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Deborah Howell dies, and so does NYT Beliefs

by Brad A. Greenberg

January 5, 2010 | 12:28 pm

The Godbeat has grown all too accustomed to bad industry news. Still, this weekend was particularly tragic. The New York Times crucified its Beliefs column, sending it to the grave just like the religion sections at every major paper. Worse, though, Deborah Howell, the Washington Post’s excellent ombudsman, passed away.

Mollie at GetReligion has a nice appreciation of Howell and compiles some of the comments her columns made about religion reporting. Here’s an excerpt from 2006:

Religion is a subject that many Post readers care deeply about, and they often don’t think journalists care as deeply about it as they do. Journalists are just like readers. Some are religious; some not. I don’t think that matters as long as religion and spiritual issues are reported thoroughly and sensitively.

While religion reporting has had a renaissance at The Post and in American journalism in the past few years, it doesn’t get anything like the resources devoted to coverage of entertainment, sports, and politics and government. I think that readers would not be so offended by an occasional story or reference they see as insensitive if they believed that The Post made religion coverage a priority… .

I see nothing wrong with The Post’s religion coverage; I would just like to see more of it — particularly in the A section, even if it is brief stories from RNS, the Associated Press and Reuters. I don’t think that incremental stories about denominations are all that important, but I don’t want The Post to ignore interesting stories, especially as the diversity of religions explodes in our area.

This as the paper that infamously posted a listing for a religion reporter position that stated: “The ideal candidate is not necessarily religious nor an expert in religion.”

Howell will be missed, no doubt. But rest easy. The God Blog survives.

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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