Will the World’s Largest Group of Religious Journalists Survive?

Will the World’s Largest Group of Religious Journalists Survive?

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The Religion News Association, which has been around for 71 years, is the world’s largest organization of newspersons focused on covering faith. 

Unfortunately, it has been losing money for the last two years.

How this happened

The 350-member trade group has a deficit of $40,000 over the last two years, according to Julia Duin. Duin is a member of the conference committee that handles RNA’s annual gathering. More than 100 attendees met virtually this year due to COVID-19 concerns. 

Duin, who has won awards from the group as well as several other journalism organizations, wrote that RNA has less than $250,000 in cash and investments. 

 “The future outlook is bad, quite honestly, and unless something dramatic happens, RNA may either go bankrupt or rely entirely on volunteers within a few years,” she opined. 

According to several members, it was a difficult three years under Tom Gallagher, an attorney who once was a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter and served as head of RNA’s parent, Religion News Foundation, and publisher of the subsidiary Religion News Service. 

Gallagher left swiftly in December 2019 after reportedly forcing out some RNA staff. 

He also sought to make the association more independent from the foundation, which some in the former think has led to greater RNA costs adding to the deficit. 

RNA used to be large

At one time RNA had 570 members. However, the downsizing of newspaper staff has forced many interested in writing about religion to report on other beats as well or become freelancers. 

“The staff and board of RNA are working diligently to develop both short-term and long-term plans for RNA’s financial sustainability so that we can continue to serve our many members and support excellence in this essential beat for generations to come,” incoming President Betsy Shirley told The Christian Post. “As we all know, this year has been difficult for many organizations and institutions, especially within the journalism industry. RNA is no different.” 

Tax status changes the savior?

The RNA has the Religion News Foundation as its nonprofit arm. RNF, in turn, helps fund association work. However, RNA reportedly is looking at changing its tax status so it can receive and solicit donations more directly from donors. 

Former RNF Interim CEO and longtime foundation board member, Jerry Pattengale, explained to CP. “Having their own nonprofit status simply allows them more freedom.” 

A sought-after academician affiliated with the evangelical Indiana Wesleyan University, Pattengale has won honors for journalism as well as scholarly research and writing. He doubted the feasibility of making the chief operating officer a part-time job or volunteer. 

“The COO is a huge position to be half time,” he said. “Most people don’t have the luxury to offer that kind of time without infringing on what else they’re called to do. … The type of individual who can give such an inordinate amount of time is extremely rare.” 

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