Pod people: Faith, ink and sweaty palms

As you would expect, folks in GetReligion land are still thinking about that 6,000th-post landmark that we hit the other day, especially since it came so close to the site’s upcoming seventh birthday, which is on Feb. 1. Thus, you will not be surprised that this week’s Crossroads podcast turned into a discussion of the current state of religion coverage in the mainstream press.

That’s the question that I get asked all the time: Is religion coverage getting better or worse? Then there is the related question in the current media market: How have the economic woes of the news industry affected the Godbeat, in particular?

If you read GetReligion at all you know that we have published SO MANY posts on that subject that it is impossible to point you toward them with a handy URL or even 10 handy URLS.

Thus, I suggest that you click here and listen to the podcast or head over to iTunes and subscribe to the feed that will put it right in your computer, iPod or smartphone. The Divine Ms. M.Z. Hemingway and I did our best to handle those questions and the logical followups.

Here’s the big idea: It’s not the best of times in religion-news coverage, but it isn’t the worst of times either.

Yes the financial woes of the nation’s top 40 or 50 newspapers (the niche where the economic crisis is the worst) have, logically enough, killed some religion-writer slots in some important budgets. Large papers are the ones who have tended to have the finances to focus on important specialty subjects, like religion.

At the same time, it’s much easier to cut the religion beat if your operation is led by editors who are already uncomfortable with some of the issues raised by religion news events and trends. Like it or not, many editors still get sweaty palms when people — especially subscribers — start asking tough, factual questions about religious issues, religion-news coverage and, especially, the mistakes that some journalists seem to keep making when they try to cover religion.

But that’s old news. That’s GetReligion’s bread and butter, along with pointing readers toward some of the high-quality work being done in the mainstream.

However, I am especially interested in your reactions to another big subject that came up during in this episode.

Here is the key question: Are the growing number of religion-news blogs helping or hurting? I mean, some of them are producing new information and actual coverage (again, check out the CNN Belief Blog). However, many others are producing waves of opinion and discussion (not that this is a automatically a bad thing), but they are not producing new coverage of actual events and trends. In other words, how many of these blogs are doing any form of REPORTING that adds information to the marketplace of ideas?

M.Z. made a tragically logical point: Reporting is expensive, while opinion is cheap.

(Cue: audible sigh)

At the same time, there is a second reason that focusing on opinions about religion is the easy way out. It’s hard to get your facts wrong when you’ve decided that religion is all about opinions and feelings. News is about facts and the real world, correct? So why try to cover religion as hard-news journalists? Let’s just do a blog. Religious people tend to be emotional zealots, anyway. That’s the ticket.

(Cue: audible sigh, number two)

That’s a point of view that I thought had been crushed in the ’80s, during an era when religion-news coverage was on an upswing in the mainstream press. However, this idea seems to be making a comeback as a kind of journalistic zombie that has new life in cyberspace.

OK, it’s time to listen for yourself. Please listen and tell us what you think.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    So no podcast listeners at all, huh?

  • MJBubba

    Well, I enjoyed the conversation. I think it is sad and unfortunate that the entire field of journalism is greatly prone to groupthink from the point of view of left-leaning universalists. I am concerned that the internet economy is bringing about a situation in which opinion dominates and the percentage of the media devoted to actual gathering and reporting of facts continues to shrink. Professor Mattingly and Mollie provided coherent remarks that will hopefully prove useful to any reporters who are listening. However, the trend going forward looks a lot like the past seven years.


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