Yes, reporters and editors often do not go to great lengths to understand and cover religion, but there are good reasons why we need general interest news outlets still. Otherwise, we'll run off into our own silos and forget that there's a bigger, wider world out there.
Forgive a little bit of shameless self-promotion, but I wrote a defense of reading the news in Tabletalk magazine, a piece that was just posted online this week. Here's how it begins:
It’s no secret that many Christians harbor deep skepticism of the “liberal media elite.” Some have been burned by the media, noting unfair or unfriendly coverage from the past. “I never just accept what newspapers say about people. I’ve seen them get facts, quotes, and reasons wrong far too many times,” California pastor Rick Warren wrote on Twitter earlier this year. Or, as popular blogger Jon Acuff has suggested, Christians tend to treat the secular media as though it were Satan’s newspaper.
Now, I do go into specifics as to why Christians in particular should engage in the news, using theological arguments throughout the piece. The themes apply broadly but the premise is that our world is plagued with a sin.
An early form of reporting can be found in the New Testament, where Luke launches his Gospel with the defense that he relied on eyewitnesses. He says he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” so that the recipient of his letter, Theophilus, could have “certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” The Bible offers us four different Gospels and two accounts of the kings of Judah to help us understand different sides of the story. Similarly, journalists aim to report eyewitness accounts and carefully investigate the truth.
These portions of the Bible remind me that reporters are needed to document stories, positive and negative first drafts of history. The Bible itself is not one big puff piece. You can get juicy details of king David's affair with Bathsheba or Noah's rampant nakedness. Even as we read and watch for religion news, we shouldn't expect puff pieces the same way we wouldn't expect it from religious texts.
Those who avoid engaging in the media might say that the news makes them anxious or depressed, knowing humanity’s depravity has crippled possible perfection. But the Christian who understands both the fallen nature of humankind and our ultimate hope in things unseen will be better able to combat discouragement.
I'm not sure if anything frustrates me more than when someone gloats about knowing nothing in the news. Why would you use that as a selling point? If anything, we should be ashamed for not knowing more about how our "neighbors" are experiencing the world. Read the rest of the piece to find more arguments, but if nothing else, I hope to encourage people to become bigger engagers of a wide, complex world, one full of religion stories.