2008 Winter Newsletter


Winter 2008
Welcome to the newsletter of the Religion and Media Interest Group of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication!


  1. Editor’s Introduction
  2. Presidents and Poker: Reflections from the RMIG Head
  3. Religion and Media Research Reflections
  4. Online: The Next Frontier of Religion News Coverage
  5. Virtues of a Student/Teacher Contract
  6. Resources

For these articles and more from editor Jim Trammell, keep reading past the jump.

Editor’s Introduction

James Y. TrammellBy James Y. Trammell
RMIG Newsletter Editor
Assistant Professor
St. John Fisher College

If we don’t learn from our mistakes, the saying goes, we are bound to repeat them. I suppose can’t argue with that sentiment, no matter how clichéd it is. But I think that idea sells us short. If mistakes are supposed to be learning opportunities, then what do we do when we succeed? Is a “mistake” merely an unattained “success?”

A couple of my students will argue that success is its own reward. A “successful” paper, they say, is the one that receives an A+. Their success is not defined by what they learned from the assignment, or how well they strengthened their critical thinking skills, or how the work helped them become better people overall.

A mistake should push us higher and make us better. That’s why we learn from them. But a success should push us, too. The A+ paper should not be the end of the learning experience—if anything, it is a sign that the student is ready for the next level of learning.

Paola Banchero and Anita Day apply this idea to religion and media scholarship. In their reflections below they encourage us to build upon the successes of the past inquiry in religion and media in order to help us make our current and future research stronger. The virtue of this early scholarship lies not so much in their end results, but in how they lay the foundation for solid, future scholarship. Banchero and Day point specifically to the role that AEJMC convention papers plays in honing our work, looking directly at how those previous papers helped shape how we explore the field.

It’s encouraging to see the RMIG panels as an opportunity to explore new ideas and approaches to religion and media scholarship. This gives us something to think about as we prepare for the Mach 1 deadline.

Oops. I meant “April 1,” not “March 1.” My mistake.

Presidents and Poker: Reflections from the RMIG Head

By Ralph Frasca
Belmont Abbey College

“I have spoken 19 discourses in our meeting here – and this with all our work in the school has worn me down very much,” a college president who doubled as a Christian minister lamented after a successful revival. Oh, he later served as president of the United States. Can you name him? Answer below.

I am happy to report that the Religion and Media Interest Group fared well during the AEJMC winter planning meeting in St. Louis, where Research Chair Paola Banchero and Vice Head David Scott joined me. In case you ever wondered, here is how the convention planning is done:

Each division’s officers get 7 poker chips and each interest group 3 1/2. The officers then “spend” their chips to reserve specific time slots for research-paper sessions or panels. Everyone sat at a series of tables arranged in a square. Divisions and interest groups were called sequentially, and each group’s top officer responded with a day and time, type of session, name of co-sponsors (if any), and then relinquished a poker chip by tossing it onto the floor in the middle of the square. Thus:

“Media Ethics?”
“Saturday, 11 a.m., research paper” (fling!)

“Religion and Media?”
“Thursday, 3:15 p.m, panel co-sponsored with Mass Comm and Society” (toss!)

Not only did Paola, David and I avoid abrasions from all the flinging and tossing, but we emerged with four excellent panels: two co-sponsored by Mass Communication and Society Division, and two co-sponsored by the Small Programs Interest Group. RMIG will also have three research-paper sessions (just as we did this past year), and I managed to get all of them scheduled within the city of Chicago during the actual dates of the convention.

Really, we were pleased with the times we landed:

Thursday Aug. 7, 3:15-4:45 p.m. = panel with MC&S (we lead)
Thursday Aug. 7, 5-6:30 p.m. = refereed research
Friday Aug. 8, 8:15-9:45 a.m. = panel with SPIG (it leads)
Friday Aug. 8, 1:45-3:15 p.m. = panel with SPIG (we lead)
Friday Aug. 8, 3:30-5 p.m. = refereed research
Friday Aug. 8, 7-8:30 p.m. = RMIG members meeting
Saturday Aug. 9, 8:15-9:45 a.m. = panel with MC&S (it leads)
Saturday Aug. 9, 10-11:30 a.m. = refereed research

Nothing before mid-afternoon Thursday and nothing on Sunday, which should make everyone’s travel plans easier.

