A defense of reading the news

It’s easy to spot so many human errors in religion coverage that sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of why we should read and engage the mainstream media.

Yes, reporters and editors often do not go to great lengths to understand and cover religion, but there are good reasons why we need general interest news outlets still. Otherwise, we’ll run off into our own silos and forget that there’s a bigger, wider world out there.

Forgive a little bit of shameless self-promotion, but I wrote a defense of reading the news in Tabletalk magazine, a piece that was just posted online this week. Here’s how it begins:

It’s no secret that many Christians harbor deep skepticism of the “liberal media elite.” Some have been burned by the media, noting unfair or unfriendly coverage from the past. “I never just accept what newspapers say about people. I’ve seen them get facts, quotes, and reasons wrong far too many times,” California pastor Rick Warren wrote on Twitter earlier this year. Or, as popular blogger Jon Acuff has suggested, Christians tend to treat the secular media as though it were Satan’s newspaper.

Now, I do go into specifics as to why Christians in particular should engage in the news, using theological arguments throughout the piece. The themes apply broadly but the premise is that our world is plagued with a sin.

An early form of reporting can be found in the New Testament, where Luke launches his Gospel with the defense that he relied on eyewitnesses. He says he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” so that the recipient of his letter, Theophilus, could have “certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” The Bible offers us four different Gospels and two accounts of the kings of Judah to help us understand different sides of the story. Similarly, journalists aim to report eyewitness accounts and carefully investigate the truth.

These portions of the Bible remind me that reporters are needed to document stories, positive and negative first drafts of history. The Bible itself is not one big puff piece. You can get juicy details of king David’s affair with Bathsheba or Noah’s rampant nakedness. Even as we read and watch for religion news, we shouldn’t expect puff pieces the same way we wouldn’t expect it from religious texts.

Those who avoid engaging in the media might say that the news makes them anxious or depressed, knowing humanity’s depravity has crippled possible perfection. But the Christian who understands both the fallen nature of humankind and our ultimate hope in things unseen will be better able to combat discouragement.

I’m not sure if anything frustrates me more than when someone gloats about knowing nothing in the news. Why would you use that as a selling point? If anything, we should be ashamed for not knowing more about how our “neighbors” are experiencing the world. Read the rest of the piece to find more arguments, but if nothing else, I hope to encourage people to become bigger engagers of a wide, complex world, one full of religion stories.

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  • http://www.thediscernmentfiles.blogspot.com David Rosenkoetter

    Sarah, you wrote: “The discerning reader can check to see whether a particular media report quotes several
    sources and attempts to capture all sides.”

    You’re right. It’s very important for us to be well-read in current events–both from conservative and liberal perspectives. In that way, we learn to know the perspective an article or newscast presents before we make an evaluation.

    Having a basic handle on political rhetoric and logic can aid us in siphoning out the bias from the lens through which we ourselves view it.

  • Jerry

    Sarah, I keep wanting to be supportive of your thesis but unfortunately I really can’t support it fully. I’m happy to read what a few good reporters write. But too often several sources just repeat a single version of the story so there’s no good way to figure out the complete picture. And, of course, for local stories there will be only one reporter covering what happened.

    One thing that I think should be kept in mind is that the problem is very much not restricted to conservative Christian groups but extends to other religions as well.

    In a funny way I have to give all of the GR bloggers part of the “blame” for my attitude. You’re doing such a great job pointing out the problems with story after story after story that I’ve become much more cynical about all stories except those written by the few good reporters. I assume I’m getting a distorted report until it’s proven that the report is not biased (guilty until proven innocent).

    • http://www.thediscernmentfiles.blogspot.com David Rosenkoetter


      I can certainly understand your cynicism toward much of the bias and coverage by many media outlets both local and national. However, being an avid GR reader myself has encouraged my delving deeper into news coverage and has given me a more discerning eye.

      One of the things I do that helps me see the reliability in news stories, whether I’m commenting on them or just reading them, is getting as close to the original sources (quotations, events, etc.) as possible. The GR article above shows how the Gospel writers did their share of investigation to report everything with accuracy. I’m sure Luke, for example, ran into his fair share of hostile sources along with his fellow, nacent Christian ones in his reporting.

      Oh, and for another tip when discerning source/reporter slant, check out original transcripts of newscasts, speeches, interviews, etc. if they avail themselves at any given point. There you get the bare words before everyone interprets or comments on them.

    • sari

      “One thing that I think should be kept in mind is that the problem is very much not restricted to conservative Christian groups but extends to other religions as well.”

      Oh, yes. Judaism has been misrepresented and Israel maligned by the press since before I was born. But, and perhaps this a major cultural difference, rather than avoid the news, we were taught to read it so as to be aware of what was being said about us.