RELIGION AND MEDIA INTEREST GROUP NEWS
Spring 2003 Issue


Contents
1. New online newsletter signals changes afoot at RMIG
2. RMIG Kansas City program forges new partnerships
3. AEJMC committee reports review RMIG activities
4. Researchers should turn focus to religion and media discourse
5. Secular Politics on the Israeli World Wide Web
6. Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero

New online newsletter signals changes afoot at RMIG

By Debra L. Mason
RMIG 2002-03 Head

For some of you, Spring final exams and graduation ceremonies have begun their annual appearance.

Just as the academic calendar gets crowded with year-end rituals, so too RMIG has been busy this Spring.

Much of the work is behind the scenes, but it is all designed to improve RMIG as a place in which colleagues can discuss, share and encourage research, teaching and knowledge of religion and media in academic life.

The most obvious change for RMIG is the move of RMIG's newsletter from a print version to this new online edition and the debut of RMIG's first-ever website.

Several other divisions and interest groups do an online-only newsletter and it seemed a good way to cut expenses for RMIG. In the past, RMIG depended on the charity of the newsletter editor's institution to pay for the printing and often postage of the newsletter. With academic budgets pinched, it is harder to find institutions willing to pay the bill. The cost over a year is more than $500 in paper and postage, so the online version is a real savings to RMIG's meager budget.

This change was announced in a postcard sent to everyone on the RMIG mailing list, and in an electronic message to all the e-mails we had. If you didn't get BOTH of these notices, please let me know which one you didn't receive so we can update our records. If you're reading this, you obviously received at least one of the messages!

In addition to saving money, the web is an easy place to archive old newsletters, which RMIG will do, beginning with this issue. (We are working on scanning in and putting up PDFs of past issues but that will take a little time).

Of course we couldn't put the newsletter online unless we did not have a website. I'm grateful to Kate Fox of Kate Fox Studio in Apple Valley, Calif., who generously donated her time to create the website and assist in the posting of this newsletter. If you have ideas of things we should link to, or items of interest to post, please don't hesitate to pass them along to me or David Scott of University of South Carolina. David is our newsletter editor. This issue of the newsletter was ably put together by David, who solicited and edited the articles here.

The first item in this newsletter is RMIG's programming for AEJMC's annual meeting this summer in Kansas City. You can link to general information about the meeting by clicking www.aejmc.org.

Here are some other tidbits about members of RMIG or items of interest to you all:

  • The first Knight Chair in Media and Religion has been selected and the announcement of the hire will come soon from the University of Southern California. The Knight Foundation endowed the chair with a $1.5 million donation. I'll send an e-mail message once the name is made public.
  • RMIG Teaching Standards Chair Guy Golan, a doctoral student at the University of Florida, has accepted a position as an assistant professor at the Manship School of Journalism at Louisiana State University.
  • Former RMIG head Judith Buddenbaum of Colorado State University wrote a chapter on religious diversity in the forthcoming book, Journalism Across Cultures, by editors Fritz Cropp, Cynthia M. Frisby and Dean Mills. The book is due out in July from Iowa State University Press. Click here for more information: http://store.yahoo.com/isupress/0813819997.html.

If you have news about yourself or others-personal or professional- and wish to share it with your RMIG colleagues, please send me a message at mason@religionlink.com.
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Debra L. Mason is executive director of Religion NewswritersAssociation.

 

RMIG Kansas City Program Forges New Partnerships

RMIG Vice Head/Program Chair Rick Moore of Boise State and Head Debra Mason attended AEJMC's midwinter meeting last December to schedule and plan for RMIG's participation in Kansas City.

By partnering with divisions and interest groups with whom we had never worked before, RMIG was able to come up with an interesting group of panels. It's particularly noteworthy that RMIG is participating in two mini-plenaries, which are desirable because fewer things are programmed against miniplenaries and often miniplenaries have higher attendance because four divisions usually join together on the programming.

Naturally, RMIG will have room for at least 15 scholarly works, in two research panels and a scholar-to-scholar poster session. Research Chair Eric Gormly reports that RMIG received 33 research papers, an all-time high.

Here is the program. Mark your calendars and get your airline tickets while prices are low!

