Friday, August 22, 2008

Religion and News Media

By Rebecka Donnelly

Religion is quite often seen as a point of controversy within the realm of mass media, specifically news and journalism. However religion and spirituality manifest in various ways within news and journalism and as a result can lead to various outcomes within this field. This paper will discuss articles from, Stewart Hoover, John Schmalzbauer and Jay Rosen to display the ways in which religion is present within the news media and journalism and how said media is affected as a result.

Stewart Hoover’s article “Media and Religion in Transition” demonstrates the relationship between religion and the media and how the changing perception of religion as well as the evolution of the mass media influence and interact with each other. The article argues that although media isn’t as homogenised as it once was, it’s ‘public-ness’ continues to make it a prominent and relevant cornerstone of society. The separation of the media has enabled faith based programming to be aired and to reach certain “niche” audiences. Although the reach of such programs/ channels is not as vast in comparison to previous trends in the mass media, they are still able to operate successfully within the current mass media model. This is also shaped by the changes in faith throughout greater society. The article states that an increasing number of people don’t identify themselves with a traditional religion but rather see themselves as ‘spiritual’ or believing in god and/or perhaps a significant life force.

It continues on to describe the four main avenues religion and spirituality are covered in within the mass media (news, religious broadcasting, religious publishing and entertainment) and the ways in which they are covered. In regards to how religion is portrayed within the news, the article states that classically religion based stories are quite often avoided. Hoover offers four reasons why this is the case. Because of its strong experiential aspect, religion is hard to “source”. Religion based stories also go “under reported” as they can’t necessarily be based on fact and can quite often be too complex and intricate to sufficiently cover. Finally such stories are avoided because they are often considered too controversial.

“Journalism and the Religious Imagination” by John Schmalzbauer focuses more on how one’s religious orientation influences one’s perspective of the news. Schmalzbauer covered the work of ten Catholic and ten Protestant journalists to determine major recurring themes within the stories of each group. In his study he found the religious perspective of the journalists he studied influenced the nature of what stories they covered as well as how they covered them. He notes that the relationship with God differs between the two religions and this difference in relationship determines the angle from which stories were covered. He states Protestants preferred to cover stories from a “culture wars” angle, almost an ‘us versus them’ between the” religious conservatives and the secular liberals”. Catholics preferred to cover stories from more of an analogical angle, focusing on “points of agreement” between the opposing parties.

Quite different to the concepts of Hoover and Schmalzbauer is that of Jay Rosen who theorises that journalism itself can be and is regarded as a religion. In his article “Journalism Is Itself a Religion”, he outlines eight different points of argument that support this notion. He confirms the similarities between religion and journalism by drawing attention to the practices and theories within the school of journalism. Rosen compares the hierarchy of the newsroom, journalism’s code of conduct (the Journalist’s Creed) as well as the various practices and behaviours that are characteristic of the profession with those aspects of similarity within the church. He argues that the profession of journalism is held in such high regard by those in the field of journalism that it’s practices and values are deemed sacred.

The works of Rosen and Schmalzbauer have almost directly contrasting concepts. Where one sees religion as a cause for certain journalistic practices, the other perceives journalism as a religious practice. Hoover also makes a pointed argument in reference to the relationship between religion and media that is relevant to the discussion. Rosen’s journo-religio theory supports Hoover’s observation of the news media’s general avoidance of faith based stories. Given that journalists are trained and encouraged to maintain integrity by factually and accurately covering stories as per their ‘religion’, they will, as a result, neglect to cover religion based stories that are heavily reliant on the experience of believers rather than by substantial evidence.

Media and religion are fundamental cornerstones of society. Both function in ways that influence and perhaps at times determine the beliefs, values and behaviour of the greater community. This review has examined three very significant and very different ways in which religion and news media interact and intertwine with one another. It can be seen that the relationship between these two entities can be both beneficial but also, at times, detrimental.

List of Works Consulted

Badaracco, Claire Hoertz (Ed.), Quoting God: How media shapes ideas about religion and culture, Waco, TX, Baylor University Press, : 2005 / ch.1, pp.21-36

Hoover, Stewart M., Religion in the media age, London, Routledge : 2006 / ch.3, pp.45-83.

Rosen, Jay. "Journalism Is Itself a Religion: Special Essay on Launch of the Revealer". 2004. .

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