Pew Research Forum / Project for Excellence in Journalism
Joint Release – 23 February 2012
The biggest religion stories of 2011 involved tensions over Islam and questions about faith in presidential politics, especially Mormonism, according to an annual review of religion in the news by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) and the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Events and controversies related to Islam also dominated U.S. press coverage of religion in 2010. However, coverage of some stories faded in the past year, notably coverage of the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, which received much more media attention in 2010.
Compared with topics such as politics and the economy, religion does not typically receive a lot of attention from the mainstream news media, and 2011 was no exception. When religion did make news, it was often because of accusations about extremism or intolerance. For instance, among the biggest individual stories of 2011 were a controversial congressional hearing about the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism and the fallout after a Florida pastor staged a Koran burning. And one of the top religion and politics stories of the year centered on an incident in which a Texas minister called the Mormon faith a “cult.”
The discussion of religion in social media in 2011 was quite different than the coverage in the traditional press. None of the top religion-related subjects among bloggers in 2011 was a top story in traditional media outlets. While the presidential campaign and political incidents involving Islam captured the attention of the traditional press, bloggers focused on such topics as the Rapture predictions of a Christian radio host and science and religion. Bloggers also tended to cover religion in a less sustained way than the mainstream media.
These are among the findings of a new study that examines news coverage in a broad range of mainstream media sources, as well as in blogs and on Twitter, from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2011.
Among the key findings of the study:
This examination of religion coverage in the media is built from two separate areas of research. The study of traditional news sources analyzed nearly 46,000 stories from newspaper front pages, home pages of major news websites, the first half-hour of network and cable television news programs and the first half-hour of radio news and talk shows. (For details, see the methodology.) The content of new media was analyzed separately by aggregating and coding a sample of blogs, tweets and other sources monitored by Tweetmeme, Technorati, Icerocket and Twitteruly, which track millions of blogs and social media entries. (For details, see the New Media Index methodology.)
To view the results of the study online, see the website of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, or download the report by clicking the link below.