By Bobby Ross Jr. | Religion Unplugged
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The Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting is a hot ticket once again.
Flash back to 1985: At the height of the battles between the denomination’s conservatives and moderates, 45,000 Southern Baptists flocked to Dallas.
But by 2001 — when I covered my first SBC annual meeting for The Oklahoman — the typical number of “messengers” sent by local congregations had dipped below 10,000 (see stats starting on page 506). I actually wrote a front-page story from New Orleans that year headlined “Baptists share united voice.”
For years, the meetings were a big draw for national and regional journalists who cover religion. But as Southern Baptists gathered in Orlando, Florida, in 2010, Cathy Lynn Grossman, then the religion writer for USA Today, asked, “Who’s watching Southern Baptists debate their future?”:
The wire services are walking the beaches of Pensacola with President Obama and religion reporters — what’s left of us — are hobbled by lack of travel budgets and the rigidly local focus of many media.
The Tennessean’s Bob Smietana, now with Religion News Service, was one of perhaps only two mainstream reporters (along with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Frank Lockwood) who traveled to Florida for that meeting.
At the time, I opined that not just a lack of travel budgets — but a shortage of news woven through the lens of sex and politics — was to blame.
This column appears in the online magazine Religion Unplugged.