Most Americans say media coverage of religion too sensationalized

April 6, 2012
In a new survey of journalists and their audiences, fewer than one-fifth of reporters call themselves “very knowledgeable” about religion.

Two-thirds of the American public says religion coverage is too sensationalized in the news media – a view held by less than 30 percent of reporters, according to the results of a survey released Thursday.

And less than one-fifth of journalists, or 18.9 percent, say they are “very knowledgeable” about . Most reporters in that minority say they are mainly familiar with their own religious traditions, not the wider array of faiths and practices, the survey showed.

The results come from a first-of-its-kind survey of both reporters and the audiences they serve by the Knight Program in Media and Religion at the University of Southern California and the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at The University of Akron.

Reporters’ understanding of religion is lacking

“News organizations are rightly worried about creating smart business plans and developing cutting-edge technology. But they’re overlooking their most basic resource: knowledgeable reporters,” said Diane Winston, Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “ want more reporting on authentic religious experience and a lot less on polarizing religious politics. But reporters can’t do that if all they know about religion is what they hear in church or—ironically—what they read in the news.”

A majority of both the public and reporters agree the news media “does a poor job of explaining religion in society,” with 57.1 percent and 51.8 percent agreeing, respectively.

Both the public and reporters ranked TV news lowest in the quality and quantity of religion coverage compared to other media with 28.1 percent of the public and 8 percent of reporters responding that broadcast news provided “good” religion coverage.

The report is based on two surveys conducted between Feb. 15 and May 11, 2010 by the Center for Marketing and Opinion Research in Akron.

The first was a telephone survey of a national random sample of 2,000 American adults with a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points. The second was an online survey distributed to a random sample of journalists with 800 usable responses and a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points.

Religion’s increasing influence

“Religion figures into American politics, popular culture, foreign policy and even the economy more strongly than ever before,” said Dr. John C. Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, who managed the study. “But the disconnect between news consumers and producers suggests that current news media coverage isn’t making the importance of these overlapping relationships clear. This situation presents the with both a challenge and an opportunity at a moment when innovation in the profession is paramount.”

Among the study’s other findings:

• The American public sees religion in starkly polarized terms. Nearly half, or 43.6 percent believes religion is a source of conflict in the world, while a narrow majority, 52.6 percent, sees it as a fount of good. Most reporters, 56.1 percent, consider religion to be a mixed bag, offering both benefits and drawbacks for society. But only 3.8 percent of the public shares this more circumspect angle on religion.

• Not surprisingly, then, most reporters believe their audiences want personality-driven religion news related to specific institutions and events. But despite the aforementioned polarization, 69.7 percent of Americans say they’re interested in more complex coverage that looks at religious experiences and spiritual practice.

• A strong majority of the public, 62.5 percent, says religion coverage is important to them, but nearly one-third of the rapidly growing cohort of those with no religious affiliation say they aren’t interested in religion coverage.

• Christians from ethnic minorities constitute over a third of news consumers who say they are generally very interested in the news and have a particular interest in religion. In contrast, white evangelical Protestants tend to care specifically about religion news, but less about the in general.

Funding for the survey was provided by the Ford Foundation.

Explore further: Video games depict religion as violent, problematized, study shows

More information: Download the full report.

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1 / 5 (1) Apr 06, 2012
Well, the first thing they need to do is stop with the PC BS when discussing religion in general and all religions.

If you really want a public discussion about religion in the news, then lets pull back the curtains and examine everything in all the major world religions: the good, the bad, and the ugly, and don't mix the facts up.

If they wanted to do an honest discussion of Christianity, then they need to examine Catholicism and Protestantism and any other major sects and actually talk about what each group literally teaches and what the factual differences are in the real world practice, as well as doctrine and eschatology. They should also discuss things like the pre-trib vs post-trib and such.

They should do Judaism and Islam especially, and be KEEN to point out the specific differences among them, as they are drastic in many cases.

And then do buddhism and taoism and voodoo and whatever.

Let's get it all in the open...
1 / 5 (1) Apr 06, 2012
I mean, have a couple panel experts who practice each religion, as well as laity from each religion and TALK about what they believe and how it effects their lives in a practical way.

People have different beliefs about who and what God is, but I could say at least everyone is supposedly searching for the Truth.

But it's important for people to actually acknowledge the fact that most world religions have diametrically opposing beliefs in at least some area, even if they do not admit such on the surface, and some of it is not trivial, but is opposed on a basic theological or metaphysical basis. i.e. polytheism vs monotheism, etc.

But I mean, address the metaphysical concept that the Abrahamic "God" of Judaism and Christianity (and supposedly Islam...) is NOT a "sky fairy" but is the transcendent, metaphysical origin of all things, and the "rational principle which governs the universe," something much more than a mere "super-being" or "old guy in the sky" concept.
not rated yet Apr 06, 2012
Lurker, the problem with this approach is that mainstream religions do personify their idea of God as a discrete being, and not as some nebulous "rational principle which governs the universe". If you abstract God out in that way, you may as well call him "the Force", or something like that. Either way, all religions suffer from the fact that there is no concrete evidence to support any of them, which is why we have so many religions. Religious beliefs are inherently non-provable (which is why you need faith). This fact about religion is why many refer to monotheistic gods as a "Sky Fairy". That appellation, and "the Flying Spaghetti Monster" are just as provable as the traditional concepts for God.
1 / 5 (1) Apr 06, 2012

The Gospel of John opens with that very statement of God.

"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God."

And of course "Word" is the greek "Logos" which literally translates as "The rational principle which governs the universe".

In the Bible, God in fact is a "person," or "Being," both figuratively and literally, but this metaphysical concept has always been there.

The flying spaghetti monster / sky fairy argument has always been a ridiculous fallacy.

It's clear from the Bible, whether or not you believe in inspiration or infallibility, that the Hebrew/Christian God has always been considered the origin of all things, including space and time itself.

The prophetic texts even indicate that God will eventually destroy the entire universe and re-create it, something no mere "sky fairy" or "Olympian" could ever accomplish.
1 / 5 (1) Apr 07, 2012
There is very little coverage of 'religon' itself isnt there? We dont see stories like 'Man wonders about transubstiation in subway' followed by theists discussing the arguments, do we?
Stories are sometimes given a religous frame, such as a murderer (suicide bomber included) who believed he/she was carrying out God's will, but this has little to do with religon and more to do with mental illness. Or we see stories which could just as easily be about any organisation; New Church opening in Santiago with free wi-fi; Rabbi found taking bribes from local abbotoirs; or some such.
The closest we would come to a 'religous' story is for example the teaching of creationism in science class, but this is really a story about philosophy not religon.
I honestly dont even get what the article is about, except that journalists are generally ignorant of what they cover, which is true for religon, economics, science and politics too. So wheres the beef?

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