Reporters say they don’t know much about religion

USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism / University of Akron Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics
First, a caveat: The telephone surveys used for the conclusions you are about to read were conducted two years ago. But the report, which was just released, shows the disconnect between the public and journalists when it comes to religion.

Lack of knowledge a problem for reporters: “One-half (50.2%) of all reporters say a major challenge to covering religion is a lack of knowledge of religion,” the report says. Just 19 percent of reporters say they are “very knowledgeable” about religion, a third consider themselves “knowledgeable,” 40 percent say they’re “somewhat knowledgeable,” about 10 percent say they’re don’t know much at all.

Force for good or evil? The public is generally split between those who believe religion is a force for good (about 53 percent) and those who believe the opposite (about 44 percent). More than half of journalists, however, say it’s a mix.

Quality of coverage: Perhaps not surprisingly, two-thirds of the public think religious coverage is scandal-driven. About 30 percent of journalists agree.

The report also says that white evangelical Christians are under-represented among journalists who cover religion.

Earlier: Only 1 in 5 Americans believe journalists are “friendly” toward religion || Related training: Religion, Culture and Society: Getting Beyond the Cliches (free, self-directed News University course) | Reporting on Religion and Political Candidates (Live News U Webinar on April 11; $9.95)

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • Anonymous

    Doh!  And we needed a survey to tell us this?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Harry-Eagar/1522226881 Harry Eagar

    There are hundreds maybe thousands of religions. Nobody is ‘knowledgable about religion,’ but it is possible to know about one or several.

    Besides, reporters are seldom interested in doctrine but in the atrocities done by believers. Reporters know more about this than the believers themselves do. At least, I have very seldom met anyone who knows much about the evil his cult has perpetrated over time. Most deny it when informed.

  • http://twitter.com/HotCornerBlues Gary

    “The report also says that white evangelical Christians are under-represented among journalists who cover religion.”

    And in other breaking news – the sun set in the west yesterday.

  • http://twitter.com/michaelwhudson Michael W. Hudson

    The headline is cute but somewhat misleading. Another way to put it: more than half of reporters say they are very knowledgeable or knowledgeable about religion. Forty percent say they are somewhat knowledge. So something like 90 percent of reporters say they are very knowledgeable, knowledgeable or somewhat knowledgeable about religion. Beware self-assessments, of course, but these data points certainly don’t support the headline. 

    As for the idea that 50.2% say lack of knowledge is a “major challenge” in covering religion: you’d get large proportions of reporters saying that lack of knowledge is a “major challenge” in covering foreign policy, criminal justice, Congressional budgeting, corporate finance, environmental issues and many other subjects in the news. These subjects — and religion — are complicated and controversial areas. Reporters are usually generalists who come to their beats without special training. The best reporters do what good reporters always do with each new subject and each new story: report the heck out of them, talk to experts, read voraciously, ask lots of questions of lots of folks, and — most importantly — operate with a healthy realism that there’s a lot they don’t know, so they need to do all of the above on every story and make sure they assess the facts carefully before they publish.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Katie, that may be true, but it’s not what they asked. Here’s the exact question/response: “In your opinion, is religion more a force for good or more a source of conflict in today’s world?
    More a force for good 52.6 %
    A mix of good and conflict 3.8 %
    More a source of conflict 43.6 %”
    Hope that helps clarify,
    –Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online

  • http://www.facebook.com/katie.berling Katie Berling

    This article is misleading.  “The public is generally split between those those who believe religion
    is a force for good (about 53 percent) and those who believe the
    opposite (about 44 percent).”  This seems to suggest that those who don’t see religion as a force of good see religion as a force for evil.  I think the majority of the 44 percent just don’t believe in God, organized religion, etc.

  • http://twitter.com/Shokdiesel Shokdiesel

    Let’s drop the farce of a premise, and substitute “religion” for Christianity. That way the entitled nugget of “white evangelical Christians are under-represented among religion reporters,” can be taken with more than a grain of salt. The voice to the voiceless indeed…as other non-Christian entities receive the fair coverage they deserve….