WASHINGTON (CNS) — Even in the 500-channel universe, PBS’ “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly” was really the only program of its kind: a weekly half-hour program that took a serious look at religion and religious issues across the spectrum of belief, and how faith intersected with politics, society and culture.
However, that voice will be silenced, as the last installment of more than 1,000 episodes of the newscast will make its way to PBS stations the weekend of Feb. 24.
According to Arnold Labaton, the executive producer of “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly,” it was the digital broadcast milieu that killed off the show.
After public TV stations starting adding subchannels, “a number of them, including a number of (stations in) major markets, took us off their main channel and put it on a secondary channel. That led to a significant diminution of our broadcast audience,” he said.
“However, our online presence has increased exponentially and continues to increase exponentially,” Labaton added. Every episode of “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly” will remain on PBS’ website for three years after the last broadcast.
The Lilly Foundation had underwritten the series from the beginning, but with viewership down, WNET, the program’s host, saw the end coming. “I think it was in the spring of this year” when the bad news was delivered, Labaton said.
The cancellation of “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly” means 15 people will be out of a job, including Kim Lawton, who has been a reporter for the show from the beginning.
Asked what she’ll do next, she replied, “That’s a very good question. I don’t know what my next phase will be. I’d like to stay in religion reporting.”
Lawton told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 20 telephone interview from the show’s Washington base, “I didn’t set out to be a religion reporter. I had been a general assignment reporter. My radio outlet (UPI Radio) wanted to do more coverage of religion so they could appeal to more religious stations. My manager asked me if I would take this on. So I had been doing more religion in broadcasting.” UPI, once a rival to The Associated Press, suffered from a series of financial setback, and Lawton was laid off from there.
“There was someone from television, Bob Abernethy. who had was looking at doing something for television on religion,” she said. “He had heard about me. And I had heard about him. I was interested form the beginning.”
Lawton repeated, “I didn’t set out to be a religion reporter, but because I am a religion reporter, I’ve covered the Supreme Court, I’ve covered the election, I’ve covered politics and religion, I’ve covered denominational meetings, I’ve covered pop culture and music and art, so it’s just been a wonderful beat to really dig down and look at those things that are so important to so many people.”
Her assignments have taken her to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, to New Orleans after the catastrophic levee failure following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, to Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami,and to refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey near the border with Syria.
“When it first came on the air, we said it was going to be dedicated to religion,” Labaton said. “But within a brief time afterward, the content changed and we became more about religious beliefs and traditions.” Even with the shift in focus, there was nothing like it “whether it’s cable or the news networks or anyplace else that has a program or segments based on religion news coverage. Typically, in the major news media, coverage of religion, except for the National Catholic Reporter, has been more about controversy and scandal and division. While we will cover those things, that is not most of what we try to do.”
I remember interviewing Abernethy twice before “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly” debuted, jokingly telling him at one point “This interview is over!” once I learned he was not a Catholic but a member of the United Church of Christ. I’d wondered if the show was going to succeed, given the absence of anything like it in the TV landscape.
Well, 20 seasons isn’t quite the same as 27 and counting of “The Simpsons,” but a thousand-plus episodes and some 200 awards and honors is a distinctive mark of success.
It’s too bad that 200 awards and honors — that’s 10 per year on average — couldn’t save the show. And it’s too bad that after two decades, it remained the only show of its kind.
Pattison is media editor for Catholic News Service.
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I am thankful that I was able to enjoy such an intelligent and professionally done show that was both entertaining and educational. I looked forward to seeing it every Saturday morning for years. I’m heart broken that not only has the show ended but there isn’t anything else on tv like it. Yes R&E Newsweekly will be sorely missed.
I’m in the bargaining stage of my grief. How much money would need to be raised through Go Fund Me to bring it back?
Religion and Ethics was a weekly oasis of thought provoking and engaging interviews and information. Where do I go now to find stories of grace and compassion? Every week Religion and Ethics inspired me to be a better person. Every week I found stories that made me a better daughter, sister, friend, co-worker and teacher. I want to thank the cast and crew for 20 beautiful years of excellence. This program will be greatly missed and I fear there will be nothing that can really come close to replacing it.
I enjoyed watching Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly for your thoughtful coverage of events but also as a catalyst for me to explore new topics. I will miss the show as well as its reporters. This is a quality production which sadly has no counterpart. My best to the cast and crew.
