Religion on TV News:More Content, Less Context
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Recommendations for Improved Coverage
How could the balance and fairness and context of TV religion coverage improve? There are some simple recommendations to increase the quality of religion reporting on TV news.
1. Hire a religion reporter. Ten years ago, ABC hired local religion reporter Peggy Wehmeyer in Dallas to contribute to World News Tonight, which did not lead to a significant increase in ABC's religion coverage, but did provide a more sensitive, less hostile portrait of religious issues. ABC ultimately let her go, and she was not replaced. None of the networks have a religion specialist.
2. Hire reporters who are religious. Surveys and the tone of religion news suggest that the majority of reporters remain in the pattern of hostility toward traditional religious values. As national journalism organizations publicly declare diversity in the newsroom as a requirement for a balanced reflection of the communities they serve, why is that any less compelling for people of faith than other constituencies in the viewing audience?
3. When covering religion stories, use religious questions and approaches, not just secular or political ones. The media elite have taken the separation of church and state into another dimension: the separation of church and culture, or ultimately the separation of church and news. On social issues from abortion to so-called gay marriage, religiously inspired political views are no less valid in the public square than atheistically inspired political views.
4. If TV news wants to dabble in theology, the sample of experts interviewed ought to reflect the actual playing field in seminaries and universities, balancing conservative and progressive experts and scholars instead of relying on a preponderance of progressives. Airing stories on complicated religious subjects is an ambitious undertaking. But viewers with orthodox views often don’t see their worldview discussed so much as dismissed.