American press body rues demise of churches news coverage

(Photo: REUTERS / Eloy Alonso)Two journalists embrace after it was announced their newspaper "La Voz de Asturias" would close down after 89 years of print in Oviedo, northern Spain April 19, 2012.

Newspapers from coast to coast in North America and in many other parts of the world have ceased publication in an age where more information is sought via the Internet, but sources are drying up.

It is not only the secular press that is fumbling in an era when viewers have expected to get content without paying for it, but the religious and church press has also taken a hammering.

Printed publications have sometimes morphed into online publications or ceased to exist.

This has prompted Associated Church Press, a grouping of Christian journalists based in North America, to express deep concern about the future of religious journalism and editorial freedom.

In view of these trends the members of the ACP "are concerned that professional religious journalism and editorial freedom are increasingly being sacrificed in favor of public relations, promotion, and fundraising.

"Shortsighted priorities with long-term consequences appear to be driving decisions about publishing and communication practices."

Following its board meeting in Chicago earlier in the week the ACP released a statement Thursday saying, "In recent years, reorganization and strategic repositioning in many denominations in North America have led to the demise of a host of venerable denominational magazines, newspapers, and news services."

The statement cited examples such as the United Methodist Reporter (which ceased publication in May 2013), The Progressive Christian (formerly Zion's Herald, January 2013), Episcopal Life (2011), Disciples World (2010) United Church News (2009), and The Church Herald (2009). The Reformed Church in America's Church Herald had been in continuous existence for 180 years, and the Methodist Zion's Herald/Progressive Christian for 190 years.

ACP said, "Many other churches' print and electronic news sources have experienced severe financial and staffing cutbacks and/or pressure to redefine their missions in greater alignment with corporate communication models and development priorities in their denominations."

The statement did not mention Ecumenical News International which on Wednesday said , said it was ceasing publication of articles after almost one year in suspension when it had sought partners to help sustain it.

In 2010 ENInews won a number of top awards at the ACP convention including one as the No. 1 news agency covering churches.

"It is with great sadness that I have to report the talks with C Channnel in Korea about possibly becoming members and so also becoming substantial financial contributors to ENI have come to an end," said Rev. David Harris, the president of Ecumenical News International and publisher of the Canadian-based Presbyterian Record said in a statement.

The Associated Church Press began in 1916 and according to its mission statement "is a professional organization brought together by a common commitment to excellence in journalism as a means to describe, reflect, and support the life of faith and the Christian community."

● Peter Kenny was editor-in-chief of ENInews from 2002-2010.

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