After two decades, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly is going dark. The ending of the series is not a surprise – it was first announced in December. From the Religion News Service report late last year:
Founded by [host and executive editor Bob] Abernethy and launched in 1997, it provided national and international news coverage and analysis about religion. It included interviews with newsmakers ranging from the Dalai Lama to former President Jimmy Carter, profiles of religious leaders such as evangelist Billy Graham and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and surveys about faith after 9/11 and about “nones,” or the unaffiliated.
The news release did not give a reason for why the series was ending.
“WNET is honored to have been the producing station for ‘Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly’ all these years,” said Stephen Segaller, vice president of programming for WNET. “We take great pride in all the awards and accolades the series has deservedly garnered during this time.”
Some background from the program’s About page:
Correspondents Saul Gonzalez, Fred de Sam Lazaro, Tim O’Brien, Deborah Potter, Betty Rollin, Lucky Severson, David Tereshchuk, and Judy Valente, along with managing editor Kim Lawton, travel around the nation and the globe to explore how issues of faith, religion and ethics shape both national and international events. Newsmakers, scholars and policy analysts also provide insightful perspectives in roundtable discussions from the show’s studio in Washington, DC.
Winner of more than 115 industry awards — including the Sigma Delta Chi, the Gracie Allen, the Chicago TV Fest, New York Festival and CINE Golden Eagle — the program has been hailed by the Religion Newswriters’ Association for setting “a national standard for balanced and fair coverage of religious topics.” Phil Mushnick with The New York Post says, “Week after week, R & E similarly delivers, helping restore one’s faith in, of all things, television.”
Here’s a show that sent correspondents to cover the faith community’s help in cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina; the work of Catholic Relief Services after the 2004 tsunami that devastated parts of southeast Asia and the deaths and elections of Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI and the current Pope Francis.
Their Rome coverage alone was amazing considering they had not nearly the budget nor personnel as did the larger TV networks.
The program’s funding from the Lilly Endowment had been decreasing in recent years, but the Endowment will be supporting another religion-related project following this closure. From Duin:
Lilly is not out of the religion news business, I learned recently. It’s funding an “ethics and religion desk” on the website www.theconversation.com that appears to be mainly essays on religion and ethics submitted by academics. It’s not near as vibrant as actual news coverage and I’m guessing the show is getting a lot less than the $5 million+ that Religion & Ethics Newsweekly needed each year. But it is a mystery why Lilly robbed Peter to pay Paul, so to speak. But as tmatt [hyperlink added by editor] keeps saying, “Opinion is cheap, news is expensive.”
Twenty years is not a bad run in TV land. I just wish that something else was out there to replace it. Like maybe a cable news company or two? Even a old-school broadcast network?
Sadly, TV execs seem no more convinced today than they were two decades ago that broadcast religion news interests a lot of people. As the late AP religion writer George Cornell used to write, religion makes more money and involves more people than sports.
Anyone listening out there at Fox, CBS, NBC, CNN or ABC?
Image from Religion & Ethics Newsweekly’s YouTube channel