TEXAS FAITH 72: How can the media better cover religion?

Dallas Morning News,

Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week. And you, readers, will be able to respond to their answers through the comment box.

Is the media’s coverage of religion too sensationalized?

Most of the public thinks so, according to a survey released this spring by the Knight Program in Media and Religion at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and the University of Akron’s Roy C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. The poll found that two-thirds of respondents think that religion coverage is too sensationalized. By contrast, only a third of reporters see it that way.

This week’s question may seem like I’m a bit of a masochist. But actually it is an important one for journalists to think through as we deal with matters of faith.

I was struck by the finding in the survey that a quarter of respondents are "very interested" in coverage about religion. But they want more textured and nuanced reporting. For example, they are interested in understanding spiritual practices as well as how faith impacts lives.

I was also struck by this finding, as USC’s Diane Winston put it: A majority of both the public and reporters agree the news media "does a poor job of explaining religion in society," with 57.1 percent and 51.8 percent agreeing, respectively.

So, here’s my question for this week:

How do you think the media could better explain the role of religion in society?

The answer is important for both consumers of news and those who report the news and interpret it.

NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, minister of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Dallas 

Informants need to be educated. Spiritual life is not a trip to the zoo in which your peer in through iron bars. Rather, it is something that is meant to be intellectually understood and experiential by practice.

It is not for the blind believers nor blind doubters. It is something that is intelligent, consistent, and practical.

Those who work for news agencies can better perform their work if they are privy to all the nuances of the various cultures. Ministers and pastors also can better inform the public if their presentation is logical, consistent, and proven true by the good personal character of the practitioner.

In the Vedic culture the guru principle is emphasized for this purpose. The guru is not only someone who is expert in the subject but also someone whose life and character is an emblem of the spiritual teachings.

The problem is that even though spirituality is even more sophisticated than medical science, the general public thinks that spirituality can be understood simply by reading a book. In contrast to this society understands that medical science can be only be understood by going to medical school and studying those books under the tutelage of a medical guru.

To see all responses of the TEXAS Faith panel click here.