Star axes prayer; religion writer wonders -- is it worth the grief?

Dateline: Tue 06 Jan 2009

For a bit of thoughtful writing and intelligent discourse, check out Robert King's blog in indystar.com

http://blogs.indystar.com/thoushalt/2009/01/prayer_in_the_n.html

King is the Indianapolis Star's religion beat writer. He has his work cut out for him this week as he addresses the decision by exec editor Dennis Ryerson to kill the prayer, one of many features to die, along with many condensations that began Monday. To cut to the chase: 'tis a shorter, wimpier paper that is being produced.

An exception is King's efforts to shed some light on the issue on his online blog, where we might all be hanging out eventually. Says King, referring to the vast rearrangement and downsizing of the Star:

"The Prayer, a short ecumenical petition that is prayer at its most vanilla, has been a staple of the morning read for decades. It debuted on the editorial page in 1963. It moved to Page A1 in 1968 and moved to Page A2 in 2000. (editor blogger's note: when Gannett came to town)

"Yet in making the latest changes," says King, "the prayer was dropped. Eliminated. Interestingly enough the prayer's longtime companion, a daily attempt at humor in 8-point type known as the Chuckle, kept its slot.

"This is the statement that Star Editor and Vice President Dennis Ryerson offered as an explainer:

"'We appreciate that this has been a long tradition in The Star. But we are re-evaluating our mission and all that we do. I believe that prayer is a very personal thing and that offering prayers is something for individuals and their churches. We are a newspaper, not a church.

'Also, we do live in a society in which there are many, many different beliefs. We respect all religions, and the prayer was written only from the Christian perspective.

'Because of those issues, we have decided to drop the prayer. I'm confident that people will continue to offer their own prayers reflecting their own lives and faith needs.'"

King then goes on to share aspects of a chat he had with Ryerson, re: the latter's take on a newspaper running a daily prayer: prayer is personal, and it belongs with persons and not in papers.

King's final point:

"...the question remains, in an environment where newspapers are struggling to remain viable, is saving the postage stamp sized space the prayer occupied worth the grief to readers accustomed to seeing a prayer in the paper?

Stay tuned."

OK, will do. But in the meantime, those of us who know Ryerson's mindset are surprised, frankly, that the prayer has lasted this long. I can see the problematic nature of such a feature -- years ago, pre-Gannett, a copy editor who was Jewish pointed out that the Thanksgiving prayer set to run in the Thanksgiving paper was aimed at Jesus Christ. The last she had checked, the holiday was not a Christian one. Hence, she was concerned, perhaps even offended, and the prayer was changed.

But as King notes, the prayer for years has been vanilla flavored. It lacks the muscle to offend anyone.

Yet it's removal clearly has created a sense of being wronged.

When you go to the link, be sure to read the comments as well.

And do stay tuned. And thanks for reading, but not for praying...

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