Reporting Religion Around the World
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Part A: Introduction
- Introduction: Religion News in the Twenty-First Century (Yoel Cohen)
- Chapter 1: Religion and the News in the Age of Media Change (Stewart Hoover)
- Part B: Newsgathering
- Chapter 2: Foreign News—The ‘Religion Story’ (Joyce Smith)
- Chapter 3: The Religion Reporter (Yoel Cohen)
- Chapter 4: The Vaticanologists: Covering the Holy See (Miriam Diez Bosch)
- Chapter 5: Digital Futures of Religion Journalism (Tim Hutchings)
- Part C: Regional Patterns
- Chapter 6: Convergence, Digital Media, and the Paradigm Shift in Religion News in the United States (Daniel A. Stout)
- Chapter 7: Religion and News Media in Post-Soviet Russia (Victor Khroul)
- Chapter 8: Religious Exclusivism and Roman Catholicism in the Brazilian News Media (Magali do Nascimento Cunha)
- Chapter 9: Development Journalism and Religion Reporting: The Nigerian Case (Walter C. Ihejirika / Andrew D. Dewan)
- Chapter 10: Reporting Religion in Indian News Media: Hindu Nationalism, ‘Reconversions’ and the Secular State (Keval J. Kumar)
- Chapter 11: Media and Religion in China: Publicizing Gods Under Atheistic Governance (Qingjiang Yao / Zhaoxi Liu)
- Part D: Media Events
- Chapter 12: Habemus Papas: Pope Francis’ Election as a Religious Media Event (Giulia Evolvi)
- Chapter 13: The Argument of Force Versus the Force of Argument: The Charlie Hebdo Terrorist Attack as a Global Meta Event (Leo Eko)
- Part E: The Influence of Religion Reporting
- Chapter 14: Religious Ideologies and News Ethics: The Case of Saudi Arabia (Noha Mellor)
- Chapter 15: Sinners or Alternative Identities? Contrasting Discourses on LGBT Communities in Two Malaysian Dailies (Haryati Abdul Karim)
- Chapter 16: Holy Days, News Media, and Religious Identity: A Case Study in Jewish Holy Days and the Israeli Press and News Websites (Yoel Cohen)
- Part F: The Impact of New Media Upon Religion
- Chapter 17: The Catholic Church and Twitter (Daniel Arasa / Lorenzo Cantoni, / Juan Narbona)
- Chapter 18: Religion, Social Media and Societal Changes: The Case of “Marriage for All” in France (Christian Bourret / Karim Fraoua)
- Chapter 19: Internet News, Media Technologies, and Islam: The Case of Shafaqna (Babak Rahimi)
Reporting Religion Around
New York • Bern • Berlin
Brussels • Vienna • Oxford • Warsaw
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Cohen, Yoel, editor.
Title: Spiritual news: reporting religion around the world /
edited by Yoel Cohen.
Description: New York: Peter Lang, 2018.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2017022508 | ISBN 978-1-4331-2863-9 (hardback: alk. paper)
ISBN 978-1-4331-2862-2 (pbk.: alk. paper) | ISBN 978-1-4331-4533-9 (ebook pdf)
ISBN 978-1-4331-4534-6 (epub) | ISBN 978-1-4331-4535-3 (mobi)
Subjects: LCSH: Journalism, Religious.
Classification: LCC PN4784.R3 S86 | DDC 070.4/492—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017022508
Bibliographic information published by Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek.
Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the “Deutsche
Nationalbibliografie”; detailed bibliographic data are available
on the Internet at http://dnb.d-nb.de.
© 2018 Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., New York
29 Broadway, 18th floor, New York, NY 10006
All rights reserved.
Reprint or reproduction, even partially, in all forms such as microfilm,
xerography, microfiche, microcard, and offset strictly prohibited.
