Religion Coverage is Going to the Blogs

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The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life have released a study that analyzes news coverage of religion for 2009. The take-home message? Mainstream media coverage of religion continues to shrink (0.8% of the news, as opposed to 1% last year), and new media (blogs, web sites, podcasts, etc) is taking up the slack, and becoming the primary outlet for religion news, debate, and discussion.

In 2009, religion attracted significantly more attention in new media sources than in the mainstream media.in a sample drawn from millions of blogs and social media finds that religion was a top story in nearly a quarter of the weeks studied (11 out of 45 weeks) … The blogosphere and other social media tools have grown over the past few years. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 51% of internet users post online content that they have created themselves. Eleven percent of all adults use blogs. The use of Twitter has tripled since 2008. At the same time, the number of reporters assigned to the religion beat in the mainstream media has been shrinking. According to Debra Mason, executive director of the Religion Newswriters Association, at least 16 major print news outlets have reduced or abandoned their religion beats since 2007. At the same time, she says, online newspapers such as The Huffington Post and Politics Daily have increased their religion staff. “We’re in the midst of growth of the [religion] beat online,” Mason says, “but newspapers haven’t kept up with the trend and have instead let religion coverage languish.” An analysis of nearly a year’s worth of commentary

Not only is new media now dominating in coverage of religious news, we’re more diverse as well. While MSM religion coverage, when it happened, was primarily focused on Pope Benedict or religious angles to developments within the Obama Administration, new media religion stories “were broad in scope”, and wildly successful in engaging their audience.

Another interesting tidbit I found is that while new media sources continue to rely heavily on mainstream media as a jumping-off point for opinion and analysis, a growing number of bloggers are creating their own content.

“The blogosphere and other social media tools have grown over the past few years. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 51% of internet users post online content that they have created themselves. Eleven percent of all adults use blogs. The use of Twitter has tripled since 2008.”

As this shift to new media continues, you’ll continue to see the professionalization of the religious blogosphere. If you take a quick look at the Social Science Research Council‘s study “The New Landscape of the Religion Blogosphere”, you’ll see that a good number of the leading blogs and web sites driving religion coverage on the web are either run by journalism professionals, are extensions of non-profits, or are part of for-profit ventures (even The Wild Hunt is attempting to evolve into an NPR donation-supported model).

There’s a reason why The Huffington Post has dived into religion coverage, the public is hungry for news and analysis on this large and unwieldy subject, and the mainstream media doesn’t seem to have the inclination or resources to do the job properly. In the future, the “big” religious stories will be reported on the Internet first, and “trickle up” to cable news and newspapers. So it makes sense that we’ll see more new media start-ups, like HuffPost and Patheos.com who want to be a part of driving that discussion. For minority faiths (and minority groups in general), it’ll be more important than ever to have a strong Internet news-making and reporting presence. Without one, we’ll have little to no say in how news about our communities gets reported, and groups that have no desire to participate in a link-based economy will find themselves increasingly marginalized.