Senior students from the Religion and Classics Department participated in a roundtable discussion with local and national journalists regarding a semester long study about how the media reports religion.
President Thomas Jackson felt that the topic of religion was “undeniably critically important.”
“It is no accident that religion is in the first amendment of the Bill of Rights,” Jackson said.
Students put together a paper entitled “Religion in American Newspapers: A Critique and Challenge,” which reexamined how newspapers deal with the topic of religion. The post-9/11 paper reaffirmed a similar study that concluded that “religion is everywhere, but nowhere,” although coverage is broader than it was eight years ago.
In a three-month study, seniors examined various national and medium-sized U.S. newspapers, looking for how religion was portrayed. In that time, there were 1,422 stories about religion and 4,952 stories about other subjects mentioning religion.
“I thought the roundtable was splendid,” Dean of The College William Green, who taught the class, said. “The students held their own [on the roundtable.”
“It’s a wonderful example of what undergraduate students can do,” Green said.
“I was impressed by the students,” USA Today columnist Walter Shapiro said about the efforts.
“This [study] was deeply interesting to me,” member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board Susan Lee said. “What struck me is that my newspaper – the Wall Street Journal – scored so low in so many categories.”
Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard and Fox News Commentator Fred Barnes said that there was a strong secular bias in the Washington press core. “So many reporters that are so good don’t know anything about religion,” he said.
“There is no doubt that the majority of newspapers – especially the Democrat and Chronicle – could do a better job at covering religion,” Editor and Vice President of the Democrat and Chronicle Karen Magnuson said.
Magnuson felt the length of the study should have been longer, saying the three months sampled may have been skewed by major national events.
President and Chief Executive Officer of Zogby International John Zogby agreed with the study in that newspapers help perpetuate stereotypes about religion. “I think the press has a responsibility to prevent stereotypes from happening.”
Senior Shahrzad Kardooni participated in the study. “It was the last thing I did as a college student,” she said. “It was nice to see the culmination of all our work.”
Schnee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.