No faith in parachute journalism

paratrooperWhen a county in the heartland has an unemployment rate of 10 percent, should religious issues be written out of the news articles on what is influence people’s votes this fall? That is apparently the case in this USA Today article on how small town Ohio is going to play a big role in determining the next president this November.

But since religion played such an important roll in pushing President Bush over the top in 2004, particularly in Ohio, shouldn’t religion get at least a mention?

Here’s the gist of the article:

Ohio has dozens of rural counties containing small towns that once thrived on factories that made Huffy bikes, Etch A Sketches, cars and other products. These are traditional Republican strongholds where Bush won big in 2004 and Hillary Rodham Clinton scored well in the Democratic primary earlier this year.

These counties have some of the most difficult economic conditions in the nation. They are overwhelmingly white, blue-collar and conservative.

Readers of this article aren’t given a very good idea of what it means to be “white, blue-collar and conservative” in Ohio. The article paints a great general picture on why local economics and politics could be significant to voters. A regular reader of ours who has more familiarity with the featured community had the following to say:

So I was excited to see my hometown featured on the front page of today’s USA Today. Unfortunately, the article was a typical MSM “parachute” job, and there was absolutely no mention of religion, not even a quip about how these small town folks cling to God and guns.

Religion plays an important role in the lives of many in small towns like Coshocton. More importantly, it is integrated with everyday life. As an example, the Coshocton Community Choir — one of the best community choirs in the country — sings quite a few Christian songs in a typical concert held in the high school auditorium, and no one bats an eye. But you’ll never get that in a “parachute” article.

Welcome to Ohio, MSM! We see you every four years. This time, maybe some of you will stay for more than a few hours so that you actually can get to know the people here. Oh, wait, I forgot — you don’t want to.

Since I have never really lived in a swing state in an election season, I am somewhat jealous that we rarely ever get any national political attention. Hoosiers had their moment earlier this year, and maybe lightning can strike twice this year, but I am skeptical.

Despite the historic economic crisis going on around us, religion will remain important in communities. Journalists ignore it at their own peril. Please keep letting us know if the national media “parachutes” into your community and fails to cover the religious perspectives.

Photo of an American paratrooper using an MC1-1C series ’round’ parachute, used under a Wikimedia Commons license.

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  • Jerry

    If there’s a theme less covered than religion and the economy, someone please let me know. On one hand, we have the story that prompted this blog entry. And, from another perspective is a blog topic idea I submitted that was taken from the current week’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly TV show. I’m finding the macro view of the economy shares the same blindness as this story illustrated in the micro view. If someone has seen any stories in the media talking about the moral root cause of the current financial issues, I’ll go get a hat and a salt shaker. Even the story I watched reflected the opinion that a little sin (greed) is good as long as the sin is kept in bounds. And that story reflected the economists view that without greed the economy would be less healthy because people would be less motivated. So either the issue is ignored as in the blog topic case or reported badly as in the TV show’s case.

  • Russ Pulliam

    Daniel makes a good point, and I think it has been a problem in our field for many years, maybe since World War II. I have sensed some correction since 2004, when the exit polls revealed the values voters in a way that could not be ignored. Nice parachute picture too.

  • Chris Bolinger

    When I was growing up in small town Ohio, most blue collar folks were staunch Democrats because the Democratic Party was the party of the unions. If there has been a swing to the Republican Party among blue collar folks in places such as Coshocton, then reporters should look beyond economic issues to issues of religion and morality. Perhaps the overused term “conservative” should be replaced with something that describes those with “traditional” values. Alas, small towns in the Midwest fly below the radar of our coast-hopping friends in the MSM, except when they parachute in for a quick look-see through biased lenses.

  • Harris

    How big are the churhes in Coshocton? The religious census from 2000 doesn’t show a large Catholic presence (1600 in a County of 35,000). A majority (22,000) are outside the denominational categories of the survey — either as unbelievers, members of African-American congregations, or as members of sectarian protestants.

    Just looking at the religious profile, I have trouble believing the area was once reliably in the Democratic column (Presidential splits were 60/40 in both 2000 and 2004).