 

Wednesday, July 30th
3:15-4:30 p.m. State of the Freedoms: Civil, Individual and Social liberties. Mini-plenary co-sponsored with the Newspaper Division, the Mass Communication and Society Division, and the Radio Television Journalism Division.

6:45-8 p.m. AEJMC Keynote speech by humor columnist Calvin Trillin.

8-10 p.m. Reception at Union Station.

Thursday, July 31
8:15 -9:45 a.m. Juried Research Panel. Up to four research papers.

10-11:30 p.m. AEJMC Plenary.

11:45 a.m.-1:15 p.m. "Frequently asked Questions on the Religion Beat." (Co-sponsor: Council of Affiliates.)
Journalists covering religion often deal with questions no other journalists get, such as "When do you reveal your religion to your sources?" "How do you write about religions you don't believe in?" "With so many religions, how do you provide 'balance' in stories?" This panel will include tips for teaching students about the religion beat.
Panelists:

  • Susan Hogan/Albach, The Dallas Morning News
  • Helen Gray, Kansas City Star
  • Tom Schaeffer, Wichita Eagle

3:15-4:30 p.m. Sex, Religion, Media: Covering the Catholic Church's Priest Scandals and More (Co-sponsor: Mass Communication and Society Division)
Panelists:

  • Patricia Rice, Religion Reporter, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • Tom Roberts, Editor, National Catholic Reporter
  • Judy L. Thomas, Reporter, Kansas City Star
  • Andrew Walsh, Deputy Director, Trinity College

6:45-8:15 p.m. RMIG business meeting. Executive Committee Meeting to follow.

Friday, August 1
8:15-9:45 a.m. Race, Gender, Religion and Media: Understanding Audiences. (Co-sponsored with MAC.)
Panelists:

  • Venise Berry, Iowa - The Rap Experience: Diversity and Interpretation
  • Ken Campbell, South Carolina - Clarifying Student Perceptions: The Evolution of Minority Representation
  • John Sanchez, Pennsylvania State - 21st Century News Media Indians
  • Maria Williams-Hawkins, Howard - Behold I Stand at the Door and Knock: Ministers and Congregations Crossing the Racial Divide

11:45-1:15 p.m. Scholar-to-Scholar research poster sessions. At least seven of RMIG's juried research papers will be displayed here.

1:30-3 p.m. Mini-Plenary Session: Reporting on Stem Cell Research: Intersection Between Science and Religion. (Co-sponsored with Science Communication Interest Group, Media and Disability, and Council of Affiliates.)

  • Kimberly Lauffer, Towson
  • Judith Buddenbaum, Colorado State
  • Lee Wilkins, University of Missouri
  • Bala Musa, Northwestern College, Iowa

3:15-4:45 p.m. Juried Research Panel. (Up to 4 research papers presented.)

6:45-8:30 p.m. RMIG Research Mentoring Dinner. Off Site. Join respected researchers in the media and religion field for an informal evening of learning and fun. Please sign up in advance by e-mailing Debra Mason at mason@religionlink.com. RMIG members of all experience levels are welcome. This is the third year for this event. We hope to see you there. Reservations required.

8:30-10 p.m. AEJMC-wide Gala. The gala will be held at the 18th and Vine District, which celebrates jazz and baseball through The American Jazz and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museums. Attendance to both will be free to members.

_________________________

AEJMC Committee Reports Review RMIG Activities

By Debra Mason
RMIG head

Each year AEJMC committees evaluate every division and interest group in regard to its success in addressing three components central to AEJMC's mission: Teaching, Research and Professional Freedom and Responsibility (PF&R). PF&R includes five areas of emphasis: free expression, ethics, media criticism and accountability, racial, gender and cultural inclusiveness, and public service.

RMIG is evaluated by three standing committees of AEJMC on its ability to provide balanced programming for each of these areas.

The committees charged with overseeing these mission areas review reports submitted by the RMIG heads and issue their assessments each year. Below are the summaries of assessments of RMIG activities from the 2001-02 academic year, under Kyle Huckins of Christain Institute of the West as head, Debra Mason as vice head and programming chair, and Eric Gormley as Research Competition Chair.

