EDITOR’S NOTE: Kenneth L. Woodward was the religion writer at Newsweek from 1964-2002. He is the author of various books on religion, politics, Catholicism and culture, including “Getting Religion — Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama.”


I never went to journalism school or took a journalism course. I learned on the job under a superb editor who never finished college. 

Reading Terry Mattingly and his crew of smart contributors at GetReligion over the years was like that on-the-job training. 

I especially relished the here’s-what’s-missing pieces pointing out the religion gaps in stories (“ghosts,” in GetReligion-speak), including essential questions that were not asked, core facts that were omitted and perspectives not sought.

Then there were the many can-you-hear-the-axes-grinding stories pointing out where ideology got in the way of basic reporting.

Also, there were the atta-boy pieces, too, that showered measured appreciation on work well done, angles found that no one else had noticed. That was the other side of the equation.

At Newsweek, where I labored for more years than Job had boils, once a story had been written and survived three layers of editors, we writers still had fact-checkers to answer to: Where’d you get that? Who was your source?

GetReligion did some of that too. But gently. More gently than I am inclined to do. 

Mattingly and his mates could do all this because they think religion is an important dimension of public life and affairs, especially on matters tied to the First Amendment.

This would make them outliers in most newsrooms. I have the feeling that most of the folks who have written for GetReligion are religiously formed and convicted themselves, in various traditions. Which makes sense: I’ve always thought that those take their own religion seriously are better able than the religiously indifferent to grasp religions not their own. 

I like very much what Terry told Religion News Service: “Opinion is cheap,” he said. “Reporting is expensive.”

That’s a big reason why newspapers have virtually disappeared. Newsmagazines too: It took bags of money to run bureaus around the world. It takes a smaller bag, but a bag nonetheless, to keep an operation like GetReligion running. Too much, I take it.

There is nothing I’m aware of to take its place.

Hail and Farewell. It was a hell of a ride.


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