Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Interest in Religion Outshines Previous Media Neglect

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Interest in Religion Outshines Previous Media Neglect

Article excerpt

IN recent days we have seen some remarkable religious coverage in major newspapers and magazines.

Newsweek had a portrayal of Jesus on its cover and a lengthy section offering new scholarly insights into the "Gospels at the core of Christianity." Time offered a two-page spread expounding on the complex reasons underlying Christ's crucifixion. U.S. News & World Report had the cover story "Spiritual America: In God We Trust," a major examination of religious faith in America. It was based on a poll that found America one of the most religious countries on earth. The Wall Street Journal led with an editorial praising the return of religion to the public discourse after a time of eclipse.

It is easy to dismiss all this as nothing but a flurry of seasonal stories keyed to Easter. But editors of major publications are smart people. They know that a dull cover story that does not grip the readers' interest can lose tens of thousands of street sales on a single issue. They are putting religion on the covers because it sells - because there is new and major public interest in the topic.

Perhaps there is no greater confirmation of this than a recent Nieman Reports that devoted the best part of an issue to "God in the Newsroom - 15 Articles on Coverage of Religion." Nieman Reports is the magazine of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard, which is devoted to journalists and journalism and is center for the prestigious Nieman fellowships.

It is good that journalists are taking a look at the way they cover religion for, with some exceptions, the attention they have devoted to it in the past has been slender. As New York Times religion correspondent Peter Steinfels explains: "Only something like 50 of the country's roughly 1,550 dailies have reporters covering religion full time," although in fairness these include many of the major outlets. The religious coverage of television news is much bleaker. No network, says Mr. Steinfels, has a full-time religion correspondent "or anything comparable to the expertise devoted to science, and health reporting, let alone weather and sports. …

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