Vol. 3, No. 3
to other articles
in this issue:
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
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, Im 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 countrys 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 journaliststhose 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
Of the balance of RINs 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
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 candidand I confess this
as the person responsible for signing off on the questionnaireIm 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.