AND MEDIA INTEREST GROUP NEWS
MATTERS Fall 2003
The Newsletter of the Religion and Media Interest Group
of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
1. Creating Our Own (Not so Urban) Legend
2. Great Minds Do Think Alike: Panel Ideas
3. Call for papers
4. Call for reviewers
5. RMIG Listserv revived
6. Christian Media Come of Age
7. RMIG Member News and Views
8. Staffing of Specialists at Newsmagazines
Falls to New Low
Our Own (Not so Urban) Legend
By Rick Moore, Boise State University
RMIG 2003-04 Head
of us have heard stories about people who have extramarital affairs
by way of an annual academic conference. No, this is not going
to be a "true confessions" column. I usually assume
(at least I hope) that these oft-told accounts are apocryphal.
They are "urban legends for academics."
Even so, our familiarity with such tales can be beneficial for
making a larger point.
basic story line is usually the same. Man works at an urban university
on the east coast, appears happily married. Woman works at a
small private college in the Midwest, also appears happily married.
Once a year they get together for four days of amour at a location
not-of-their choosing. This year the location is Boise Idaho.
Dreadful place for most. But for our romantic couple, this is
their one chance to be together in a place and time when nobody
heard stories such as this on several occasions, usually in a
casual group conversation. After a few jokes and a bit of speculation
on the possibilities of this actually occurring, someone among
the group of listeners will finally say what everyone else was
thinking. "Who on earth would want to be in a relationship
where you only meet once a year for four days?"
enough, this is the killer question for any division or interest
group in an academic organization. By killer I mean that unless
those involved in the interest group can come up with a good
answer to this question, it might just meet its demise.
course, the organization as a whole (be it AEJMC, ICA, NCA, or
any other) isn't going to meet its demise. The organization has
a clear raison d'être. It must exist if academics
are going to have a venue for presenting research. So as "publish
or perish" becomes the motto of every campus-not just research
institutions-more and more of us feel compelled to attend a conference
every year and show that we are engaged in scholarship.
at all. And that is precisely the point of this journey into
the land of urban legends. Those who were able to attend the
RMIG member's meeting in Kansas City know that I stressed inclusiveness
and involvement as key issues for the vitality of the Religion
and Media Interest Group. I said that we need to be a big tent
organization that welcomes scholars who are curious about the
interface of media practice and religious experience. I also
said that we need as many members as possible to take an active
role in the interest group. I want to briefly reiterate those
points here, and I think they relate closely to the bigger issue
of the improving RMIG.
of the reasons that I stressed the "big tent" nature
of our interest group is that I have personally been part of
divisions or interest groups where I eventually felt I was not
welcomed. I presume that some of you have experienced this. In
my case, nobody ever said that I was unwelcome. But, I can recall
several occasions where I was a member of a division or interest
group and felt that I didn't really fit in. Usually, my realization
of this occurred while attending panels or meetings of the group.
Other group members would talk in a way that showed they assumed that
all members of the group shared certain values, attitudes, and/or
beliefs about their area of study. The intimation was that unless
you shared assumptions about certain theories, certain methodologies,
or even certain political views, you couldn't really be
a member of the division.
experience in RMIG is that we tend to do a good job of avoiding
such exclusiveness. I want to call all of you to continue this
during my tenure as head. I hope that throughout the year we
advertise ourselves as a group that has only one objective, to
champion the study of religion and the mass media. And, I hope
we exhibit truth in advertising, welcoming all scholars and all
scholarship that advances our understanding of the relationship
between these two important facets of modern human existence
(religion and media). If we want to maintain and add members,
we need to create a "big tent."
course, one of the problems that big tent organizations face
is a lack of passion. If we don't share a lot of assumptions
about theories, methods, politics, etc., why does anybody care
to be a part of our group?
don't have a great answer to this question. But, I do think one good answer
relates to my call for participation within RMIG. That answer
says participation in an interest group makes being part of a
large organization such as AEJMC much more pleasant and productive.
