Ever watch or read a news story, and notice some glaring mistakes or clear misperceptions about the religious landscape in America?
Our tendency is often to attribute those mistakes to media bias, but it might not be that simple.
I came across a great article at Deseret News recently, which pointed out some factors contributing to the sometimes rocky relationship between faith and media.
One of the main issues?
Many reporters (for a variety of reasons) have little or no education about the history and nuance of faith in the US, and yet religiously oriented stories get a strong response so reporters are motivated to write about them anyway.
The excerpt below is a perfect example.
“Cromartie tells about a reporter who called him in the 1990s with questions about why Southern Baptists were debating the role of women in marriage.
“I said, ‘Let me begin this way. In the book of Ephesians, Paul says —’ ”
“And she interrupted me and said, ‘Wait a minute, what was the book you just mentioned? Who’s the author?’ and a third question: ‘Who’s the publisher?’
“I had to stop and explain that there’s a book called the Bible, there’s an Old Testament and a New Testament, and in the New Testament there’s a letter from an apostle named Paul,” he said.
The gap in this reporter’s understanding, Cromartie said, went back to a gap in her education.
“I understand how it can happen. You go to Columbia School of Journalism, you work at the New York Times, you were raised in a secular family, and somebody says, ‘Ephesians.’ And you go, ‘What’s the name of that book again?’”
That may be an unfortunate gap in any well-rounded education, but it’s not fair to label it as bias.
So, if religion is going to continue to play a key role in American life, and stories on faith are going to continue being some of the top read content, how can we in the faith community work with news organizations to make sure stories about religion are as accurate as possible?
Should courses in religious studies be required for journalism majors, or at least strongly encouraged?
Should people of faith, who have a tendency to distrust journalism and therefor not follow it as a career path, become more engage in the process, more open to interacting with reporters or even becoming reporters themselves?
From the looks of it, interest in stories about faith isn’t going away anytime soon, so we may as well do our best to ensure those stories are well informed.