This show will be so very much missed by its loyal viewers. I was never able to watch it on TV but regularly watched the videos online. I am distressed at the huge hole it leaves. I hope creative, concerned and talented folks will produce something on issues of religion which I believe are so under reported, yet so vital! Thank you for all the excellent work and for keeping the archive online for awhile at least.
I’ve been a faithful and grateful viewer of Religion & Ethics Newsweekly I’m as the pastor of an ecumenical inclusive ministry I’ve been encouraged, enlightened, informed, moved to action, and touched by your coverage of beliefs and religions across the globe! If God has allowed this door to close then there is another one already open for the 15 staff members who are now unemployed! Thank you for sharing your gifts in such a magnanimous way! Blessings, Love, & Peace!
This has been on of my all-time favorite programs ever produced. It covered the gamut of civic/social/political/and cultural dynamics of faith throughout all aspects of daily life. It featured authors and musical artists that clued the viewer into new releases of interest. It has/had premier reporters/correpondents and provided “meat and potatoes” programming as opposed to the “cotton candy’ version of shows on TV—what a tremendous loss for variety of reasons. I want to extend my gratitude and appreciation for all of the great stories I’ve been able to watch and to commend the professionals that have made their life’s work to enrich the lives of their viewers. Thank you!!!
Thank you for the years we did have. Our local station here in Reno (KNPB), just this fall added you back to their lineup.
All of your fine reporting and dedication will be missed.
I am so sorry we have reached the end of this program. You covered important topics very professionally. Your departure will be a loss, and not just for the religious.
I am very sorry that your excellent program is being cancelled … especially now when tolerance of different religions is needed most. I got up at 6:30 every weekend just to watch & if more people watched there would be more understanding & less hate in our country now. I was going to double my contribution to PBS this year because of the hateful political environment & the proposed trumpian cuts to PBS, but now I am going to withdraw my pledges for a year or two in protest. WGBH never advertised R&E, only played it at odd times, & then they wonder when it has low ratings? This program should be carried as a public service. It is not a big money maker like Downton Abbey, but it is really a more important program. Thank you for 20 informative years!
I am so sorry to hear this unique, informative and unifying program is going off the air. Thank you to everyone on the staff there for what you have provided. I hope there is some way of continuing your work.
Very disappointed at the ending of this show t. What rotten timing. In this climate of intensifying religious intolerance and proliferating hate groups and hate crimes its never been more needed.
A program that seemed respectful and inquiring, truly investigative. It gave me hope to see that such programming was being created, something to help us all swim cross-current to bewildering swirls of populism, bigotry, ignorance, materialism, mass media, and counter-cultures. Where do I now go to find this wellspring of stories that nobody else covers, perspectives that enrich the intellect and soul? A great loss!
I m so sad this wonderful and informative show will no long be on the air. The show had been moved so many times for Specials and other Show I feel this caused a decrease in viewers. It is such a loss – I loved my visits with the Host any time it was possible.
This saddens me greatly. Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly is indeed one of a kind; finding commonality among world religions rather than division. The segments always portray the practice of universal truths rather than aligning with any political agenda. It recognizes the highest form of spirituality is to serve others. This is a show about people all over the planet, trying to answer the big questions about humanity and life on Earth, as well as the soul. I watch this show to detox from, and be lifted above the daily barrage of negative reporting, rendered even more anxiety provoking by the divisive politics of our time. I will dearly miss my weekly dose of “perspective” and confirmation of true human spirituality at work in the world.
such an awesome show. Thanks, R&E Newsweekly for excellence in reporting vital aspects of our age.
Hear-hear! I, too, am dismayed and disappointed. SO much garbage on TV,,,but, this an oasis of real content instead of the vacuous reality television…gone!? What a shame!
I too am dismayed that Religion and Ethics is leaving – I looked forward every Saturday morning to see how the world of religion and beliefs were portrayed – often strengthening my beliefs – knowing there are many many good people (thank goodness) that live on this earth – in this I can take solace.
I have watched Religion and Ethics for years, often twice as it repeats on the weekend and is so full of interesting program content. i am very distressed to hear that it is departing as it is totally unique and especially valuable in these trying times where bigotry is being encouraged by some/ many! Learning about each other and what is happening around the world in ethics and religion is so vital! Is there anything we can do? How do they figure it has low ratings? No one ever asked me! and I know many others who also value this program!! jane
My wife and I are sorry and angry that Religion and Ethics is going off the air. We have learned about the events of churches and non-Christian religions that can be found nowhere else. It’s one of the reasons we contribute to PBS.