The case for covering religion

Download all chapters of "Reporting on Religion" (PDF)

Religion is interesting and important, but media organizations should also cover religion because it’s a good business move. Reader/viewer/listener surveys on religion are relatively scarce, but when combined with anecdotal evidence and other poll findings, there is a persuasive case to bemade that covering religion is smart:

1 Six in 10 Americans say religion is “very important” in their lives. That means they’re likely to read/watch/listen to stories about religion.1

2 Religion stories connect with readers and viewers. Connecting with their audiences is a universal goal of media organizations. Many religion journalists say they’ve gotten more feedback on the religion beat than any other they’ve covered.

3 A quarter of Internet users have searched for information about religion online, and half of those have looked for information about faiths other than their own. That implies they’re interested in reading about religion.

4 Religion is a factor in the issues Americans consistently name as their top concerns: war, terrorism, education, health care, immigration, the environment and the health of the economy.

5 Many media outlets fail to include religion in their own market studies. If your outlet does not ask about religion, encourage your market survey employees to do so. Generally, local studies support the case for religion news. Although the audiences for faith and values stories tend to be older than the average news media consumer, more women than men are interested in religion news.

6 Across the nation, some media outlets are trimming religion news under the mistaken notion that more and better religion news will not help attract new audiences. The Readership Institute, a massive research project on newspaper readership that is based at Northwestern University, showed that readers are highly unsatisfied with existing religion news. Based on that and other findings, the institute did not include religion news as among the top nine content areas on which newspapers need to focus. However, some religion and media scholars believe the problem is in how questions about religion are asked, since religion clearly is a motivating factor in the use of many other types of media, including film, books and online content.

1 “Among Wealthy Nations … U.S. Stands Alone in its Embrace of Religion,” a 2002 survey from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
2 “Cyberfaith: How Americans Pursue Religion Online,” a 2001 survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.