About the book
The media’s coverage of religion is an important question for academic researchers, given the central role which news media play in ensuring that people are up-to-date with religion news developments. Not only is there a lack of treatment of the subject, but there is also an absence of comparative study on news and religion. A key question is how both the traditional media and digital media influence how news about religion is reported in different countries. Spiritual News: Reporting Religion Around the World is intended to fill this gap. The book is divided into six parts: an introductory section; religion reporters and the religion newsgathering process; religion reporting in different regions; media events concerning religion; political and social change and the role of religion news; future trends—including the question of religion reporting in the digital age.
This eBook can be cited
This edition of the eBook can be cited. To enable this we have marked the start and end of a page. In cases where a word straddles a page break, the marker is placed inside the word at exactly the same position as in the physical book. This means that occasionally a word might be bifurcated by this marker.
Victor Khroul←v | vi→
Index ←vii | viii→ ←viii | 1→
When the American-born journalist Greg Burke arrived in Rome in 1988, he could hardly envisage that one day he would cross the line from journalist—he worked in Rome for Fox Television and Time magazine as well as the National Catholic Register—to become Pope Francis’s spokesman. The post of Vatican spokesman had traditionally, though not always, gone to a man of the cloth; Burke replaced Father Federico Lombardi, a Jesuit priest. True, Francis’s meteoric rise as papal superstar—who hardly ever gave an interview in his previous post, as archbishop of Argentina, dismissing journalists’ requests to interview him with the answer to come to Church to hear his Sunday sermon—reflected his own populist personality.
But Burke has clearly left his own mark on Vatican-press relations. A numerary of Opus Dei—a Catholic order for generating holiness among lay Catholics—combined with his own experience in, and understanding of the needs of, the media, made the socially affable Burke an ideal person as the link between the Vatican and the journalist corps. Joining the Vatican Secretariat in 2012, as media adviser to the Secretary of State, Burke is credited with setting up the Pope’s Twitter. When he took over the press office in 2016, a number of reforms were made to ease the flow of information from the Vatican to the world’s press, including digitalising the media operation. At the same time, a woman—the first in Vatican history—was appointed to be deputy Vatican spokesperson. Indeed, will a woman become Burke’s successor as chief Vatican spokesperson one day? The Burke appointment paralleled other steps to improve coordination between different Vatican PR agencies—including Vatican Radio, Vatican TV, Vatican Internet, and the Holy See Press Office—each of which had functioned as independent fiefdoms with not a little duplication between the agencies. It reflected the understanding←3 | 4→ that a single, unified message should reach the media and the public from the Curia. There was a dire need to make these agencies relevant. Till then they were, to all intents and purposes, ‘non-existent’ for the vast majority of lay Catholics, who draw their information from the general media.
Religion and the News
The impact of Greg Burke, journalist-turned Vatican spokesman, reflects a much more general recognition by key religious faiths and institutions in the twenty-first century of the central role which communication plays today. The study of the news process with regard to developments in the world of religion is important because the public, religious clerics, and governmental decision-makers are dependent on the media in order to glean accurate information. Clearly, errors can occur further down the line, so that even if the news is accurate of the initial stage of information, policy will fail. By corollary, if the information initially is inaccurate, biased, or incomplete at the outset, it will certainly lead to errors in judgements and policy decisions. This makes a book analysing different aspects of religion newsgathering—in different media forms, in different regions of the world—and their influence on religion, as well as the media’s role as a lobby, to be of value. Religion news has many similarities to other categories of news reporting. These include news values, audience interest, specialist reporters, and news sources. But unlike other categories of news, religion news has its own special characteristics as a news theme because it is not based solely on the rational. It draws on the spiritual. How is the infinite, the spirit communicable? So, unlike other categories of news reporting, religion reporting is locked in an unresolved dilemma: News reporters require objectivity, rationality, and therefore fail to broach the question of the fabric of belief—although it is true that much religion news is concerned with day-to-day decisions of religious leaders and religious institutions, thereby comprising rational content.