These evaluations are a way to see what AEJMC leadership think of RMIG's work and they help point RMIG toward areas to work on the future.

1.) 2002 PF&R Report:

 

PF&R General Outlook:
With programming in four PF&R areas, the Religion and Media Interest Group had a good range of PF&R activities for the year. Their improved coverage of PF&R areas - up from just one the year before - is noteworthy. The group was the sole sponsor of three panels, including a panel on religion in entertainment a panel on the history of religion reporting. They co-sponsored a panel on international coverage of 9/11 and were primary sponsor of a panel on press coverage of Islam. With PF&R articles in the newsletter on faith-based reporting and sources for religious news, the group had good out-of-convention PF&R activity.

PF&R Outstanding Activity or Project:
The group's impact on ethnic, cultural and religious groups through their work in organizing and sponsoring panels that deal with religion and media themes is their top PF&R accomplishment this year. The emphasis on issues related to the Middle East is a particular point of pride.

PF&R Goals:
Although there continues to be a lack of diversity in the group's general membership and leadership, they have an excellent record on programming with a more diverse group of panelists and moderators, especially women. The new journal, Journal of Religion and Media, should provide an important forum and opportunity for greater PF&R discussion.

2.) 2002 Teaching Report:

  RMIG co-sponsored interesting and timely convention panels this year, sponsored a teaching and research mentoring lunch for less experienced faculty to meet with veteran faculty and published a special theme issue of the newsletter on teaching. The listserv is used for member exchanges about teaching and syllabi sharing. Attention to issues of assessment of student learning in this subject area would be most helpful for future programming.

3.) 2002 Research Committee Report:

  Last year, 14 faculty papers were submitted to the Interest Group. The current year saw an increase of six faculty paper submissions. Of the 22 papers submitted, 14 were accepted for a 63 percent acceptance rate. This rate is the same as last year's high acceptance rate. Three student papers were submitted and only one was accepted. The papers were evaluated by 19 judges who read four papers each. A $100 cash award was given to the top paper. Faculty and students competed together. Although the annual report did not address weaknesses, there is one concern - the competition. It's understandable that at this stage, there are few student submissions. However few there are, though, careful consideration should be given to having faculty and students compete against each other. Perhaps, the competition should be limited to faculty until there are enough student papers to have a separate viable competition. (Editors note: Despite this complaint, students have won RMIG's top paper prize more often than faculty.)
AEJMC's executive committee is reviewing the role of standing committees in this evaluation process for its effectiveness and usefulness. Stay tuned!

Researchers should turn focus to religion and media discourse

By David Scott
RMIG Newsletter Editor

By now, we have all been inundated with discourse and discussions in the mainstream media regarding terrorism, people of Arab descent, Islam or more often, Muslim "fundamentalism."

Despite official rhetoric demarcating Islam from terrorism, however, it seems that many Americans still harbor fears or stereotypical opinions of both Arabs and Muslims (often equating the two as being the same), and terrorism.

My hope that we as a nation were beginning to move beyond bias or hatred were dashed when, as last week I saw new graffiti on a fence near my home making profane and derogatory remarks about Arabs and Islam.

That same day I saw news coverage of a television advertisement featuring President Bush's ecclesiastical leader arguing that a war with Iraq would be "unChristian." Next, a religious spokesperson (who I did not recognize) said that Bush's minister represented "the radical Left," rather than the views of "most American Christians" who believe that a war with Iraq would be a "just war" as defined by Biblical history and Christian beliefs.

I was shocked! In one fell swoop, this report turned all the rhetoric stating this war was not about religion on its head!

Media coverage of religious themes and war-making further illustrate the need for scholars to examine the relationships between media and religious organizations or people. Might I re-suggest (others have touched on this before me) one approach we might apply in our analysis of media-texts about terrorism, the Middle East, and the possibility of war? My desire is that we begin to search for the "preferred reading" of media texts as discussed by Stuart Hall (and his contemporaries at the Birmingham School) and that we apply his encoding/decoding model to examine ways in which audiences apply negotiated readings to these texts. While Hall and his contemporaries examine how people who were ideologically left of the media interpreted media texts, our approach might examine the negotiated or resistant readings of viewers who are in many cases-because of their religious worldviews-ideologically situated to the RIGHT of these texts.

