Anyone need to study religion?

money1When media critics -- like me -- start arguing about why mainstream journalists often fail to "get religion," the discussions almost always turn into a discussion of the various biases that affect news coverage. In my summary of the biases -- as detailed long, long ago in the journal The Quill -- I have the news landscape carved into four regions. Briefly stated, they are:

* The bias of space, time and resources. Simply stated: You cannot print a story if you have little space in which to print it, time to write it, or the money to hire a professional to do so. ...

* The bias of knowledge. Fact: You cannot write a story if you do not know that it exists. ...

* This leads to the bias of worldview. Simply stated: It is hard to write a good story if you don't care that it exists. The result is, at best, a blind spot on religious issues, and the people who care about them. ...

* Finally, there is the bias of prejudice. It's hard to produce balanced, fair coverage of people you dislike, distrust, or whom you feel are irrelevant. ...

I am convinced that the first three biases play greater roles in shaping religion coverage, with the "bias of worldview" being the most important.

Most people who study media-bias issues say that the most powerful force is bias No. 2 in this list -- knowledge. However, I argue that this fails to explain why so many mainstream editors go out of their way to avoid hiring trained, experienced professionals to cover religion news, while seeking trained, experienced professionals to cover subjects such as politics, law, the arts, sports and other subjects. I argue that this points toward a larger bias. At the same time, I disagree with conservatives who blame everything on prejudice. Apathy affects religion news much more often than any kind of outright prejudice.

But we can all agree, I think, that more journalists need to take religious seriously, which means gaining more knowledge about the subject and a broader understanding about how faith shapes the lives of millions of people day by day.

Thus, your GetReligionistas are pleased to pass along this note:

Journalists, editors eligible for $5,000 scholarships for college religion courses

(Columbus, Ohio) -- Religion Newswriters invites all working journalists, regardless of beat, to apply to its Lilly Scholarships in Religion program. The scholarships give full-time journalists up to $5,000 to cover the cost of taking college religion courses.

With religion in the headlines more than ever, now is the perfect time to dig deeper into today's hottest religion stories. More than 200 people have already taken advantage of Religion Newswriters' Lilly Scholarships in Religion Program for Journalists. Some of the timely topics they've studied include: God & Politics, Culture of the Contemporary Arab World, Islamic Movements, Understanding Japanese Religions, Science & Religion and Evangelism. ...

And note:

The scholarships can be used at any accredited college, university, seminary or similar institution. Journalists can take any course they choose as long as it is in the field of religion. Scholarships cover tuition, books, registration fees, parking and other costs. Online and travel courses are also included (as long as travel costs are a part of the curriculum). All full-time journalists-including reporters, editors, designers, copy editors, editorial writers, news directors, researchers and producers-are eligible, regardless of whether or not they cover religion.

And all the people said? "Amen."

Click here for all the details. Pass this news along to editors, in particular. Hint. Hint.

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