May I have a brief moment, please, to ask a question to my fellow religion-beat reporters?

I have a style question for you folks. Has the ever-evolving Associated Press stylebook addressed the issue of whether the news beat on which we work is also called the “God beat,” the “Godbeat,” the “godbeat” or maybe the “gods beat”?

Just asking. I asking that question because many GetReligion readers may have seen the Religion News Service piece by Bob Smietana that ran with this double-decker headline:

After 20 years, Terry Mattingly bids farewell to GetReligion

Religion reporting still matters, Mattingly says, but the internet’s ‘preaching to the choir’ algorithms have won out

In that news piece for mainstream newspapers, Smietana went with “ ‘God beat’ specialists” when describing religion-beat professionals. That’s interesting, since I have always seen “Godbeat” as the official nickname (at least for old-timers like me).

I should stress that Smietana and I talked for 90 minutes for this piece, after quite a few long conversations over the years. It’s a remarkably kind piece, although I really wished some other GetReligionistas had been quoted.

I was glad that Smietana did this story. Last year, the media-ethics pro Aly Colon of Washington and Lee University asked me to nominate some speakers for a pair of Poynter seminars for journalists who, while they don’t work on the religion beat, their work frequently veers into religion territory. Smietana was one of the first reporters I mentioned, stressing that “while Bob and I have argued about lots of things for many years” he is a “pro’s pro on the beat who knows his stuff and he needs to be there.”

In this RNS feature, Smietana wrote:

A proud curmudgeon, Mattingly is known for his outspoken opinions and blunt criticism, as well as his loyalty and willingness to make friends with people he disagrees with.

“I don’t write people off. I don’t want them to write me off,” said Mattingly in a recent interview from his home in the mountains of Tennessee.

He also noted that for the “last 20 years, Mattingly has been best known as editor of GetReligion.org.” Well, that may be true among journalists and people on the platform previously known as Twitter, but I would argue that there are more readers of the “On Religion” column, which goes out to several hundred news publications of various forms.

However, I understand that this was a complicated reference and hard to handle in a concise manner. I’ve been writing that weekly column for 35 years and it began with the Scripps Howard News Service (#RIP), before switching (after 25 years) to what many still call the Universal syndicate. The name, these days, is Andrews McMeel Universal after a few years as Universal Uclick. Like I said — it’s complicated.

However, there are two important subjects that I wanted to thank Smietana for dwelling on in this feature. The first is the roots of the whole “blogging” phenomenon and the start of GetReligion. Here is a chunk of that (although I’d like to note that my friend and colleague LeBlanc spent some time in mainstream religion-beat work before moving into Anglican news platforms):

When he first launched GetReligion in 2004, with the help of Christian journalist Doug LeBlanc,  Mattingly said there was no long-term plan. Instead, he was intrigued by the idea of blogging, which then was beginning its heyday. He was inspired by Andrew Sullivan, a former senior editor of The Atlantic whose “Daily Dish” made him one of the so-called blogosphere’s first stars.

“The whole idea that you go online with no set word length, and this was key — have hyperlinks to stories — convinced me that this could be done. I knew it would always be controversial, and it would make people mad. But I always wanted people to be able to just click a link and go read the story for themselves.”

The site’s name was inspired by a comment from former New York Times editor Abe Rosenthal, who once complained that journalists don’t “get” religion, which caused them to miss important stories. That comment, said Mattingly, reminded him of the southern phrase about “getting religion.”

“We wanted people to realize that if you don’t spot religion, you miss stories,” he said.

Rosenthal was certainly an inspiration, but I would note that he was talking — in that quote — about the failure of journalists to “get” the importance of a specific story, as in the rising pool of blood surrounding the persecution of religious minorities around the world. I had also heard Bill Moyers of CBS News use a similar wording years earlier. Also, I connected that, in my mind, with the feminist mantra “they just don’t get it.”


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