In the past year, financial challenges have prompted cutbacks in religion coverage in newspapers.
The Dallas Morning News eliminated its religion section in early January. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution folded its Faith and Values section into the Living pages. The Wichita Eagle plans to cut its religion editor position, and other newspapers are removing their religion beats.
"In a time of flat revenues, we simply could not generate the advertising to break even on the section," said Bob Mong, editor of The Dallas Morning News. "I don't think any paper in the country tried harder than we did over the years."
Mong helped develop the religion section in 1994, but sees more potential now for online reporting in blogs and newsletters. The Dallas Morning News website has seen more page hits on its religion blog than it did for its religion section online, he said.
"I like the idea of a section. I obviously believed in the section approach to give the subject more visibility," Mong said. "It had a very strong and loyal readership, but there came a time when we simply had to make some difficult choices."
The media industry posted nearly twice as many job losses in 2006 as in 2005, according to the outplacement company Challenger, Gray, and Christmas.
"Unfortunately, with a lot of the cutbacks in newspapers right now, the religion beat is seen as expendable," said Charles Overby, who heads the Freedom Forum. "Eliminating religion reporters is, at best, an economic advantage that could cause longer term problems."
Overby, a former newspaper editor and part of USA Today's management, said he has seen religion coverage improve over the past five years and hopes the trend will continue.
"The tendency of newspapers is to look at the quirky ...1