July 16, 2001
More News of Religion News
-- Martin E. Marty
Though enticed by the debate over stem cell research and similar stories, this week we'll follow-up on last week's column regarding religion coverage on national television. The purpose this week is to help subscribers keep developing their own do-it-yourself kits for scanning the horizon.
We mentioned that when ABC's "World News Tonight" fired of their pro, Peggy Wehmeyer (for budgetary reasons, among others), not much was left on the networks. In this columnist's dated vocabulary and archaic worldview, " the networks" meant ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS, which meant that only "Religion & Ethics Newsweekly" came to mind and received notice and support.
But since Sightings appeared last Monday, numbers of other folk, including readers and broadcasters, responded. Dare I admit that we don't have cable and are not as alert to its offerings? On cable, friend Bill Turpie reminds us, is "Odyssey Weekly." It's a long-time coverer of news that is now also moving into the reflection-on-religion business. As they say, "Consult your local listings . . ."
Get used to the "old friend" business here: old friend T. George Harris also checked in and reminded me of the digital world by referring to Beliefnet, which gets five thousand postings a day. I guess that qualifies as "mass medium." Don't carp about the loss of an outlet, says Harris, who shares my anti-carping instinct: mention alternatives. Do something.
Meanwhile Deborah Caldwell, former colleague of Peggy Wehmeyer at the Dallas Morning News and herself now at Beliefnet, seconds the Harris motion. Beliefnet is signing on to do background work and polling for ABC, remind both Caldwell and Jocelyn Weiss. The fruits of this alliance have already appeared in poll-driven stories on stem cell research and abortion.
Jason DeRose, a former student (this sounds clubby, doesn't it!), reminds us to remind you that National Public Radio has a full-time religion correspondent, Duncan Moon (listen to his latest story here), a full-time religion editor, Loretta Williams, and a freelance budget for hiring people like DeRose. NPR is almost a religion at the Marty house; we are dependent on it, yes.
John Stackhouse, another long-time friend, suggested another strategy, since he -- like many other correspondents -- also appreciated Peggy Wehmeyer's work at ABC: call for ABC to reconsider its decision. Do we have any ideas, Stackhouse asks, as to how people with religious interests can make themselves heard by the networks?