RELIGION AND MEDIA INTEREST GROUP
RELIGION MATTERS Mid-Winter 2008
The Newsletter of the Religion and Media Interest Group
of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
1. Editor's Introduction
2. Presidents and Poker: Reflections
from the RMIG Head
3. Religion and Media
4. Online: The Next Frontier
of Religion News Coverage
5. Virtues of a Student/Teacher
By James Y. Trammell
RMIG Newsletter Editor
St. John Fisher College
If we don’t learn from our mistakes, the saying
goes, we are bound to repeat them. I suppose can’t
argue with that sentiment, no matter how clichéd it is. But
I think that idea sells us short. If mistakes are supposed
to be learning opportunities, then what do we do when we succeed? Is
“mistake” merely an unattained “success?”
A couple of my students will argue that success is
its own reward. A “successful” paper, they say,
is the one that receives an A+. Their success is not defined
by what they learned from the assignment, or how well they strengthened
their critical thinking skills, or how the work helped them become
better people overall.
A mistake should push us higher and make us better. That’s
why we learn from them. But a success should push us, too. The
A+ paper should not be the end of the learning experience—if
anything, it is a sign that the student is ready for the next level
Paola Banchero and Anita Day apply this idea to religion
and media scholarship. In their reflections below they encourage
us to build upon the successes of the past inquiry in religion
and media in order to help us make our current and future research
stronger. The virtue of this early scholarship lies not so
much in their end results, but in how they lay the foundation for
solid, future scholarship. Banchero and Day point specifically
to the role that AEJMC convention papers plays in honing our work,
looking directly at how those previous papers helped shape how
we explore the field.
It’s encouraging to see the RMIG panels as
an opportunity to explore new ideas and approaches to religion
and media scholarship. This gives us something to think about
as we prepare for the Mach 1 deadline.
Oops. I meant “April 1,” not “March
1.” My mistake.
Presidents and Poker: Reflections
from the RMIG Head
By Ralph Frasca
Belmont Abbey College
“I have spoken 19 discourses in our meeting here – and
this with all our work in the school has worn me down very much,” a
college president who doubled as a Christian minister lamented
after a successful revival. Oh, he later served as president
of the United States. Can you name him? Answer
I am happy to report that the Religion and Media Interest Group
fared well during the AEJMC winter planning meeting in St. Louis,
where Research Chair Paola Banchero and Vice Head David Scott joined
me. In case you ever wondered, here is how the convention
planning is done:
Each division’s officers get 7 poker chips and each interest
group 3 1/2. The officers then “spend” their
chips to reserve specific time slots for research-paper sessions
or panels. Everyone sat at a series of tables arranged in
a square. Divisions and interest groups were called sequentially,
and each group’s top officer responded with a day and time,
type of session, name of co-sponsors (if any), and then relinquished
a poker chip by tossing it onto the floor in the middle of the
“Saturday, 11 a.m., research paper” (fling!)
“Religion and Media?”
“Thursday, 3:15 p.m, panel co-sponsored with Mass Comm and Society” (toss!)
Not only did Paola, David and I avoid abrasions from all the flinging
and tossing, but we emerged with four excellent panels: two co-sponsored
by Mass Communication and Society Division, and two co-sponsored
by the Small Programs Interest Group. RMIG will also have
three research-paper sessions (just as we did this past year),
and I managed to get all of them scheduled within the city of Chicago
during the actual dates of the convention.
Really, we were pleased with the times we landed:
Thursday Aug. 7, 3:15-4:45 p.m. = panel with MC&S (we lead)
Thursday Aug. 7, 5-6:30 p.m. = refereed research
Friday Aug. 8, 8:15-9:45 a.m. = panel with SPIG (it leads)
Friday Aug. 8, 1:45-3:15 p.m. = panel with SPIG (we lead)
Friday Aug. 8, 3:30-5 p.m. = refereed research
Friday Aug. 8, 7-8:30 p.m. = RMIG members meeting
Saturday Aug. 9, 8:15-9:45 a.m. = panel with MC&S (it leads)
Saturday Aug. 9, 10-11:30 a.m. = refereed research
Nothing before mid-afternoon Thursday and nothing on Sunday, which
should make everyone’s travel plans easier.
While I was in St. Louis, I also visited the Shrine of St. Joseph,
site of one of the few United States miracles authenticated by
the Vatican. The church is one of the most beautiful I have
ever seen, and the miracle, involving laborer Ignatius Strecker,
is a great story, which I invite you to read.