In the past, journalists, in covering religion, sought to deal with the ‘challenge’ of religion by saying it is a private matter. Much of religion news in Western countries comprised local church news, and the media were inclined not to critique religious leaders and institutions, or church doctrine. This clearly has changed in the case of Western countries—with a greater willingness by the media to apply the same rigorous rules of newsgathering as they do in other branches of news reporting. There is greater audience interest today in religion news. Not only has religion become a public issue, but people now wear religiosity outwardly. By the mid-twentieth century, churches—mirroring the steady development of government public relations—also took←4 | 5→ on an organisational PR dimension. Church news ‘ascended’ from just local news to national church news as church institutions expressed their views to the broader public.
The second half of the twentieth century showed a trend in Western countries for appointing specialist religion reporters—even if in some cases in the past these were ex-church figures rather than professional journalists who moved from general reporting to become specialist religion reporters. And, undoubtedly, religion news has become a bigger story because the world is more compact and has become a wired global village as major religion stories like 9/11 get broadcast around the world.
Another development has been a shift in some Western countries, including the United States, towards religious themes about spirituality and values and away from religious institutions (Vultee, Craft, & Velker, 2010). It reflects the individual’s quest and longing for tracing his or her roots and origin, and a desire to control personal destiny. Partly it reflects that the printed newspaper lost its role to broadcasting as a source of breaking news. Against this development, the printed press has gone more for feature writing, including religion feature writing like faith and belief. The move towards faith and belief was reflected, for example, in the Dallas Morning News which at one stage in the closing years of the twentieth century had as many as eight religion reporters and staff, who also prepared a six-page section on religion (Willey, 2008). The move towards spirituality and values in religion reporting gained impetus in the age of Internet and social networks, characterised by its interactive, and anti-hierarchical, nature.
Yet, it is difficult to gauge precisely audience interest in religion news. In Western countries, emptying church pews—not only in Europe but also in the United States—are a clue to a decline in religion interest. By contrast, the growth of different branches of Christianity, including Roman Catholicism, and Pentecostalism, in Latin America, Africa and Asia, are clues to greater audience interest in religion. As the media in developing countries grow, so do the news coverage—including interest in religion news. Academic researchers underestimate the level of interest in religion and news reporting outside the West. Partly, this book attempts to shed light on religion reporting beyond the United States, the focus of much of the research about religion and the media.
Surveys in Western countries show that audience interest in religion is lower than politics, international news, economics, personal finance, police, sport, and man-made environment. Religion news may have, therefore, been placed on the back-burner. Yet other surveys show greater interest. For example, in the 1980s, Buddenbaum (1982), examining audience patterns in the←5 | 6→ United States, found a differentiation between conservative socio-economic groups who were interested mostly in local church news and reporting about religious experience on the one hand and, on the other hand, more educated groups who were interested in broader religious issues and dilemmas—including on matters of ethical values—as a statement about broader social controversies. That some media outlets fail to provide comprehensive coverage of religion has led some media critics, including religious clerics, to blame journalists for a lack of interest or a lack of knowledge about religion. Yet others have noted a difference between general ‘passive’ audience interest regarding religion news as important, on the one hand, and whether readers and viewers do in practice read, watch, or surf religious content, on the other hand.
Religion news coverage may have declined in quantity in the traditional media in some Western countries partly as the print industry faces major challenges owing to the falling newspaper circulations and competition with the electronic media, which provide breaking news much faster. Most of the religion specialists in Western countries, including the United States, work in the print media, with few in television, given both that typical television newsrooms have fewer journalists, including specialist journalists, than some of the larger papers and that there are far more newspapers than television stations with news-gathering operations. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, in the aftermath of massive cuts in journalistic personnel in the print media, among the first to face cuts was religion specialism.
Research on Religion News
As an academic discipline, media and religion developed over the last fifty years as a sub-discipline of the sociology of religion and the sociology of media. It covers a broad range of themes—of which news reporting is only one—including theological views about mass media; religious media literacy; religious identity; audience gratification; religious institutions; religious public relations; and advertising. Like these others, the study of news and religion has produced a number of research approaches such as analysis of media content; descriptive studies about media coverage of religion; and surveys of journalists. A delayed recognition in the mass media discipline—itself characterised like all social sciences as purely scientific, indeed secular in orientation—took time to incorporate such non-rational elements like belief and spirituality into the schema of social scientists. Academic journals—such as the Journal of Communication & Religion; the Journal of Media & Religion; Church, Communication & Culture; the Asian-based Religion and←6 | 7→ Social Communication; and Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture—are today respected fora for publishing research about religion news.
