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Do Journalists Understand Religion?


"To a degree it’s not their fault..."

Do journalists understand religion? This lingering question is frequently -- and sometimes frustratingly -- asked by media critics and the general public, alike.

Whether its a Congressional funding battle over abortion, a debate over prayer at a public school graduation ceremony or stories that cover how the U.S. military should engage with different sects in a war-torn nation, religion plays a role in daily societal events. Despite the major influence faith has on national and international events, many believe that the media do a poor job capturing, explaining and illustrating religious subject matter and concepts.

To begin, we know that there's a major divide between journalists and the general public when it comes to personal faith. In 2007, The Pew Research Center reported that only 8 percent of national journalists claim that they attend church or synagogue each week. This compares with 39 percent of the general public. While a lack of personal affiliation doesn't necessarily mean that journalists can't properly report on religion, this disparity is important to note.

Over the weekend, Deseret News explored the plethora of reasons that journalists and media outlets often find themselves disconnected from the general public on matters of faith and religion. In the piece, Kevin Eckstrom, the editor of Religion News Service, sheds some light on this important consideration. He claims that poor coverage may be the result of inexperience and lack of training. Eckstrom says:

“When it’s done badly, it tends to be because the reporters aren’t well-versed or well-trained. To a degree it’s not their fault, but they still have the obligation to do it right, and their editors have an obligation to take it seriously and to make sure what they’re doing is done right."

Michael Cromartie, Vice President of Ethics and Public Policy Center and founder of the Faith Angle Forum conference for journalists, seems to agree:

“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,” he said.

So, how can these issues be remedied? Some experts tell Deseret News that there needs to be more diversity in the newsroom. And while journalists need to be educated, so do the editors and personnel who assign stories and support editorial and broadcast staff. Additionally, some claim that people of faith need to willingly enter the field so that they can help their peers better understand matters of faith and religion. What do you think?

To read more about the disconnect between journalists and the general public, click here.

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