Think about it this way. Does attending a conference anonymously,
presenting a paper in front of eight to ten people you do not
know, and then disappearing seem like a good way to spend your
valuable time? Does it seem like a good way to develop relationships
with other people who know a lot about your field of study?
this way, my call for involvement is a call to become better
acquainted with other people with whom you will be interacting
for many years. For a young scholar, this could be as many as
50 years. Greater involvement in the interest group allows you
to interact throughout the year (even if it sometimes in rather
perfunctory ways) with the people you will eventually meet in
Toronto, San Antonio, and San Francisco.
the people with whom you will be interacting have a wealth of
knowledge and experience in an area where you presumably have
interests. Within RMIG we have a group of scholars with an impressive
list of publications. In addition we have in our group people
who engage in media practice related to religion. Some of our
members see themselves in both of these roles.
if it is passion you are seeking, I highly recommend that you
continue and deepen your involvement within RMIG for the next
year. One way of facilitating this is to simply keep in touch
through the RMIG listserv Debra Mason has revived. You can read
more about this in this edition of the newsletter. Along with
this, I highly recommend that each of you actively seek some
way to be more deeply involved in the operation of the interest
group. One way of starting this process is to choose an officer
and let him/her know that you have time and energy to devote
to the cause. You can find these people simply by clicking the "Officers" button
to the left. Don't hesitate to e-mail any of them and let them
know you are a willing/able volunteer if they have projects to
do. In some cases, they might ask you to creatively think
of new projects within their area that would strengthen
the interest group.
the subject of contacting officers, don't hesitate to occasionally
e-mail these individuals to do something else. Give them thanks
for their willingness to take formal leadership roles with the
group. Each of these individuals does exactly what I am calling
for in this article. They work throughout the year to make sure
RMIG looks better (and indeed is better) at every annual convention.
I want to take just a moment to give special attention to Debra
Mason, who was head of this group for the last year. Most of
us are unaware of the amount of time she devoted to our interest
group. She steered RMIG through some crises that were invisible
to most of us. And she steered in such a way that we not only
survived as an interest group, but became stronger. Overall,
Debra exemplifies the kind of involvement in RMIG that I have
alluded to throughout this article. She clearly has passion for
this interest group; she enjoys contributing to it; and she enriches
her own profession life and that of others in the process. If
all of us show these characteristics, we'll have a great year
as an organization.
Minds Do Think Alike: Panel Ideas Mirror Trends
By Michael A. Longinow, Asbury College
thing about journalistic genius. It just seems to kick in better
under time pressure. That was true with the panel ideas for RMIG
this year. Early in the semester, when everyone had plenty of
time, there was but a trickle in the email boxes of your elected
officers. But in the two- to three-week period just before deadline
- when all our boats were swamped with mid-semester waves -- "Sploosh!" They
came bursting in like a mid-afternoon shower. Thanks to those
of you who contributed. Nobody's boat got swamped (we hope) and
we got our list to the eastern shore by deadline.
what's interesting about about the panels this year is how closely
many of them followed religious media trends in print, electronic
and online media--the growth of religious niche publications,
difficulties of describing same-sex marriage among clergy, religious
media surrounding pilgrimage-style tourism, legal fine points
of religious coverage, and the policy-making connections that
religious media can spark in the post-9/11 era, history of revival
in the U.S. and how it helps explain leaders like Franklin Graham
and the Promisekeepers.
they all fly? Hard to tell. Chip-negotiations are tricky to predict.
But the exciting thing to note is that we have an interest group
within AEJMC that matters enough to people in other divisions
and interest groups that they keep us in mind as they craft their
research or PF&R brainstorms.
got queries from the Ethics Division, Civic Interest Group and
a few others this year, as we have in the past, and I think we
can count on the trend continuing.
up the good work, and get those research papers polished up for
the April deadline. You should hear back from us about yea or
nay on panels by January at the latest.
Religion and Media Interest Group of the Association for Education
in Journalism and Mass Communication invites submission of research
on any topic related to religion and media. RMIG is interested
in papers using any recognized research method and any recognized
citation style. Please note that RMIG is interested in research
presentations, rather than essays or commentary. Possible areas
of focus for the research include but are not limited to studies
of religious group members and uses of secular media, exploration
of media coverage of religious issues and groups, studies of
the audiences for religious news, media strategies of religious
organizations, religious advertising, religious and spiritual
content in popular culture, and so on. The competition is open
to both faculty and students. Papers will be considered for presentation
for research panels and a research poster session.
Please follow the guidelines for the AEJMC Uniform Call for Papers
(available on the AEJMC website, <www.aejmc.org/>).
