I found a blog on Ask.com in which the author, a self-proclaimed atheist, bewailed the fact that religious reporters seem to perpetuate misconceptions about religions because they don't know their topic. This would be unacceptable on the science or business page, he writes, but it is tolerated on the religion page for some unknown reason.
"You can’t reach people you consistently misrepresent and don’t attempt to understand," he concludes.
Writers of fiction understand that crafting effective stories requires knowing what makes your characters tick. Why should journalism be any different?
As we discussed in our most recent class presentation, religion is both one of the most pervasive and most ignored aspects of American society. It behooves reporters to pay attention to religious factors that may influence their stories, and to do so, they must do their homework and understand the background surrounding the material they are working with. Yet religion also effects many of us, leading us to question what is a conflict of interest, and what is not. In some cases, these questions lead to approaching the topic with hesitance, and the end result is sometimes the poor or nonexistent coverage we see in the media.
While surfing online, I also found a great site which endeavors to ease the fears of journalists asked to cover religion, or stories with religious aspects. ReligionWriters.com has posted online a detailed guide to reporting on religion, including an explanation of several of the world's most prominent religions. It also includes tips for managing conflicts of interest, and suggested one avoid the following situations:
· Reporting on your own congregation or place of worship in any way.
· Promoting your faith tradition above others or endorsing its beliefs in any way.
· Profiling people you know through your religious life.
· Reporting on issues for which you’re involved in advocacy on behalf of your faith group. It’s one thing to profile a homeless person if you feed homeless people; it’s another if you are representing your church in lobbying the city council to build a new homeless shelter.
· Reporting on issues from which you cannot separate your religious beliefs. For example, if your tradition teaches that homosexuality is a sin and you do not feel you can impartially write about debates on gay ordination, you should [excuse] yourself from coverage.
· Any leadership position that would compromise your ability to report impartially about a religious tradition