Religious faith is the driving force for so many individuals who in turn impact society on multiple levels. That begs the question: Why do the media have a tendency to ignore the religious angles in major news stories, or as happens all too often, simply get the faith-based story wrong? This week the Deseret News published an intriguing article exploring this very question.
The piece makes it clear that one of the biggest areas for improvement in the media’s coverage of religions lies in the education of the journalists covering these issues. Michael Cromartie, Vice President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, explains:
“The simple reason the press is this way is that they’ve all gone to universities where the secularist mindset is the norm. It’s a higher education problem. They’ve been incubated in a world where religion is seen as a phenomenon of the past.”
Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, agreed with that sentiment, pointing out that many journalists were educated at a time when religion was being ignored in university curriculum. In the 1970s, thanks in a large part to the “secularization thesis” that grew out of the 1960s, many academics came to the conclusion that religion would become increasingly marginalized in public life. However, that mode of thinking failed to materialize, and increasingly today publishers and newsroom editors are realizing that faith and religion are key components of the news cycle.
Rob Wallace, an ABC News Producer who has broken the mold by creating several popular programs on religious faith, explained the thinking in many newsrooms: “We don’t focus on the religious elements in many stories because we are in the business of reporting facts and known events rather than concepts based on faith….I think there is a huge group that is interested in this sort of thing, and I think big media doesn’t serve that group.”
I recall once participating in a round-table debate on media and religion. One speaker, a religious publisher, pointed out that millions of Americans attend religious services on the weekend, far more than those who attend professional sporting events. Why is there no faith insert, akin to a sports page, on Monday morning, he asked? Another speaker, a nationally syndicated columnist, countered humorously, saying, “When people are talking around the water cooler at work, they will talk about the big home run or the come-from-behind win, not the virgin birth.” Perhaps both men had a fair point. Faith is a far more subtle and nuanced topic than reading a box score, but it cannot be ignored due to ignorance or blatant disregard.