Bible Review 16:4, August 2000

Jots & Tittles

Bible Review

Religion in the News

You were twice as likely to find a religion story in the news in the ’90s than you were in the ’70s and ’80s. And the stories in the ’90s were longer, too, according to a recent study of the media’s coverage of religion in America.

In all, about 23,500 stories appeared in the major news media over the past three decades. This translates into 285,000 column inches in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time magazine, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report combined, and more than 80 hours of air time during the evening newscasts prepared by ABC, CBS and NBC. And just about half of those inches and hours date to the ’90s, according to a random sampling of 2,365 stories conducted by the Center for Media and Public Affairs, in Washington, D.C.

What are journalists writing about? Most of the stories written between 1969 and 1998 were uncontroversial: Twenty-three percent offered accounts of routine church/synagogue events, such as religious observances or the promotion of clergy. Seven percent reported on the activities of laypeople and included profiles of church members or reports on how ordinary people express their faith in the course of their everyday life. Six percent of the reports dealt with sexual conduct, whether homosexuality, adultery, extramarital affairs (coverage of which saw a boom during the Clinton-Lewinsky saga), divorce or clerical celibacy. Three percent were concerned with abortion and birth control.

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