Home Christian News After 20 Years, Terry Mattingly Bids Farewell to GetReligion

After 20 Years, Terry Mattingly Bids Farewell to GetReligion

Terry Mattingly GetReligion
The GetReligion homepage and logo on Jan. 17, 2024. (Screen grab)

(RNS) — Terry Mattingly has spent most of his life trying to get religion.

An Orthodox Christian convert whose father was a Southern Baptist preacher, Mattingly began working on the religion beat in the early 1980s, specializing in profiles of religious rock stars as a music columnist and copy editor for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, not far from the University of Illinois, where he earned a master’s degree in communications.

He went to work for the Charlotte News and Charlotte Observer — where he once got a behind-the-scenes tip involving Jim Bakker of PTL — and then to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, before becoming a journalism professor and longtime writer of the nationally syndicated “On Religion” column.

A proud curmudgeon, Mattingly is known for his outspoken opinions and blunt criticism, as well as his loyalty and willingness to make friends with people he disagrees with.

“I don’t write people off. I don’t want them to write me off,” said Mattingly in a recent interview from his home in the mountains of Tennessee.

For the last 20 years, Mattingly has been best known as editor of GetReligion.org — a website dedicated to promoting and critiquing religion coverage in the mainstream media. He recently announced that the site — which launched on Feb. 1, 2004 — will shut down next month. No new content will be posted, though the site will remain online as an archive.

GetReligion was launched to do three things: promote religion coverage, especially stories from “God beat” specialists; to look for “religion ghosts” — stories where the role of religion has been overlooked; and to defend what Mattingly calls “the American Model of the Press,” driven by fairness and objectivity rather than by preaching to the choir.

Mattingly and the site’s writers still believe in the model, he wrote in a post announcing the decision to close GetReligion, but the algorithm-driven realities of the news business were “too much to overcome.”

“The reality in today’s America is that many, many readers have simply moved on,” Mattingly wrote.

He believes the site accomplished its goals of promoting religion reporting and highlighting religion stories that would have otherwise been missed. But the news business has changed so much, he said, that readers are no longer interested in the kind of journalism he wanted to affirm and protect.

“We’re not even talking about journalism the same way,” he said. “So how do I defend a business model that no longer exists?”

When he first launched GetReligion in 2004, with the help of Christian journalist Doug LeBlanc,  Mattingly said there was no long-term plan. Instead, he was intrigued by the idea of blogging, which then was beginning its heyday. He was inspired by Andrew Sullivan, a former senior editor of The Atlantic whose “Daily Dish” made him one of the so-called blogosphere’s first stars.