Religion coverage doubles ... to 2 percent

Exciting news from the Pew Research Center today: religion coverage doubled from 2009 to 2010 in the mainstream media. Unfortunately, religion still remains just 2 percent of the overall coverage, with elections, foreign policy and the economy dominating the news cycle. Still, it did barely top science, education, immigration and race/gender issues. Among the key findings from the study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, you'll see that the tea party has taken the spotlight for much of the 2010 election coverage.

*The Tea Party replaced the religious right as the most-talked-about element of the Republican Party's grassroots support in coverage of the 2010 midterm elections. Religious individuals, groups or institutions were mentioned in only about 1% of all mainstream media coverage of the elections. By contrast, the Tea Party movement was mentioned in nearly one-in-six midterm election stories (14.1%).

*In 2010, religion appeared as a major topic more often in the blogosphere than it did in traditional media. Religion was among the most-discussed topics on blogs in 12 of the 48 weeks studied by PEJ and the Pew Forum. In three of those weeks, the plan to build a mosque and Islamic center near ground zero was among the top subjects.

The study also breaks down the types of stories the media focused on.

The divine Ms. MZ Hemingway noted last year that President Obama and Pope Benedict XVI were the news generators, but this year's list seems slightly less personality driven.

The Obama administration, the Pope's visit to the Middle East and holiday religious observances topped 2009's list, while similar stories were dwarfed by others in 2010. Four of the five most covered religion stories of the year involved Islam, with coverage of the Catholic clergy sexual abuse scandal listed as the second biggest religion story of the year.

Much of the coverage focused on the plan to build a mosque and Islamic center near ground zero in New York City, a Florida pastor's threat to organize a public burning of the Koran and commemorations of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Stories related to these three events collectively accounted for more than 40% of all religion-related coverage studied in mainstream U.S. media (broadcast and cable television, newspapers, radio and major news websites).

The study also revealed a contrast in coverage from cable TV, which devoted more time to religion (2.5%) than any other media type, including Network TV (2.0%); online news websites (1.9%); and radio, including talk programming (1.9%), and newspapers devoting the least amount of space with 1.6% of their front pages. The study also looks at blogs and social media, suggesting that religion was one of the top five subjects covered among blogs for 12 of 48 weeks.

Most of the coverage (70.3%) focused on domestic stories, 18.9 percent focused on international events, and 10.8 percent dealt with both. In 2009, 30 percent of religion coverage included international coverage. With all the unrest in the Middle East, it'll be interesting to see if 2011 sees a more even contrast.

Images Source: Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism and Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Copyright 2011, Pew Research Center.

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