By researching and reporting on the role of religiosity in the interpretive practices of audience members, we as scholars might help practitioners better present divisive issues (such as a war in Iraq) in a way that reduces stereotypes and generalizations, and instead recognizes and respects religious diversity. My objective is to begin in earnest more research of this nature, and I would welcome any input from all RMIG members who are interested in similar issues.
_________________________
David Scott is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of South Carolina.

Secular Politics on the Israeli World Wide Web

By Guy Golan
RMIG Teaching Chair

During the month of January, the people of Israel cast their votes for parliament in the nation's third election in less than four years. Overall, 29 political parties competed for the trust of the Israeli voter.

Based on financial constraints and campaign ads regulations, many of Israel's smaller parties turned to the world wide web as a medium for articulating their campaign themes and main issues Israeli public opinion polls indicate that in addition to the peace process, the economy and government reform, religion and state ranked as one of the most salient issues in the 2003 Israeli elections. This issue's saliency can be largely attributed to the campaign of the Shinui Party.

When the elections results came out, many people were surprised to learn that the Shinui party has expanded its seats in the Israeli parliament from six to 15, thus making it Israel's third largest political party. An analysis of the Shinui campaign website indicates that the party identified the Internet as an important tool in its campaign arsenal. The website is available in Hebrew, English and Russian. It allows the reader to not only view all video, audio and print campaign ads, but to also to read the party's opinion newspaper, learn about the personal and legislative histories of all candidates, read press releases, volunteer to work or aid in the campaign and even donate funds to the campaign.

The secular identity of the Shinui party is clearly reflected in its platform, which calls for the end of the ultra orthodox monopoly over religious services in Israel (for example marriage, divorce, conversion). A full implementation of the shinui platform would dramatically transform the vary nature of the role of religion in every aspect of Israeli life.

Perhaps the most salient issues in the 2003 Shinui campaign was the need for the establishment of a secular coalition between Israel's three largest secular parties (Likud, Labor and Shinui) and the exclusion of all ultra orthodox members from such a coalition. Such rhetoric might seem extreme to the outside spectator, yet, it serves as a strong indicator of the saliency of the religion and state issue in the state of Israel.
_________________________
Guy Golan is completing his doctorate at the University of Florida and will join the faculty at the Louisiana State University this fall.


Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero

By Cecile S. Holmes
University of South Carolina

More than a year after Sept. 11, 2001, the tragic memories linger. For some victims who lost loved ones, they circle like vultures, eager to attack wounded prey. For others, memories of the image of the collapse of the World Trade Center's twin towers simply remain on the edge of consciousness, always sparking more questions.

A new PBS Home Video, Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero, revives a discussion of American spirituality that began after the terrorist attacks and, in some quarters, has never really ceased.

For the New York writer who lost her husband, a fireman, the attacks marked the beginning of silence in her relationship with God, she says on the video. The God she once thanked gratefully for her life's blessings now seems eons away, unhearing and uncaring. For the Muslim parents whose daughter and son-in-law perished in the attacks, the only reassurance after hours of prayer is that their beloved child is with Allah. For the photographer who ponders the meaning of Sept. 11, raising the questions merely raises more questions.

As with others whose voices are heard in this well-done production (for sale at www.pbs.org) the photographer sees his understanding of life, faith and God forever changed. But he is uncertain in what direction. He says he didn't believe in a God who pushed cars over cliffs with his little finger, but saw the Almighty on "A much grander " scale. "What has happened after Sept. 11 is I wish for the opposite. I wish I had a God I could access."

The unknowable nature of God is explored throughout the video. While the images shown and the opinions expressed are sometimes disturbing, the program is tastefully done. It offers an apt starting point to begin any discussion of faith and doubt, whether that conversation revolves around the personal issues or national concerns.
_________________________
Cecile S. Holmes is the former religion editor at The Houston Chronicle and assistant professor of journalism at the University of South Carolina. Copyright 2003 Cecile S. Holmes. Used by permission.

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