RELIGION. Who needs it? I have said it before and I say it again: newspapers need it.
They need to know about it. At the very least, they need people on their staff who know their way around the churches and who have good contacts in, ahem, ‘high places’.
And why, when the world seems to have gone secular, do we need religion specialists?
Well, it’s because religion comes into all the big stories in Scotland at the moment.
What other subjects attract Letters Specials in the likes of The Herald?
Remarkably, there was one recently on Sacred Music, of all things.
Then there’s the ongoing hand-wringing in the Press over bigotry, ‘Scotland’s Shame’. And what about so-called ‘gay marriage’ and abortion? Plus the possibility of married priests and even women priests in the Catholic Church.
And now there’s the ‘kite flying’ over the drawing up of a written constitution for an independent Scotland should Scots vote Yes in the upcoming referendum on the country’s constitutional future.
There’s a possibility that there could be a new Pope in the next few years – or months, even. Benedict XVI is aged 85 and he might even announce his retirement.
Who will cover the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May?
Who knows about these things? Who is the foremost religious affairs correspondent in the Scottish Media?
The answer, of course, is no-one. None among the papers, not one even within BBC Scotland.
The Herald trots out retired editor, Harry Reid, for background pieces on what’s happening in the Kirk. And it called in prominent historian, Professor Tom Devine, to give them a serious Catholic take on the recent controversial claims that the experience of Catholics in Scotland is not very dissimilar to that of black people in the USA during the 1950s and 1960s.
How many football writers are there in Scotland? And yet more Scots attend Church than football matches.
I went along to the installation of the new Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, in September.
There was a fair-sized Media presence there – not many, but some – which was heartening.
Two of these journalists nearly never made it – because they went to the wrong cathedral. Can you believe it?
Is it possible they hadn’t heard of the Reformation and didn’t know the Church of Scotland now occupied Glasgow Cathedral in the High Street and that the Catholics had their own cathedral on Clyde Street?
Bill Heaney is an award-winning journalist who edited the Lennox Herald for many years and was a special adviser, on the regional Press, at Holyrood and a media adviser at Westminster. He is now retired but continues to operate as a columnist with the Lennox Herald and a pro bono media consultant to a number of churches and charities.