James W. Carey

Religion ghost? Concerning the shocking Gallup numbers about public trust in news media

Religion ghost? Concerning the shocking Gallup numbers about public trust in news media

A long, long time ago, I wrote my journalism graduate project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign about -- I am sure this will be a shock -- why so many mainstream newsrooms tend to ignore (or mangle) the role that religion plays in local, national and global news. Click here for the condensed version of that project that ran as a cover story with The Quill.

When talking to newspaper editors back in academic year 1981-82, I heard two things over and over: (1) religion news is too boring and (2) religion news is too controversial.

As I have said many times, the world is just packed with boring, controversial religion stories. The only way to make sense out of those answers, I thought at the time, was that editors considered these stories "boring" and they could not understand why so many readers cared so deeply about religious events, issues and trends.

At one point in that project, I discussed research done for the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company late in the 1970s. Yes, that was long ago. However, I believe some of those survey results remain relevant today, as we consider the stunning numbers in a new Gallup Poll that indicate that consumer trust in the American news media has crashed to a new low.

We will come back to those numbers in a moment. The key question: Is the public attitude toward the press linked, in some way, to issues of media bias in coverage of moral, cultural and religious news, as well as the predictable levels of anger linked to coverage of the remarkably unpopular major-party candidates in this year's White House race.

So back to 1980 or so. The Connecticut Mutual Life study found, as I wrote for The Quill, that:

... (The) sector of the public that is the most religiously involved is also highly involved in the local news events that dominate daily newspapers. ... About 20 percent of all Americans, a group the survey calls the "most religious," are the people most likely to be involved in, and interested in local news. The survey shows:

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