Terry Mattingly had been my faithful friend of about a decade when he invited me to help him launch GetReligion.org at the start of February, 2004.

The timing was right. I had reached a point of uncertainty about what new direction my journalism career would take.

GetReligion became a rewarding place to continue writing and learning basic skills in working with World Wide Web platforms. For any platform nerds who are keeping score, my favorite software remains WordPress.

I was never quite at ease as a religion-beat critic, but I found a niche of critiquing heavily flawed material and praising articles that reflected an understanding of religion’s importance in journalism.

Looking back, I think these posts best represent moments of enjoying my work with GetReligion.

* Johnny Cash’s table fellowship (Sept. 22, 2004)

* Jimmy Swaggart and the hairy swamp monkey (Sept. 23, 2004)

* NASCAR, Cabela’s — and Catholicism? (Feb. 18, 2005)

* Rick Warren’s tipping point (Sept. 10, 2005)

* Esquire explains it all for you (Nov. 6, 2005)

* Gangster of love (Nov. 13, 2008)

* Covering Rep. Gabbard’s American path to Hinduism, including some complex, tricky details (June 18, 2019)

* If you feel snarky about missionary John Chau’s death, read this elegant GQ update (Sept. 3, 2019)

* Calling BS on NC-17 (April 30, 2020)

* Rolling Stone readers will be shocked: Flamy Grant’s cock-and-bull tale of oppression (Nov. 8, 2023)

I note with amusement that most of my favorite posts attracted zero likes, and a few fiery dissents.

That was a sign of things to come. I found, across the years, that the posts that I liked best or represented the most work met either with silence or hostility. Perhaps the obvious response to that trend was not to become emotionally invested in any posts, or to work less on them — to simply note some basic facts and move on.

Among GetReligion’s contributing writers, I’ve had the longest connection, but I came and went more than anyone else. I held GetReligion in a place of affection because tmatt has been a close friend since we first came to know each other as journalists who ran into one another at a retreat center in Colorado.

I can take some additional credit for suggesting that GetReligion launch a podcast and that tmatt consider working with Todd Wilken and Jeff Schwarz of Lutheran Public Radio to create it. I consider it a tribute to tmatt’s generous personality that he, as an adult convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, works with two prominent figures in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod week after week and that they enjoy each other’s company. I’m glad to hear that “Crossroads” will continue and, perhaps, even expand.

I wish it were possible to claim credit for an idea that helped GetReligion remain a permanent part of journalism conversations, but that has not been possible. Traditional American journalism, with its concern for finding and telling the truth with fairness, accuracy and balance, has become a niche project.

At the same time, traditional journalism focusing on cover religion news can be seen as a niche within a niche, and critiquing religion journalism using traditional journalism standards was a threefold niche. That has always been hard work.

Both the Book of Proverbs and Pete Seeger tell us that to everything there is a season. GetReligion’s season now concludes. Terry gave it his all. I will remember this 20-year run with fondness, and gratitude for having been part of it.


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