. (Read that last clause in a dry, ironic tone of voice.) But this move could be read as another example of two trends: the erosion of local journalism and the erosion of religion coverage.

In the short term, this kind of change makes financial sense. Wire-service copy is quicker and cheaper than consistently good on-the-ground reporting. But in the Internet age, local newspapers and other news outlets actually have one exclusive commodity to sell: consistently good on-the-ground local coverage. Then there’s the point about good journalism being necessary for a functioning democracy and other such high-minded notions.  In a more perfect world, owners of news organizations, including newspapers, would bite the bullet in the short term to safeguard and build up their real franchise for the long run. In other words, they would choose to support solid local journalism, both as good citizens and as good businesspeople.

As for religion coverage, we come back to an argument made again and again by many people: how can we understand our world without understanding religion? If we scan headlines from around the world, we can find matters of faith, religion, spirituality and ethics every day. I’m not referring to the obvious ones, either (“Pope Forgives Assailant”). As today’s column suggests, a strong religion vein runs through many of the biggest or more important stories, often not very deeply (Just this week: Haiti … French marriage … health care … the Middle East (always) … Kurt Warner …). I may be biased, but I’m not sure it’s the wisest move for news organizations to reduce or eliminate their religion coverage at this particular point in history.

Thus endeth the lesson.

As for this blog: I will leave it in place for now but will take a break for a few weeks. I’m not sure what will come next, but I’ll get back to you about that. In the meantime, I’ll be glad to receive your comments, suggestions, ideas and questions, and I’ll respond as soon as I can. In the meantime, best wishes.

Grace and peace to you.

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One Response to “Postscript: Why the column ended, and “now what”?”

  1. Mary Jackson January 16, 2010 at 2:46 pm #

    I really appreciate the explanation as I was a bit shocked when I read my paper this morning. There are so few parts of local papers that are actually local, that it saddens me to see one of the very best local parts is gone (I’ll fire off an angry email soon).

    Thank you for the years of balanced and insightful comments about a wide variety of religions in this area. You provided welcome perspective and I frequently learned a few things. I also enjoyed the follow up discussions at church and around the lunch table. I do hope you will continue the blog in some way.

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