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Religion Sections Appear in a Minority of Newspapers. ... Some Newspapers Reflect Better Than Others Their Community, Nation, and ...

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Religion in American Newspapers

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Religion in American Newspapers

University of Rochester

April 30, 2003

A Critique and Challenge

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  • To analyze what Americans learn about religion from reading the newspaper.

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Boston Globe

The Chicago Tribune

The Dallas Morning News

The Denver Post

The Los Angeles Times

The New York Times

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

USA Today

The Wall Street Journal

The Washington Post


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Religion is Mentioned Far More Often Than it is the Subject of a Story.

  • Religion Stories: 1,402

  • Religion Mentions: 4,918

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Religion is Widely Used as a Criterion of Identity.

  • To add important information to the article

  • Superfluous identity markers

  • Negative stereotype identity markers

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Religion Stories Most Frequently Describe Religion in Political and Legal Terms.

  • 49% included references to political, legal, and criminal activities

  • 20% were exclusively political or legal

  • 28% discussed religious beliefs and values

  • 10% were exclusively beliefs and values

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Coverage of the Religious Lives of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Women is Disproportionately Low.

  • 51% of Americans are women

  • 12% are African-American

  • 14% are Hispanic

  • Cities with high minority populations still contained few religious references to these communities

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Coverage of Islam is Disproportionate to the Percentage of Muslims in the U.S. Its Coverage is Predominantly Associated With Criminality and Bad Deeds.

  • 1% of Americans are Muslim

  • 74% of Americans are Christian

  • Islam appears in 2,231 mentions vs. Christianity’s 3,822

  • Islam appears in 331 stories vs. Christianity’s 960

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Roman Catholicism is More Often Linked With Bad Deeds and Criminality Than With Catholic Beliefs and Values.

  • 31% of stories about Catholicism referenced bad deeds and criminality

  • In The Boston Globe, 47% of stories about Catholicism referenced bad deeds and criminality

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Coverage of Protestantism, Judaism, and Other Religions is More Balanced Than Coverage of Catholicism.

  • Protestantism and Judaism stories generally included good deeds, practices, beliefs and values

  • Protestantism is underrepresented in terms of the percentage of the American population

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Coverage of Religion in Response to Tragedy and Death was More Generic Than Particular.

  • Several tragedies gained national attention: Columbia space shuttle, Providence and Chicago nightclub disasters

  • News coverage focused on general religion rather than discrete rituals and teachings

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Coverage of the Iraqi War Presented Religious Anti-war Views More Prominently Than Pro-war Views.

  • Anti-war coverage principally invoked religion to justify opposition

  • Pro-war coverage cited politics, safety, and public opinion to support its position

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Print Popularization of Some Religious Terms is Widespread. However, These Terms are Often Used Incorrectly.

  • “Sporting messiah”

  • “Zen Master”

  • “Ad gurus”

  • “Tao of Yao”

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Religion Sections Appear in a Minority of Newspapers. These Sections Treat Religions in Depth, and Show How Beliefs, Values, and Practices Relate to and Influence Their Readers’ Lives.

  • Two papers with self-contained religion sections: Dallas Morning News, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

  • Three papers with 1-2 “religious pages”: Chicago Tribune, L.A. Times, Washington Post

  • Religion sections are a model for the coverage of religion

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Some Newspapers Reflect Better Than Others Their Community, Nation, and Religions’ Beliefs, Values, and Practices.

  • Coverage of religion does not necessarily reflect regional demography

  • There are important regional differences in the balance between the coverage of religion in terms of beliefs and values and political/legal issues

  • However, in all papers, the quantity of coverage devoted to bad deeds outweighs that of good deeds

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  • Remember that context is key to the complete reporting of a story.

  • Distinguish between the group – and the action.

  • Consider Religion Sections.

  • Accentuate religion close to home.

  • Be balanced in terms of coverage.

  • Reflect a newspaper’s region and country.

  • Develop a means of obtaining advice and expertise about religion.

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Aaron Anderson

Meghan Barritt*

Stacey Rae Benner

Corinne Carpenter

Gregg Chesney

Maxwell Cooper*

Melissa Dupere*

Jonathan Ferland*

Melissa Gonzalez

Bryan Gross

Talia Guttin*

Rebecca Kanengieter

Shahrzad Kardonni*

Amy Kuenzi

Meghna Kumar*

Jessica Maglietto*

Ryan Montgomery*

Hannah Newborn

Joseph Ortunno

Valerie Palermo

Jonathan Rettinger

Andrew Rosenthal

Brian Scharfenberg

Adam Sherman

Theresa Spaulding*

Nicole Strait

Jessica Torrence

Teresa Tygert

Matthew Willyard

Directed by Professors William Scott Green and Curt Smith

Research Assistant and Teaching Fellow: Todd Hildebrandt*

Research Team Participants:


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