Christians Make the News, but Not Influencing the Newsrooms

October 18, 2008 at 12:53 am Leave a comment

terry-mattingley.jpgHere is a foolproof way for politicians to score points with Christians voters: Attack the media, an institution widely seen as lacking conservative Christian voices.

Republican presidential hopeful John McCain
and his evangelical running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, have done just that
at times during the campaign, with repeated jabs at the “liberal media.”

One
way to change this perception, some church leaders, social commentators
and journalists say, is for mainstream news organizations to employ —
and keep — more evangelicals in their newsrooms.

“Journalism has become more of a white-collar field that draws from elite colleges,” said Terry Mattingly, director of the Washington Journalism Center for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities
and a religion columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. “While
there’s been heavy gender and racial diversity … there’s a lack of cultural diversity in journalism,” including religion.

Since the 1980s, when the Christian right
emerged as a powerful force in American culture and politics,
evangelicals have made significant inroads in law and government by
training believers to work inside secular institutions.
But while the same universities that helped students launch careers in
those fields are offering similar programs in journalism, they haven’t
been as successful at changing the nation‘s newsrooms.

“The media — journalism — remain one of the hardest fields for them to realize their power,” said D. Michael Lindsay, a sociologist at Rice University and author of “Faith in the Halls of Power.”

Many
evangelical journalists start out in secular news organizations but
they soon join Christian media that offer an environment more accepting
of their beliefs and more family-friendly than the long hours and low
pay of secular journalism, said Robert Case II, director of the World Journalism Institute, which offers seminars for young evangelicals seeking work in secular media.

Martha
Krienke, 26, who attended one of Case’s seminars in 2003, worked for
two secular newspapers in Minnesota before she finally took a job as an
editor at Brio, a magazine for young girls published by Focus on the Family.

At one paper, Krienke disagreed with the edit of an opinion piece about what Christmas meant to her.

“My
editor wanted to change several paragraphs, and it totally changed the
tone and message of my opinion,” she said. “Going through that
situation just confirmed to me why I wanted to work for a Christian magazine.”

It’s unclear exactly how many evangelicals work in newsrooms, and federal laws against religious discrimination prevent news managers from asking about a job candidate’s beliefs. But the Pew Research Center
for the People and the Press reported in 2007 that 8 percent of
journalists surveyed at national media outlets said they attended
church or synagogue weekly. The survey also found 29 percent never
attend such services, with 39 percent reporting they go a few times a
year.

Pew polling of the general public found 39 percent of Americans say they attend religious services weekly.

In
seeking a greater voice in the media, most evangelical leaders say
their goal isn’t to evangelize inside newsrooms, which demand that
journalists set aside their beliefs for the sake of objectivity.

“They
have to be journalists first,” Mattingly said. “You don’t need more
Christian journalists. You need more journalists who happen to be
Christians if they’re going to contribute to any real diversity in
newsrooms.”

He also says evangelical
journalists can bring a range of contacts to the table and can draw on
their knowledge to help explain and shape religion coverage.

Case’s
primary concern is that evangelicals are frequently portrayed in the
media as a monolithic bloc, when in fact they are diverse politically,
intellectually and theologically.

“It bothers me that when mainstream outlets want an evangelical voice, they’ve turned to Jerry Falwell or James Dobson or Pat Robertson,” he said. “They are men of high regard and standing, but there are others who have a different take on things.”

Scott Bosley, executive director for the American Society of Newspaper Editors,
doesn’t believe there has been a bias against evangelicals in hiring or
in the workplace, and that it’s common for groups to feel
underrepresented in newsrooms.

“I don’t think the sole measures of the effectiveness or
success of newsrooms in reflecting their communities depends on having
precise quotas of folks representing all different ideologies, be they
Christian or not,” he said. “We have a lot of generalists in newsrooms
and they tend to have to learn about a lot of things.”

Religious scholars estimate there are nearly two dozen evangelical colleges in the U.S. that offer either journalism degrees or classes. And the Southern Baptist Convention,
the largest U.S. Protestant denomination, holds an annual conference in
which students get career advice from Christians working in U.S. media
outlets.

The Rev. Pat Robertson, the well-known evangelical leader who is founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, even considered buying The Virginian-Pilot newspaper of Norfolk, Va., to give students at his Regent University opportunities for internships. But he later abandoned the plan because of newspapers’ overall financial decline.

Still, “journalism is important and it’s one of the areas in
society I think our graduates should play a role in,” Robertson said.
“I think the idea of transforming the culture, of having Christians
involved as salt and light in every area of endeavor, is an important thing.”

Source: AP

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Entry filed under: Christian, National. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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