Newspapers And Religion Coverage p. 12

By: Mark Fitzgerald Study says they're full of empty talk sp.

NEWSPAPER REPORTING reflects a curious view of religion, a new study suggests.
Religion, from this journalistic perspective, is full of sound and fury ? but it signifies nothing.
According to a study by the University of Rochester's religion department, newspaper journalists refer to religion frequently ? but seldom explain the beliefs and values involved in a particular religion.
On average, the study said, newspapers mention religion nearly 2.5 times more than religion is the focus of the story.
Most often in newspaper stories, religion is a handy definition: A political candidate is a "devout Christian," for instance, or a political group is drawn from "Muslim fundamentalists."
Worse, on those occasions when newspapers do try to define a religion's tenets, they often oversimplify or even misrepresent the faith.
"Faith and Fact: Press images of religion in the United States" portrays a press that is timid to the point of catatonia when it comes to discussing the heart and soul of religions.
Newspaper references to religion are more likely to be "a few buzz words thrown around," the study says, than they are to be helpful descriptions of religious beliefs.
Indeed, only 25% of all the newspaper religion stories surveyed for the study focused on what beliefs or values a religion held.
Surprisingly, the situation was even worse on newspaper religion pages: There only 21% of articles focused on religious tenets or values.
Instead, newspaper journalists fall back on a favorite theme when reporting on religion: conflict.
More than a third ? 37% ? of all religion stories are about political or legal issues, the study found.
And fully 42% of religion stories concerned themselves with internal organization of a religion.
By contrast, the study's researchers found, just 19% of newspaper stories elsewhere concentrated on internal organization.
"Although issues regarding internal organization were certainly valid to explore in the religion page, it is interesting that they outweigh coverage of beliefs and values ? 21% ? since beliefs and values are a much more critical element if one wishes to understand why religious people act as they do," the study says.
Nearly three-quarters of stories in newspaper religion pages dealt with Christianity, the study found, with another 7.2% concerning themselves with Judaism and just 2.4% dealing with Islam, the religion likely to be the world's biggest by the turn of the century.
Most coverage of Islam ? 66% of it ? is found, not on religion pages, but in the news section.
Much of that coverage, the study found, mentions Islam in the context of terrorism.
"Although it is true that there has been much violence associated with the Islamic world in recent years, the media consistently addresses this issue simplistically and without context, the study complains.
The study was compiled at the senior seminar for religion majors in the Department of Religion and Classics at the University of Rochester in New York.
The study on religion coverage was directed by William Scott Green, dean of undergraduate studies at the school, and Nancy Woodhull, the newspaper consultant and former Gannett Co. executive.
Seven teams studied the coverage for one month ? Feb. 6 to March 5, 1995 ? of the following papers: the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Seattle Times and the Washington Post.
"The press should recognize that a few buzz words thrown ab out with neither explanation nor context do not equal objective, complete reporting. Such reporting is misrepresentative and does disservice to the very idea of a free press and to the general public, which will draw conclusions and base opinions on the fragmented images they see," the report concludes.

Most often in newspaper stories, religion is a handy definition: A political candidate is a "devout Christian," for instance, or a political group is drawn from "Muslim fundamentalists."


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here