Please note the maximum length of 25 pages, excluding endnotes
The best papers will be presented at the AEJMC 2004 convention;
thus, an author must be there. The convention will take place
August 4-7, 2004 in Toronto, Canada.
Papers - The RMIG Division is also sponsoring an "Award
Winning Paper" competition for top faculty and student papers
at this year's convention. The "Top" paper in each
category will be selected from among the refereed papers submitted
to the RMIG competition. The top paper winners will receive $100
and a certificate. In the case of multi-authored papers, all
authors must be students to qualify for the Top Student Paper
submissions must be sent Priority or First Class and must be
postmarked by April 1, 2004, and must be received by April 6,
2004, for consideration.
submissions should be sent to:
Eric Gormly (RMIG Research Chair),
Dept of Journalism,
University of North Texas,
Denton, Texas 76203-1460.
Religion and Media Interest Group of the Association for Education
in Journalism and Mass Communication is looking for reviewers
for papers submitted for our upcoming conference. If interested,
please contact Eric Gormly (research paper chair) via email with
your contact information. Your interest and support are greatly
Eric Gormly (RMIG research paper chair),
Dept of Journalism,
University of North Texas,
Denton, Texas 76203-1460.
Debra L. Mason, Religion Newswriters Association
Webmaster / RMIG newsletter editor
at least a two year hiatus, the RMIG listserv has been revived,
in part thanks to AEJMC headquarter's decision to create Website
and listserv space and support for any of its divisions or interest
of you are probably familiar with listservs, but if you aren't,
there are two key things to remember: 1.) Civility and respect
is vital and 2.) Any reply on the listserv goes to EVERYONE ON
matter how often I repeat this last point, you can bet sometime
soon someone-perhaps me-will mistakenly send a personal message
to the entire list. It's so easy to just hit "reply"
that it's easy to forget where we're replying to. But if we all
work hard on this, perhaps most of the time we'll remember to type
in an individual's personal email address when that's our intent.
listserv is pretty easy to use and you can unsubscribe at any
time. If you are reading this newsletter and haven't yet received
a listserv message, you may not be on our email list. We only
have emails for a portion of our members, and although a kind
assistant in RMIG Head Rick Moore's office went through our RMIG
member list to glean emails from the AEJMC directory or elsewhere,
we still know we're missing some. So please, if you're not connected
and want to be, send me your email.
listserv is moderated, and only people on our list as RMIG members
instructions for the listserv are posted on this site, accessible
from the menu bar on the left side of this page.
also goes to Randy Reddick of Texas Tech University, who is the "techie" making
the listserv happen. He serves this function to the entire AEJMC
and several of its divisions and interest groups. He makes it
all seem easy.
Media Come of Age
By Michael A. Longinow, Asbury College
task of trying to put journalistic structure to the ways and
means of religious popular culture has perhaps never been more
perplexing. Yet in its own way, it all makes sense. Christian
pop culture, in particular, has come a long way. It used to be
that Cornerstone, the Christian answer to Rolling Stone, was
about the only Christian magazine on the rack that put heavy-metal
artists on its cover while tackling tough topics like same-sex
state benefits, racial reconciliation in places like South Africa--or
Detroit--and corruption within ministry. Now Cornerstone has
been joined by a mainstream-marketed magazine called Relevant.
This is a slick-page publication that runs the kinds of photos
Cornerstone ran (and still does), along with headlines like "Coming
out in the church" and
"Mission Aborted: A Personal Account of Abortion Recovery."
Relevant also reviews books with titles like "Blessed are
singer Sandi Patti's divorce at one time caused massive undercurrents
in the Christian evangelical world. Amy Grant's did, too, but
now Amy Grant is back on the shelves and has kicked off a new
tour, while a group called "Mercy Me" is getting air
time on secular radio stations for a piece about heaven, and
Sixpence None The Richer's music is running background to a daytime
on the Family, once essentially an organization centered around
a radio show has sprouted a publishing empire that includes publications
putting foul-mouthed rappers on the cover--to spur Christian
kids to think hard about the lyrics they're dismissing as harmless.
makes all of this so interesting is that it's part of a coming-of-age
of a Christian media movement that began with the founding of
Christianity Today more than half a century ago. It's the voice
of those who defy cubbyholes and other forms of boxed-in thinking.
