Rediscovering Religion — Religion Coverage: Past as Prologue? (2003)

Religion Coverage: Past as Prologue?
(Copyright) The Poynter Institute Poynter Reports, May 2003

Lou Grant had a problem.

Actually, the city editor of the classic TV comedy had two problems.

First of all, the fictional Los Angeles Tribune had lost its religion editor and no self-respecting journalist wanted the job. Second, Grant needed to ditch a lazy, often-drunk, no-good reporter named Mal Cavanaugh.

Finally, Grant saw the light. He told Cavanaugh he was the new religion editor.

"That stinks! Before you stick me with a lousy job like that, I'd quit," said the reporter, before storming out of the room.

Grant's staff beamed. The religion beat was still vacant, but who cared?

That scenario rang true to the editors and religion reporters I interviewed while doing my graduate work at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, researching a project that reached the cover of The Quill in January, 1983.

Many religion-beat veterans were proud of their work, but felt like Rodney Dangerfield in their newsrooms. Editors kept saying that they knew religion was news, but that religion-beat stories seemed too boring, or too controversial, to warrant dedicated coverage.

That's the ticket -- too boring and too controversial.