Journalism and Faith

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What is the big deal about journalism and religion?  Here is the problem… we cannot ignore religion, because obviously it exists everywhere and it is a big deal, but it is also a very touchy subject to cover; so we must be extremely careful. In the minds of the public, there are also many misconceptions about religion.  People are very defendant about their religion, yet critical to the beliefs of others.  This is a problem because not only are there many different views, but people are passionate about their religion.  For a journalist covering certain faiths, there is really no way to be objective.  Religion is opinionated (for the most part), and there is no real proof about certain religions; religions are usually based on faith which cannot be proven.

“Journalism and religion is a tough mix. Religion depends on faith, and journalism demands proof.” –Jim Robertson, Columbia Daily Tribune

As far back as journalism and religion go, there has always been a tension between the two subjects and probably always will be.  The group which presented on this subject had many good quotes, one in particular fits perfectly with the point of objectivity in covering religious matters:

“It’s false that a reporter can unplug his ideology and somehow become neutral.” –Mattingly

This statement is completely true.  As hard as a journalist tries to become unaffected by religion, it cannot be done.  The principles you learn and grow up with stick with you and become a part of you.

So what do we do about this objectivity in religion problem?

The book recommends that we remember that the context is the key to the complete reporting of a story. For instance, if you are writing from a certain religion’s point of view or on a certain religion’s event, you can write about what they believe.  We must just make sure to let the public know it is in that specific point of view.  A journalist reporting about religion must shed light to the religion.  Let people know what the religions believe; clarify the misconceptions, but remember to report it as a news story.  We must not ever generate heat.

Another good bit of advice is to go directly to the source.  Reporting on a certain religion should require insight by a member of that specific faith.  Rumors start through the grapevine, so we must remember not to report on things we hear word-of-mouth.

If the public wants a specific religion’s point of view, there are places they can go for that.  Resources for religion writers include the RNA (Religion News-Writers Association), and Poynter Institute, and more.

In reality, “all news is religious news.” Religion is everywhere and impacts everyone.  A University of Rochester study found that religion is mentioned far more than it is in the subject of a story.  Religion is even used as criterion to identify people, like the press identifying a quote from Mitt Romney by saying, “Mormon Mitt Romney.”

Does all this talk of religion as a source of identification cause a stereotype?  Depending on how the audience receives the information, it can cause a stereotype.  Unless the public is more educated in aspects of religion, people will be affected by how people in a specific religion behaves, even if it is not in accordance to their faith.  That is where the journalist comes in: to shed light on the source of religion and clear the mixed air.

Although it is extremely difficult to write on a subject you may not believe in, sometimes that is what journalism requires.  I hope that a journalist can write religious stories based off of the view of the members of the faith instead of his or her view; that is the only way to make it non-biased.

A journalist must keep individuals and their actions separate.  If a religious purpose is a motive for somebody’s action, report it.  If it is not, leave religion out.  Nonetheless, we cannot ignore religion.  Simply state events as they are and be careful where boundaries lie.  If religion is involved, report it, if it is unimportant for a story, leave it out. This is how we avoid stereotypes and anger towards journalists.

Should a journalist be able to reject writing a story about anything they do not believe in? If the subject matter would cause the journalist to be biased, they should have every right to refuse the story.  A journalist should be expected to write it even if they do not agree, but if the journalist knows they would not be able to, that is their right to refuse–which would actually benefit the public as well.  Journalists must take themselves out of their own shoes and step into the shoes of others in order to understand and inform.

The fact is, religion exists.  Reporters must report on it, they cannot ignore it.  This is why journalists must be objective, informed, and understanding, in order to properly inform the rest of the world.

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