Dahlgren and Colin Sparks' Journalism and Popular Culture points
out that what makes the study of journalism within popular culture
so difficult and so fascinating is that journalism--and the cultures
within which it operates--is a moving target. Each is like a
river within a river.
harder mainstream journalists try to get the camera focused on
what Christian life and culture is all about, the less likely
they seem to be able to get the whole picture. (Christian media
doesn't do all that well with it, either.) Not that they shouldn't
try. Ben Bradlee once said that the best journalists keep stepping
up to the plate even when their batting average drops occasionally.
We're telling the truth as much as we can. And what's true about
Christian culture and its media marketplace is changing under
our very feet.
the editor of Good News magazine once put it, "God shows
up everywhere." That's a paraphrase of what Mark Silk said
to help close his Unsecular Media study of news within religion
in American life.
ways of God and of those who pursue and express their faith about
God in the world are endlessly surprising and endlessly frustrating
to grasp. Maybe we've forgotten how expected the unexpected should
Hoover's point in Religion in the News, backed up by Judith
Buddenbaum's Reporting News About Religion, is that what
we're seeing in these 21st century publications and surrounding
media is the kind of movement that sparked whole eras in our
nation's media history.
than try to box them in, perhaps we should just cover them--as
best we can. And leave the unanswered questions to the next edition.
Or the next generation.
Member News and Views
you receive tenure? A promotion? Get married or have a child?
Do you have a teaching tip? Send us your latest news and we'll
publish it here.
Hatcher was awarded a fellowship to attend a week-long seminar
on "Reporting on Faith, Religion, and Values"
at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. the week of Nov.
3, 2003. Hatcher will incorporate material from the seminar into
his yearly course on Religion and Media.
with another Elon communications professor, Hatcher will lead
31 Elon students to Great Britain and Europe in January 2004.
The winter term course, titled "From Gutenberg to the Web:
The Impact of Media on Western Society,"
involves a three-week excursion to England, Germany, France, Switzerland,
and the Czech Republic. Students see the sites of the Reformation
and the beginning of the printed word in Western Europe, and studied
Nazi propaganda techniques and the development of the World Wide
Stocking writes, "I have added to my ethics course a module
on personal beliefs, including religious and spiritual values.
The main question we consider: How can students negotiate these
values in media organizations without violating professional
norms? In the module, I draw from sociological research on Catholic
and Evangelical journalists; in the study, journalists talked,
among other things, about how they have transformed religious
language into professional language so as to operate within accepted
professional boundaries. I also draw on some research by my Indiana
University colleague David Boeyink; Dave interviewed journalists
about the relationship between their religious values and newsroom
practices. I have found these research studies of great value
not only for my students, but for myself, when I consider my
own role as a college professor who is a practitioner of an Eastern
also wrote the lead chapter in Desperately Seeking Ethics,
edited by Howie Good. The chapter, drawing on the thoughts of
Morrie Schwartz, looks at journalists' decisions in the afermath
of 9/11, through the lens of love and compassion. Schwartz was
the subject of the popular book Tuesdays with Morrie.
Point Park University
S. Claussen's fourth book, Anti-intellectualism in American
Media: Magazines and Higher Education, is being released
in November by Peter Lang Publishing. On Oct. 23, the Commonwealth
of Pennsylvania approved his institution's charter change, to
become Point Park University. As chair of its Graduate Council,
Claussen was deeply involved in policy changes facilitating its
new status and name.
University of South Carolina
September edition of Critical Studies in Media Communication published
David Scott's article, "Mormon 'Family Values' versus Television:
An Analysis of the Discourse of Mormon Couples Regarding Television
and Popular Media Culture."
of Specialists at Newsmagazines Falls to New Low
Debra L. Mason
Religion Newswriters Association
of the nation's three major newsweeklies - Newsweek, Time and U.S.
News and World Report - have long known that covers featuring
Jesus create "a buzz"
that helps them outsell most other covers.
the laying off of U.S. News and World Report religion
specialist Jeff Sheler earlier this year leaves only Time magazine
with a fulltime beat writer after more than 13 years in which
all three newsweeklies had fulltime religion reporters or editors.