If Paola has asked you to judge convention papers, please join
the fun and cheerfully agree. If she hasn’t asked you – she
meant to! So please accept my invitation to be a judge. Send
her an e-mail offering your services, with a few words about your
areas of expertise. She promises – no more than three
papers per judge (especially if we get enough judges)!
James A. Garfield wrote the letter in 1858,
while serving as both an ordained minister and president of the
Ohio institution that became known as Hiram College.
and Media Research Reflections
By Paola Banchero
RMIG Research Committee Chair
University of Alaska--Anchorage
Back when Daniel A. Stout and Judith M. Buddenbaum
edited the first volume of the Journal of Media and Religion in
2002, the concept of studying the interplay of media and religion
was, if not new, at least in its adolescence. Those first few editions
of the journal called for the need for interdisciplinary study
and a give-and-take between mass media scholars and sociologists.
They memorably pointed out areas to develop a research agenda linking
religion and media.
Since then, the topic of religion has become a common
area of study, reaching beyond the confines of the Religion and
Media Interest Group of AEJMC, and touching divisions such as magazines,
public relations and visual communication.
As the field widens across disciplines, it is also
getting deeper, providing more context about how the media not
only portray religious experience, but how religious faith influences
the consumption of news and entertainment media.
The titles of accepted papers at the 2007 AEJMC conference
illustrated this complexity. For example, Kirsten Biondich and
Michael Mitrook of the University of Florida did a textual analysis
of campaign materials and broadcast media coverage of Opus Dei’s
public relations response to “The DaVinci Code,” supplementing
their work by interviewing Opus Dei public relations officials.
Two papers examined historical moments in U.S. Christianity.
Ronald Rodgers of the University of Florida studied the weeklong
tenure of the Rev. Charles Sheldon as editor of the Topeka Daily
Capital at a time when the press was becoming the new arbiter of
public opinion. Jessica Smith at the University of North Carolina
looked at the schism in the Disciplines of Christ and how the Gospel
Advocate of Tennessee led to the conservative split.
Islam and politics bubbled up as themes both within
and outside the RMIG referred paper sessions. Although the
media use and experience of evangelical Christians were frequently
the focus of earlier scholarship on media and religion, more scholars
are delving into other religious perspectives, and Islam is foremost
among them. Still, most of the refereed papers centered on U.S.
Within the last two years of the Journal of Media
and Religion, 15 of 24 peer-reviewed articles have focused
on some aspect of Christianity. One focused on Judaism, another
on Islam and yet another on Hinduism. Seven could be defined
as neutral, examining issues beyond denomination or in combination
with other themes. These articles included one about press freedom
and religion, which measured the religious composition of nations
and their support for press freedom and another that was a tribute
to communication scholar and journalism educator James W. Carey.
Although the article reflected on Carey’s deeply felt Roman
Catholicism, it centered on his influence in the field.
The diversity in subject matter is mirrored in the
diversity of method. Scholars used quantitative methods in the
above-mentioned analysis of religious composition and press freedom,
a study gauging the use of the Internet among Catholic congregations,
and others. Qualitative methods continue to occupy an important
part of the literature in religion and media scholarship, but scholars
are branching out, looking at meaning-making about two complex
subjects that interact and play off each other in unexpected ways.
As you busy yourself getting your papers done for
this year’s April 1 deadline, keep these trends in mind:
- Bestsellers such as Sam Harris’ “Letter
to a Christian Nation,”
Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion,” and Christopher
Hitchens’ “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons
Everything” tap into an re-energized voice for atheism,
perhaps in reaction to the way religion has become such an important
part of public life. All three books have received widespread
attention, and in some cases, the authors have debated their
viewpoints with Christian leaders.
- Islam. Its role and portrayal in the Western
media continues to be a source of scholarly interest.
- Christianity and Islam. The world’s
two largest religions have been portrayed as in conflict throughout
much of their history, although the religions are involved in
interfaith dialogue. Under Pope Benedict XVI’s leadership,
the Catholic Church is taking the dialogue in a different direction.
Critics say he is not as receptive to dialogue, and may see true
dialogue about dogma as impractical at best.
- Media and religion scholarship pulled away
from easy definitions. Scholars are leaning toward finding ways
in which religious people — regardless of denomination
consume media, and how media become a part of their faith lives
in personal and public ways. Stewart M. Hoover’s 2006 book “Religion
in the Media Age” is emblematic of a richer approach to
- Other religions and religious experiences.
For example, Hinduism, the world’s third largest religion,
has received scant attention from religion and media scholars.
