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Religion news deja vu

BY TERRY MATTINGLY Published: April 23, 2012
e key is that they need to know what they're doing and be committed to accuracy and fairness.

The question people like me keep asking is this one: Why don't more editors hire pros to cover such a pivotal beat in national and international news?

Alas, this is where recent polls have, for me, caused some nasty flashbacks.

Consider, for example, that recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life indicating that a mere 19 percent of Americans feel that journalists are "friendly" toward religion in this culture.

Only 11 percent of Republicans see the press as faith-friendly, while 24 percent of Democrats hold that view.

Meanwhile, researchers with the University of Southern California's Knight Program in Media and Religion and the University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics have released a new survey indicating that two-thirds of the American public says that mainstream religion coverage is too "sensationalized" and focuses too much on scandals and politics.

Just under 30 percent of the journalists agreed.

In this survey, nearly 60 percent of the journalists said they think "religious people are far too sensitive about religion stories." At the same time, a sizable minority of news consumers -- 37 percent -- remain convinced that journalists are "hostile to religion and religious people."

Wait a minute. That 37 percent figure is uncomfortably similar to the consistent Gallup finding (the previously mentioned 40 percent) on the number of Americans who claim to attend weekly worship services. Is there a connection?

This correlation is relevant, but these groups "do not overlap completely," said veteran religion-news researcher John C. Green of Akron.

Nevertheless, he said, "there is a connection between regular worship attendance and the perception that the news media are hostile to religious people." At the same time, "less religious journalists are more likely to agree that religious people are too sensitive."

The standoff continues. It's kind of like deja vu all over again.

(Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the project to study religion and the news.)

(c) 2012 United Feature Syndicate