Until 2002, both Time and Newsweek had had fulltime
religion writers for over 50 years.
cuts have hit the newsweeklies hard as well, including reductions
in bureaus and correspondents that religion writers often used
to expand the number of religion stories published.
cuts at the magazines have hurt," said Kenneth Woodward,
a contributing editor at Newsweek and religion reporter
there for over three decades. "If you look at them, there's
a lot less religion being run now. A lot less."
54, of Portsmouth, Va., was part of U.S. News and World Report's
latest round of layoffs last June. He worked for the magazine
23 years, 14 of those on the religion beat that he pioneered
there as its first fulltime religion specialist.
elected as president of Religion Newswriters Association, Sheler
remembers some of his editors' skepticism when the magazine ran
his first religion cover story in April 1990. The cover on "The
Last Days of Jesus" detailed research and debate about the
newsstand sales figures from that issue "blew everyone's
mind," Sheler said, and at the time it was the second all-time
highest selling issue, second only to a cover featuring Hitler.
Over the next two years he wrote eight cover stories.
the 10 years I worked at U.S. News before covering religion,
I can only remember one religion cover, and that was when the
so it was a tremendous increase in the space
and attention devoted to religion," Sheler said.
lost its fulltime religion writer when religion reporter Kenneth
Woodward retired in 2002 to become an essayist and contributing
editor after 38 years at the magazine.
the only fulltime religion reporter at a national newsmagazine
is Time's David VanBiema, on the beat for over four years.
VanBiema, whose actual title is senior writer, is asked to write
on other topics from time to time, but his primarily focus is
definitions of news
Sheler's dismissal and Woodward's retirement are only the latest
changes in how newsweeklies cover religion, although most other
changes have more to do with the nature of newsmagazines in general
than the beat itself.
When Time magazine
was founded in 1923, its first issue included a topic heading
of "religion." Time founder Henry Luce was given
credit for bringing high visibility to religious leaders by putting
them on Time's covers. Newsweek and the magazine
now called U.S. News and World Report, both founded in
1933, followed Time's lead and included religion in their
mix of news.
all three newsweeklies tended, in their first 40 years, to cover
religion as hard news, reacting to events around the world. Time and Newsweek first
hired dedicated religion reporters during World War II, but even
then those journalists' focus was on events and institutions.
magazines these days do not feel obligated to be like a newspaper,"
said VanBiema. "Newsmagazines feel they can do stories they
are interested in at this point. It's more of an opportunistic
thing and less of a beat thing."
Woodward says he stopped denominational coverage 30 years ago, Time magazine's
transition was more recent. At U.S. News, Sheler's focus
was on in-depth, big-picture stories that were reported and written
style of religion coverage "was the direction that Time later
went," said Richard Ostling, religion reporter for Associated
Press and Time's religion specialist for over two decades.
The collaborative writing and reporting process that is a hallmark
of news magazines has changed as well-for all beats. Ostling and
Woodward agreed that at least through the 1980s, Time and Newsweek each
had extensive bureaus and correspondents to help report a story.
Many bureaus are now closed or have fewer journalists. Ostling
said Time's writing staff is half as large as it was in
the early 1980s.
so, VanBiema said other reporters often help on the Time stories
he writes, particularly cover stories.
Newsweek, Woodward said more stories now are written and reported
by one person.
Editors at newspapers and newsmagazines have long debated the merits
of specialists vs. generalists. But for now, two of the three newsmagazines
appear to prefer having religion coverage parceled out to "generalists" -
writers who cover a variety of topics. But others say religion-with
its many possibilities for inaccuracies and lack of context-requires
a specialist who recognizes the potential pitfalls.
think it matters a lot because it's such a difficult field. I
would contend it's one of the most challenging fields that is
covered in journalism," said Ostling. His successor at Time,
although he did not start out a specialist, agrees.
said having a designated religion reporter helps put the topic
as an agenda before the editors and prevents it from being a
totally random and reactive story.
at U.S. News, Sheler's former boss Sara Sklaroff said
she has some "incredible generalists" who will maintain
its level of religion news.
no way there will be a significant change in the amount of religion
news we cover," said Sklarof, the education and culture
editor who oversees religion coverage. "We're certainly
going to cover it just as much as we always have."
by Permission, Copyright 2003. Religion Newswriters Association