Some of the work sociologists have done with Indian immigrants
to the United States might be a source of inspiration for media
The Next Frontier of Religion News Coverage
By Anita G. Day
RMIG PF&R Head
Loyola University New Orleans
Media critics assert that the press often is incapable
of adequately processing and presenting information about specialized
societal concerns. In particular news coverage criticism centers
largely around the press’ inability to present specialized
information in a meaningful way.
Religious news and mainstream news has become more dissimilar,
due in part to the secularization of the mainstream media.
Furthermore, some media critics suggest there is
an inherent tension between religious people and the media establishment. Recent
public debates over the V-Chip, regulation of adult-themed online
content and the consequence of reality programming on American
youth, point to the concerns about the ever-expanding presence
of a secular media. This suspicion continues to grow with the rise
of cable television and the Internet into American homes. But the
Internet may yet provide a solution to this dilemma.
It is important for media professionals to approach
the coverage of religious topics with the above concerns in mind.
Media professionals should bridge the gap between audiences’ suspicions
of a secular media and providing relevant religious news coverage.
We can work toward this goal by considering how the religious regard
media in order to present religious news in a context more suitable
to their views about the media.
A brief look at recent AEJMC research papers reveals
that the more religious one is the less likely he or she will consume
traditional media. However, the Internet has become a place
of refuge for some. Online congregations exist, and the Internet
has been used for religious education. Indeed, Google.com has been
identified as tool for individuals seeking answers to religious
and spiritual questions.
Has the mainstream media noticed this trend? One
study presented at the 2006 AEJMC convention reported that fourteen
percent of the 1,355 U.S. daily general circulation newspaper with
a website linked to news about faith or spirituality. Perhaps this
should be corroborated with future studies presented at AEJMC to
explore whether the religious view website news to be more credible.
Keeping in mind the religious’ skepticism of
the media to fully explore or understand the complex issue of religion
in everyday life reminds media professionals that some issues,
such as religion, are often not easy to cover with a broad brush. It
would appear that the online world should be the next frontier
for religious news coverage as it is capable of exploring this
important topic in-depth and is deemed more credible than traditional
media vehicles such as newspapers.
of a Student/Teacher Contract
By Quint Randle
RMIG Teaching Chair
Brigham Young University
I tried something new in the classroom last fall
that went a long way towards increasing the buy-in I got from students. My
quantitative and qualitative ratings were up substantially at the
end of the semester and I think this technique help set the stage
for those improvements.
Here's what I did.
First, I reduced the wordiness of my syllabus. I
got it down to one page plus the schedule. I got rid of as much
of the "loophole language" as possible. That type language
makes today's student feel as if they are being treated like a
child, not an adult.
On the first day of class, after briefly going over
the course and the syllabus, and the first day's lecture, the main
homework for that day was for the students to fill out the
The worksheet comprised the following: 1) List five
things you expect of me, as your teacher, and 2) List five things
you think I should expect of you as the student.
I then met with them individually reviewed their
expectations. (While I did not have any large sections last semester,
I believe this technique can still be helpful without the individual
meetings.) In the meeting, I had the students bring their worksheet
and state aloud their expectations and their perception of my expectations.
Pretty much 90% of them are on target, and there is about an 80%
After meeting with all of the students I then grouped
the expectations into the six most common expectations, excluding
unreasonable or off-the-wall expectations on both sides of the
Here's what we ended up with for a senior-level feature
Your Expectations of Teacher:
- Learn how to market articles and yourself (ideas,
- Make significant improvement as a feature writer
- Improvements made through methodical, applicable
- Timely, honest constructive feedback that enables
you to improve
- Be graded and treated fairly; progress is rewarded
- Have fun and interesting classes that start and
end on time
My Expectations of Student:
- Be punctual: Students should be in class on tine,
and assignments should be not be late
- Interact with the class and the professor (discuss/question)
- Be open to constructive feedback and new approaches,
and apply feedback
- Make your best effort and work hard
- Take responsibility for your own learning
- Be honest, professional and ethical
At the next class period I presented these expectations.
We discussed each of the expectations and some of the wording.
For example, in this case we came to a better understanding of
what "constructive feedback" meant for both the teacher
and the student.
This exercise created a contract between the students
and me. I told them the bottom line is that "if you
basically do these six things and I do these six things, then we
are going to get along just fine."
These expectations can serve as a reminder for you,
the teacher. It helps you remember the basic things your students
are expecting as well. I found that this helped me stay focused
on serving student needs while meeting the overall outcomes necessary
for the course.
Give it a try. It worked well for me. This semester
I've already had great comments during these
"contract" meetings with students.
RMIG Web link: http://www.rnasecure.org/aejmc/
RMIG blog: http://aejrmig.blogspot.com
Religion | Newswriters: http://www.rna.org/