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Deseret News on the media’s coverage of religion

June 14, 2011

A nice analysis of religion coverage in the mainstream press from the Deseret News. This is the type of piece I would have my Journalism & Religion students read and respond to. It gets right at the heart of what I’ve tried to teach.

(Thanks Bob Carlton for alerting me to the article. Took me forever to post. I blame the children.)

Some highlights:

According to some stats, journalists are less religious than the general population. Does this mean that reporters and editors miss religion angles in stories? The article invokes the journalist Terry Mattingly, creator of the most excellent Get Religion blog.

Mattingly and others have documented myriad examples of missed faith angles. But the question of why such a disconnect exists is complex.

Some look to the religious beliefs of journalists for answers. The most recent data on that are the 10-year-old statistics from the Indiana University indicating that journalists are less likely to affiliate with a religion and less likely to say religion is important to them than the American public.

Hmm…. I can definitely see that.

The concern about religion coverage in the press is nothing new, according to the article. Jews and Christians were complaining back in the ’30s, which led to the creation of Religion News Service. But, says Michael Cromartie, Vice President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center think tank in Washington, D.C. …

… the current debate over media coverage of religion … has its roots in the late 1970s when journalists were taken by surprise by the rise of the religious right. Evangelical Christians, he said, were deeply disappointed by Jimmy Carter, and their exodus from the Democratic party to the Republican party in response to Roe v. Wade and other cultural issues dramatically changed the political landscape.

Kevin Eckstrom of RNS points out that it’s not just reporters who need education. Editors need to recognize the importance of religion stories.

“It’s great if reporters want to cover religion, but if the editor doesn’t make it a priority or doesn’t give them resources they need to do it, it doesn’t matter,” he said. Editors control resources and assignments, and when money gets tight they tend to look at religion reporting as expendable.

 But this is ironic, said Eckstrom, because religion news stories are so popular.
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