Much of the research on news reporting and religion has focused on the United States and reflects a number of approaches. Hoover (1998), Marshall, Gilbert, and Ahmanson (2009), and Underwood (2008) analysed contemporary religion coverage in the US media. Buddenbaum and Mason (2000), Schultze (2003), and Sweet (1993) offer a historical approach to the coverage of religion by the US press. Silk (1995) and Winston (2012) provide a descriptive approach in surveying the US media, while Badaracco (2005) offers a dialogue between academicians and practitioners.
Research has also appeared about news and religion elsewhere. Hjarvard and Lovheim (2012), and Sumiala-Seppanen, Lundby, and Salokangas (2006) each examined religion reporting in Scandinavia; Knott, Poole, and Tairu religion reporting in Britain (2013), and Cohen religion reporting in Israel (2012). Mitchell and Gower conducted a dialogue between religion journalists and clerics (2012) in Britain.
Not a little focuses on a ‘divide’ between journalists and clerics, with the latter claiming that the media are anti-religious. Partly the perceived anti-religiousness of the media is due to the propensity of news values to focus, among others, upon conflict and social breakdown. Quite a bit of research has sought to explain the perceived media–religion divide through such structural questions like the knowledge level about religion, or religious identity itself, of the journalist rather than penetrate the construction of religious reality itself. The online review Religion in the News critiques religion coverage, mostly in the United States. The 1990s featured discussions in the professional literature in the United States like an entire issue of Nieman Reports entitled ‘God in The Newsroom’; a study on religion coverage by the Freedom Forum: Bridging the Gap (Dart & Allen, 1993), and occasional articles discussing religion coverage appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, The Quill, and Washington Journalism Review. Two primers towards advancing religion writing appeared (Dart, 1995; Buddenbaum, 1998). But like Underwood, Silk argues that journalists have religious roots—even if this does not necessarily find expression in the coverage itself.
The influence of religion reporting may be seen in a number of ways: the fact of religious news developments becoming media events; religion reporting’s impact upon religious institutions; its effects upon religious identity; and its effects upon religion policy. Spiritual interaction can take place in the media, across a range of scales, from national and global to very local and micro. New channels and sources of religion news are, therefore, challenging the traditional structure of religion coverage.←7 | 8→
Overview of Spiritual News
Spiritual News: Reporting Religion Around the World traces religion news through its various stages of production, and its effects and impact. Necessarily eclectic, the book’s contributors provide a variety of approaches—theoretical, empirical, and historical. With its comparative and international orientation, the book throws light upon a variety of faith traditions and how these are reported in the media. Indeed, one of the book’s goals is to go beyond the United States—which is much of the focus of existing media and religion research—to other regions and countries.
The editor acknowledges the enthusiasm and encouragement throughout the project from Mary Savigar, and Kathryn Harrison of Peter Lang.
In a tour d’horizon, Stewart Hoover—examining trends, present and future, in religion coverage—argues that it is not so much the form or content of religion that is changing but rather the mediation and the contexts of circulation. With the capacity for new channels, voices, and practices increasingly being interactive, entirely new forms of religious and spiritual interaction can take place, across a range of scales, from national and global media to very local and micro-media. New channels and sources of religion news, the author argues, are, therefore, challenging the traditional structure of religion coverage.
Another clue to the changing nature of religion news is its international dimension. Far from the days of the nineteenth century when religious news comprised little more than local church news, it has, as Joyce Smith argues, taken an international leap, including terrorism and conflict in the name of religion. This raised the need for foreign reporters to not only have knowledge of politics, foreign affairs, and economics but also of religion. Globalisation is today as true in religion news as in other categories of news—joining distant parts of the globe together through satellite and Internet and enabling people to follow distant religious events.
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- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. VIII, 418 pp., 15 b/w ill., 32 tables