Fall 2000, Vol. 3, No. 3

Contents Page,
Vol. 3, No. 3


Quick Links
to other articles
in this issue:
Preacher Joe

Cult Fighting in Massachusetts

The Mexican Election: Bringing the Church Back In

Rome, Relativism, and Reaction

Waco Redux: Trial and Error

Tibet I: Lama on the Lam

Tibet II: Monastic Spinmeister

The Never Ending Story

From the Editor: Taking Stock

by Mark Silk

As many of you know from personal experience, last summer we engaged the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut to conduct a telephone survey of recipients of Religion in the News to see what they thought after two years of publication. Since the magazine goes out free of charge to people who for the most part have not asked for it, we wanted to know whether the expenditure of our time and effort, and the Pew Charitable Trusts’ money, has been worthwhile.

The results, I’m pleased to say, are encouraging. But before getting into them, let me say something about who gets Religion in the News.

RIN, as we call it, circulates to journalists at each daily newspaper in the United States, every broadcast news operation in the country’s 40 largest media markets, and a range of news and opinion magazines. Among the recipients are senior editors and other news managers as well as religion editors and reporters. Altogether, RIN is delivered to some 3,000 journalists—those in the chain of command who, so far as we can tell, might profit from the analysis of news coverage of religion stories proper and other stories with a significant religious dimension. Indeed, since the large majority of newspapers and virtually all broadcast outlets have no one assigned to religion full time, most of the journalistic recipients deal with religious subject matter on only an episodic basis.

Of the balance of RIN’s 8,000 recipients, most are academics concerned with contemporary religion from one disciplinary standpoint or another. These include the membership of the religion section of the American Political Science Association, North American members of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and members of the American Academy of Religion whose research interests concern religion in America today. In addition, RIN goes to a number of religious leaders and spokespersons as well as to various people who for one reason or another have expressed an interest.

In the survey, we separated out the journalists from the rest. Thirty-five percent of them said they usually read three or more articles per issue, and another 56 percent claimed to read at least one. Among the non-journalists, the numbers were 53 percent and 41 percent, respectively. Over 90 percent of both groups rate the publication "excellent" or "good" (as opposed to "fair" or "poor").

Because the primary goal of RIN is to enhance news coverage of religion, we were particularly interested in how the journalists make use of RIN. Sixty-three percent said they use the magazine as background for their own writing; 60 percent, for story ideas and/or assignments. In addition, 91 percent said they found the magazine "somewhat useful" or "very useful" for their own understanding and education; 73 percent, for evaluating their own coverage; 60 percent, for generating stories; and 57 percent, for long-term planning of coverage.

All this suggests that RIN has, in the course of only seven issues, made a place for itself not only as a source of media criticism and analysis but also as a briefing sheet, raising questions and pointing to issues that are likely to come up in future coverage. It has certainly been our goal to serve in both capacities.

When asked for changes they would like to see in the magazine, 81 percent of the journalists "strongly" or "somewhat" agreed that RIN should be published quarterly rather than three times a year. Eight-five percent agreed that we should include an annual review of religion coverage. To be candid—and I confess this as the person responsible for signing off on the questionnaire—I’m not quite sure what an annual review of religion coverage would look like. But I promise to think about it. As for quarterly publication, that is under active consideration.

RIN is a publication designed to be supported by philanthropy rather than subscriptions and advertising. We have reason to expect that it will be around for a few more years. How long it lives beyond that remains to be seen.

Whatever the future holds for RIN, however, there should be no underestimating the importance of providing, on an ongoing basis, a sophisticated and nonpartisan look at the religion stories of the day. In a world where religion is playing ever more varied and complex roles, we cannot afford to be imprisoned by the wrong story line, or a single point of view.