July 13, 1999
Religion Reporting How-To
-- Martin E. Marty
Many hundreds of the many thousands who receive "Sightings" are themselves "sighters." That is, as talk show hosts, editors, reporters, writers, public relationists, advertisers, educators, and more, they let us know that they and we together are working to improve the coverage of religion in American public life. They and we are always sharing resources that contribute to the cause, described in the mission statement of the Public Religion Project as "to promote efforts to bring to light and interpret the forces of faith within a pluralistic society."
With that mission in mind, we today promote someone's effort to promote the cause by referring to a book that somehow escaped our notice last year when it was published by Iowa State University Press (www.isupress.edu): Judith M. Buddenbaum's REPORTING NEWS ABOUT RELIGION: AN INTRODUCTION FOR JOURNALISTS.
The book's jacket notes: "Although the public now ranks religion news second only to education news in importance, religion news is last in terms of audience satisfaction." Depending on how one measures "importance" and "satisfaction," there may be something to both.
Buddenbaum takes up the essentials: the First Amendment, the meanings of "beliefs and behaviors," the nature of religious organization. She comments on "trends in religion news," discusses "the audiences for religion news," and even tells how to choose and write stories of religion. As we read it, it occurred to us that those who write about their own religious organizations for even the smallest-circulation papers would get understanding and how-to from the book. For that matter, religious leaders, clerical and lay, who want to make sense of the media world could put the book to profitable use as well. Very fine end-of-chapter bibliographies add to the value. We are glad we "sighted" Buddenbaum, even if tardily.