Sunday, February 24, 2008

religion coverage in newspapers

From Richard John Neuhaus in First Things...

Writing in Theology Today, Jason Byassee, an editor at Christian Century, touches on some of the reasons why this is so. His article is “Why Religious Journalism Is ‘Boring.’” He cites a 1993 article by Peter ­Steinfels that claimed there are basically six religion ­stories that appear in the mainstream media:

• Religious leader reveals feet of clay (or turns out to be a scoundrel).
• Ancient faith struggles to adjust to modern times.
• Scholars challenge long-standing beliefs.
• Interfaith harmony overcomes inherited enmity.
• New translation of Scripture sounds funny.
• Devoted members of a zealous religious group turn out to be warm, ordinary folks.

Steinfels wrote: “Sometimes I think that computer programs could be devised, leaving all the necessary blank spaces. Reporters could simply insert the names of the denomination or clergy, and the specific issue, supply quotes from critics, and fill in splashes of color.” And here I thought that is how it’s done....(I quickly add that the formula was not characteristic of the writing of Peter Steinfels when he was reporting for the paper.)

The fact is, writes Byassee, that religion is slow, while the news is supposed to be fast. “The slow, patient work of faith is crucial to unlearning the excitement of the front page and being drawn into the plodding, patient life of God.” I had never thought of the life of God as plodding, and the front page of the Times is only intermittently exciting, but I take his point.


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