We’re 0.8% of the coverage!

There was some unsurprising but sobering news from the folks over at Pew this week. The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life analyzed more than 68,700 stories from 2009 and determined that religion stories accounted for 0.8 percent of the total news coverage from last year. That’s down a smidge from 2008′s 1.0 percent. By comparison, news about health care comprised 11 percent. Education and immigration, on the other hand, are about where religion coverage is.

The top two religion news generators were Pope Benedict XVI and President Barack Obama’s administration. Other key findings include:

* About two-thirds of religion coverage in 2009 focused on stories that took place in the United States. About a third of the content focused on stories outside the U.S., down from 42.3% in 2008.
* Religion-related issues drew more attention in new media than in traditional press outlets. In a separate analysis of blogs throughout 2009, religion-related news made a list of top stories in 11 out of the 45 weeks studied. The topics that showed up in new media ranged from a Swiss ban on construction of minarets to a French trial of a group of Scientologists to the debate about same-sex marriage.
* The importance of new media platforms as a place for news and discussion about religion may grow as the number of religion writers in traditional news outlets decreases. According to the Religion Newswriters Association, at least 16 major print news outlets have reduced or abandoned their religion beats since 2007.

The new media analysis was done by “aggregating and coding” blogs, tweets and other sources. You can read the full report for the rest, but discussion of same-sex marriage was huge in new media. The posts at GetReligion receiving the most comments last year also included many discussions of same-sex marriage.

I thought the most interesting portion of the report dealt with how different sectors of the media covered religion. While each sector of the media had about the same percentage of news space allocated to religion, they varied widely in what they covered:

On cable TV, religion-related stories that had a political component received the most attention. For example, the top religion-related storyline on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC was the policies and ideology of the new Obama administration (15.2% of cable’s religion coverage) followed by faith groups’ involvement in the health care debate (6.7%). Cable also devoted a significant portion of its religion coverage (6.5%) to Ensign’s affair.

Broadcast networks, including NBC, CBS and ABC, focused more on the pope; the networks’ top two religion stories included Benedict’s travels to the Middle East (9.5% of the networks’ religion coverage) and his pardon of the bishop who had once denied the Holocaust (8.3%).

Newspapers devoted significant space (5.8% of their religion coverage) to religion and the economic downturn. They were the only news outlet to devote much attention to that issue.

And on the Web and radio news programs, no particular type of news story dominated religion-related news coverage.

I believe this confirms why I get almost all of my news from newspapers, Web and radio programs.

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  • Jerry

    These are interesting findings but I have to wonder a bit about the methodology. I assume that the findings are accurate when it comes to stories where religion is the primary focus. But what about stories where religion is not the primary reason for the story. For example, there could be a story about a disaster which mentions the work of a religious group to provide relief. And, of course, their summaries would not include the fair number of stories with religious ghosts.

    So my feeling is that religion and spirituality is part of many more stories than the study numbers indicate.

    That said, having a consistent methodology year-over-year does provide at least a first order approximation to the trends.

  • Julia

    his pardon of the bishop who had once denied the Holocaust (8.3%).

    Benedict didn’t pardon the bishop.

    Where did that come from?

  • MJBubba

    Even when you are watching the “news,” television is a wasteland.