The God Beat

By Dart, John | Sojourners Magazine, January 2001 | Go to article overview

The God Beat

Dart, John, Sojourners Magazine

In newsrooms around the country, religion is no longer a dead-end assignment -- but the media still have a long way to go before they get it right.

Top editors at The Los Angeles Times met one afternoon a few years ago with three reporters who specialized in religion news to talk about enhancing coverage of that delightful but daunting field--one that is now receiving more media attention than ever The L.A. Times gave good space to religion stories over the years. But the three of us were grumbling a bit. We worked in three different sections of the newspaper then, a situation we believed limited our ability to move fast on big national and regional stories.

However, the only decision made that day was a letdown: On Easter, Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, and other major holidays, we were to make sure the Times had a story about it--to spare them a spate of reader complaints! Running a related article days ahead was fine, they said, "but write one to run on the actual day as well."

Writing holiday stories is a dreaded task for most experienced religion writers. We'd rather be explaining some new religious trend or scandal, profiling a new religious personality, delving into a religious-medical dilemma, or announcing a breakthrough in interfaith cooperation--events that stir our journalistic calling.

But the editors' discomfort over angry holiday complaints was not as trivial as it sounded. It reflected an important function of the news media--validating the religious (or political, ethnic, racial, economic) identity of readers who feel they and their values are noteworthy aspects of community life. People of faith want to see the media recognize via news coverage that religious expression is a significant American trait. "They want to see religion mainstreamed in the newspaper," said Stewart Hoover, a University of Colorado expert on religion in the news.

When it comes to churches, however, the feelings are mixed, according to a pivotal 1989 study by Hoover. Like other institutions, church bodies want to maintain control over descriptions of their symbols and stories, yet many also desire the validation and credibility conferred by appearing in the news. But going public with their news and views runs the risk of misinterpretation by journalists.

"This suggests that secular press coverage always will be somewhat unsatisfactory and unsettling for religious organizations and religious people," wrote Hoover. He noted also that "the religious press has a role to play in giving religious organizations an outlet through which they can tell their own stories their own way." Religious publications, of course, lack the wide impact of the secular news media. (The adjective "secular" should not be equated with "atheistic" or "anti-religious," even if cases of caustic commentators, careless writers, and bad headlines sometimes create that impression.)

IN 1992, I WAS asked by the then-new First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University to research and write a study on tensions between organized religion and the news media. My partner was Rev. Jimmy R. Allen, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and the founder of that denomination's ACTS-TV cable system.

We concluded in Bridging the Gap, published in 1993, that there was little overt bias against religion in newsrooms, but that ignorance and avoidance of the subject by many journalists had led to inadequate coverage overall. For one thing, too few religion specialists were assigned to cover such a complicated topic. For another, general assignment reporters who should explain religious and moral aspects of major events often avoided doing so. The biggest reason was unfamiliarity with religious terms and contexts. Our survey found that clergy agreed that wrongdoers in their ordained ranks or church leadership should be exposed in the news. However, without a fuller range of religion news getting reported, the media portrayals of religion seemed to emphasize scandals and stereotypes. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The God Beat


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.