It's always interesting to see what journalists zone in on when a new poll from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life comes out. More recently, most outlets picked up on the subject line that Pew chose, since it was presumably the most significant item the researchers found. Most outlets covered the idea that more people say politicians are talking too much about religion. By "more," researchers found that an increased percentage of people are saying there's too much religion talk (38 percent) compared to 30 percent who say there has been too little and 25 percent say there's the right amount.
The news that caught our eye, though, was that 19 percent of Americans say reporters and the news media are “friendly” toward religion. Just 38 percent of the respondents thought journalists were “neutral” while 35 percent said they were outright “unfriendly.”
You can see a split based on political identification: 11 percent of Republicans say the press is faith-friendly, compared with 24 percent of Democrats who say that same thing. On the flip side, a majority of Republicans (56 percent) saw the media as unfriendly to religion, while most Democrats and independents see the media as neutral or friendly to religion.
Poynter wrote a little teaser for the survey, suggesting reporters could be given a test.
Nittle’s piece [here] suggests the term “evangelical” is straining under the weight of groups laying claim to it. She’s right, of course, that evangelicals are not monolithic. Still, white evangelicals are a large and remarkably coherent group, culturally and politically. Maybe reporters who are friendly to religion could employ a couple of test questions to make sure they know who they’re talking to: “Do you own any Switchfoot albums released after 2007,” maybe, or “Does your youth pastor own a kilt?”
So there's some in-depth analysis from journalism's finest for you.
Another interesting is that among religious groups, white evangelicals (53 percent) were the most likely to say that the news media are unfriendly toward religion. Among other religious groups, half or more saw the media as neutral or friendly to religion. Those who attend church weekly (45 percent) are much more likely to see the media as unfriendly to religion than those who attend less often (29 percent).
Perhaps the sentiments expressed in the survey have something to do with the percentage of journalists who are religious and compared it to the rest of the country. From an 2008 Associated Press story:
[T]he Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reported in 2007 that 8 percent of journalists surveyed at national media outlets said they attended church or synagogue weekly. The survey also found 29 percent never attend such services, with 39 percent reporting they go a few times a year.
Pew polling of the general public found 39 percent of Americans say they attend religious services weekly.
On the bright side, while the “unfriendly” figure has been pretty consistent since 2003, friendliness has gone up by 5 percent since 2009. Still, it's worth considering how to interpret the survey results. For instance, how are people considering "friendly" and "unfriendly"? Does it mean they think media outlets are journalistically unfair to people who are religious? What do you make of the breakdown?
Image via Wikimedia Commons.