Reporting News about Religion: An Introduction for Journalists

Article excerpt

Reporting News about Religion: An Introduction for Journalists. Judith M. Buddenbaum. Ames, IO: Iowa State University Press, 1998. 240 pp. $29.95 pbk.

Religion, writes author Judith M. Buddenbaum, is "the greatest story never told, or at least, the greatest story that's rarely told very well."

This mantra, indeed, it is the book's first sentence, permeates Reporting News about Religion. Buddenbaum, a professor at Colorado State University, perhaps oversells this point. However, as a former religion reporter who has conducted extensive research on the media and religion, this is an understandable flaw and one softened by her acknowledgment that we could easily replace "religion" with some other important topic and come to the same conclusion - that journalists often fail to grasp the nuances of what they cover.

The book fills an embarrassing gap in the reporting literature. Her previous co-edited volume, Religion and Mass Media, concentrates on reviewing research that explores the relationship between two institutions that share space in the First Amendment. Her latest effort is positioned as a supplemental news reporting text.

She provides clear distinctions within the sometimes fuzzy world of religious groups, from beliefs to administrative structures. Imagine covering U.S. politics without grasping the historical differences between the two major political parties or the give-and-take of the government's three branches. Often reporters cover religion with little or no understanding of the subtleties at work, relying instead on gross generalizations such as the writer for the Washington Post who, in 1993, described Christian fundamentalists as "largely poor, uneducated and easy to command."

Buddenbaum correctly notes that religion is best covered as "quest for meaning and purpose. …