Bob Smietana, a veteran religion reporter who left The Tennessean in 2013 for LifeWay Christian Resources, has been named editor-in-chief of Religion News Service.
The hiring, announced Aug. 16, comes four months after the independent non-profit news service fired former editor Jerome Socolovsky, reportedly over differences with his publisher. Two reporters resigned in protest, followed by a contributing columnist.
Smietana, an award-winning religion reporter and editor, started out working for non-profits like Habitat for Humanity before entering the field of journalism in his mid-30s. He worked eight years as the features editor for Covenant Companion, denominational magazine of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Chicago, before landing the religion beat at Nashville’s metropolitan daily in 2007.
Citing the demands of balancing a 24/seven news cycle with family responsibilities, he departed six years later to work for the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. As senior writer for Facts & Trends, a denominational magazine started in 1957, Smietana wrote regularly about surveys on church and cultural trends conducted by LifeWay Research. His reporting has also appeared in national outlets including Christianity Today and USA Today.
Smietana has been writing for Religion News Service since 2001. He is a former member of the RNS board of managers and served 2013-2015 as president of the Religion News Association, a trade organization for people who write about religion in the news media.
Smietana begins work Sept. 4, relieving G. Jeffrey MacDonald, named interim editor-in-chief after the shakeup in April that began with Socolovsky’s removal followed by departures of writers Kimberly Winston Ligocki and Lauren Markoe. Senior columnist Jonathan Merritt stepped down in July, citing differences with both the publisher and interim editor-in-chief.
Socolovsky now works as an editor for NPR Morning Edition. He previously worked for NPR as a freelance correspondent stationed in Spain. Markoe is helping to produce the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU, the NPR member-station in Washington, D.C. Ligocki is freelancing and has been linking to stories via Facebook on a page called FutureFaith, described as a news and media website for “in-depth, non-sectarian coverage of religion, faith, spirituality and ethics.”
MacDonald, a journalist and ordained United Church of Christ minister who has written for RNS since 1998, is newly named to the RNS Journalism Advisory Council.
According to a press release, the RNS board of managers conducted a national search, receiving more than 130 applicants, before settling on Smietana.
“After considering many qualified candidates for this position, we were impressed by the breadth and depth of Bob Smietana’s religion journalism experience, his passion for this beat and commitment to our organization,” said board chair Nicole Neroulias Gupte, a non-profit communications consultant in Washington state.