  • Chris Bolinger

    Coshocton County has only one city of any size: Coshocton, which has a population of 11,500. Much of the county outside Coshocton is family farms. Inside the city, there is a reasonably large Catholic church and churches for most mainline Protestant denominations. I think that there is a large nondenominational church outside the city limits, but I haven’t been to the county for a while. The northern part of the county is the southern edge of Ohio’s Amish country.

    How does a religious census from 2000 tell you whether or not the area was reliably in the Democratic column in the past? Last time I checked, a census was a snapshot, not a trend. Even if church attendance figures remained relatively consistent for 30 years, since when are church attendance figures in central Ohio closely aligned with party affiliations or voting practices? Where’s the evidence to back up that assumption?

    Rather than trying to analyze a town or area from afar, wouldn’t it make more sense to leverage the knowledge of those who live there, including local reporters? Shouldn’t an article on a town in a swing state include interviews with more than the mayor, the leader of the opposition party, and a few passersby? The problem with MSM articles and your quick analysis is that the make invalid assumptions about a town/area based on preconceived notions and generalized data that doesn’t apply. Every town and every area in the U.S. has unique characteristics. The MSM just doesn’t get it.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Since I have never really lived in a swing state in an election season, I am somewhat jealous that we rarely ever get any national political attention.

    Don’t be jealous. The political coverage in Ohio every four years is laughably bad. In 2004, I enjoyed flipping the channels between the various “news” shows and counting how many misrepresentations were made by people who posed as experts on the Ohio political scene. Ohio makes it difficult on parachuters because half of the city and town names are pronounced differently than they should be. As an example, McCain and Palin were in Vienna, Ohio last week, and CNN dutifully said “vee EN uh” 1,000 times. Problem: it’s “vie EN uh”. (Of course, nothing in Ohio tops Cairo, “KAY roh”, Illinois.) Plus, we have all of the places with Native American names, such as Cuyahoga Falls and Tuscarawas County.

    It’s gonna be a fun, borderline hilarious, next 45 days.

  • Dan Berger

    Of course, nothing in Ohio tops Cairo, “KAY roh”, Illinois.

    What about Lima, “LYE-ma”, Ohio? That’s just 20 miles down the road from me.

  • Jeff

    Umm — Dennis is friend (full disclosure!), and he lives in a small Ohio town just twenty-five minutes down the road from Coshocton. No parachutes involved, and it seems like a fair assessment to me, but see my disclosure.

    The parachute slam can be safely discarded, though. Dennis is a deeply involved member of a small town Ohio community, and the trip to Coshocton is barely out of county from hyar’bouts.

  • Chris Bolinger

    I withdraw the parachute slam. Unfortunately, the article reads like a parachute article. Few interviews. Little history or background. Little delving below the surface. No mention of religion. Maybe the problem is that the article attempts to frame the town in a particular context, i.e. as an example, rather than simply profiling the town.

  • Maureen

    You forgot the interpretation of “anger at Governor Bob Taft and his merry little budget-busting band of unconservative Republicans” as anger at loss of factories or the national GOP or something.

    Um, yeah. That national media, really paying attention to Ohioans’ desires and messages.

    Re: Coshocton churches

    [looking at phonebook]

    There’s an Apostolic Christian church and a Christian Apostolic church; 2 Assembly of God; 5 Baptist; 3 American Baptist; 3 independent Baptist; 1 Southern Baptist; 1 Bible Church; 2 Catholic parishes; 1 Disciples of Christ; 1 Christian and Missionary Alliance; 5 Churches of Christ and 1 Church of Christ in Christian Union; 2 Church of God and 1 Church of God of Cleveland, TN; 1 Latter Day Saints (Mormons); 3 Church of the Nazarene and 1 Independent Nazarene; 2 Episcopal; 2 Foursquare Gospel (Amy Semple McPherson); 2 Full Gospel; 1 Jehovah’s Witnesses; 2 Lutheran; 7 nondenominational Christian; 3 Pentecostal; 1 Seventh Day Adventist; 3 United Church of Christ; 15 United Methodist; 2 Wesleyan; 1 House of Jacob; and 1 Salvation Army.

    Aeh, these monolithic small towns with their uniformity of belief.