Thursday, April 12, 2012

What Journalists Know ... About Religion

We've already established the general public varies widely in what it knows about religion (atheists do best?).  Now we have this new study of what journalists and the public think about religion and especially religion coverage.
Here are some key points in this "first-of-its-kind survey (their words):
  • Only 19 percent of journalists think of themselves as "very knowledgeable" about religion.  Keep in mind this is a measure of perceived knowledge, not actual knowledge.  Also not in the press release, but in the full report, is that nearly one-third of journalists consider themselves "knowledgeable," so another way to write the lede might be that half of journalists consider themselves at least knowledgeable about religion.  Only 1-out-of-10 journalists said they were not knowledgeable.
  • No one is happy with how religion is covered.  According to the report: "A majority of both the public and reporters agree the news media “does a poor job of explaining religion in society,” with 57.1 percent and 51.8 percent agreeing, respectively."  I suspect you'd get the same result on a lot of other topics.  
  • I have a well known weakness for typologies (also for coffee and adult beverages).  The report divides the public into the kind of religion news consumer they appear to be.  It's a neat typology that categorizes people as either focused, specialized, casual, occasional, and non-consumers of religion coverage.   They then examine the kinds of demographic and other breakdowns you see based on this typology.
  • TV does poorly in covering religion.  This one surprised me a bit.  According to the report: "Both the public and reporters ranked TV news lowest in the quality and quantity of religion coverage compared to other media with 28.1 percent of the public and 8 percent of reporters responding that broadcast news provided “good” religion coverage."  I agree, just surprised the results came out that way.
  • Interesting differences emerge between the public and journalists on preferred topics of coverage.  The public's top three are (1) spirituality (2) religion and politics (3) local church news.  Journalists kinda agree.  They have it (1) religion and politics (2) religion and international politics (3) spirituality.  No surprise that journalists go more for the politics angle.  Local church news, for journalists, is #6.  There's something to be learned there for local news organizations
I could go on and on, given the length of the report.  Check it out yourself in a full, fat pdf.

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