While I was in St. Louis, I also visited the Shrine of St. Joseph, site of one of the few United States miracles authenticated by the Vatican. The church is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, and the miracle, involving laborer Ignatius Strecker, is a great story, which I invite you to read.

If Paola has asked you to judge convention papers, please join the fun and cheerfully agree. If she hasn’t asked you – she meant to! So please accept my invitation to be a judge. Send her an e-mail offering your services, with a few words about your areas of expertise. She promises – no more than three papers per judge (especially if we get enough judges)!

James A. Garfield wrote the letter in 1858, while serving as both an ordained minister and president of the Ohio institution that became known as Hiram College.

Religion and Media Research Reflections

Paola BancheroBy Paola Banchero
RMIG Research Committee Chair
Assistant Professor
University of Alaska–Anchorage

Back when Daniel A. Stout and Judith M. Buddenbaum edited the first volume of the Journal of Media and Religion in 2002, the concept of studying the interplay of media and religion was, if not new, at least in its adolescence. Those first few editions of the journal called for the need for interdisciplinary study and a give-and-take between mass media scholars and sociologists. They memorably pointed out areas to develop a research agenda linking religion and media.

Since then, the topic of religion has become a common area of study, reaching beyond the confines of the Religion and Media Interest Group of AEJMC, and touching divisions such as magazines, public relations and visual communication.

As the field widens across disciplines, it is also getting deeper, providing more context about how the media not only portray religious experience, but how religious faith influences the consumption of news and entertainment media.

The titles of accepted papers at the 2007 AEJMC conference illustrated this complexity. For example, Kirsten Biondich and Michael Mitrook of the University of Florida did a textual analysis of campaign materials and broadcast media coverage of Opus Dei’s public relations response to “The DaVinci Code,” supplementing their work by interviewing Opus Dei public relations officials.

Two papers examined historical moments in U.S. Christianity. Ronald Rodgers of the University of Florida studied the weeklong tenure of the Rev. Charles Sheldon as editor of the Topeka Daily Capital at a time when the press was becoming the new arbiter of public opinion. Jessica Smith at the University of North Carolina looked at the schism in the Disciplines of Christ and how the Gospel Advocate of Tennessee led to the conservative split.

Islam and politics bubbled up as themes both within and outside the RMIG referred paper sessions. Although the media use and experience of evangelical Christians were frequently the focus of earlier scholarship on media and religion, more scholars are delving into other religious perspectives, and Islam is foremost among them. Still, most of the refereed papers centered on U.S. Christianity.

Within the last two years of the Journal of Media and Religion, 15 of 24 peer-reviewed articles have focused on some aspect of Christianity. One focused on Judaism, another on Islam and yet another on Hinduism. Seven could be defined as neutral, examining issues beyond denomination or in combination with other themes. These articles included one about press freedom and religion, which measured the religious composition of nations and their support for press freedom and another that was a tribute to communication scholar and journalism educator James W. Carey. Although the article reflected on Carey’s deeply felt Roman Catholicism, it centered on his influence in the field.

The diversity in subject matter is mirrored in the diversity of method. Scholars used quantitative methods in the above-mentioned analysis of religious composition and press freedom, a study gauging the use of the Internet among Catholic congregations, and others. Qualitative methods continue to occupy an important part of the literature in religion and media scholarship, but scholars are branching out, looking at meaning-making about two complex subjects that interact and play off each other in unexpected ways.

As you busy yourself getting your papers done for this year’s April 1 deadline, keep these trends in mind:

  • Bestsellers such as Sam Harris’ “Letter to a Christian Nation,” Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion,” and Christopher Hitchens’ “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” tap into an re-energized voice for atheism, perhaps in reaction to the way religion has become such an important part of public life. All three books have received widespread attention, and in some cases, the authors have debated their viewpoints with Christian leaders.
  • Islam. Its role and portrayal in the Western media continues to be a source of scholarly interest.
  • Christianity and Islam. The world’s two largest religions have been portrayed as in conflict throughout much of their history, although the religions are involved in interfaith dialogue. Under Pope Benedict XVI’s leadership, the Catholic Church is taking the dialogue in a different direction. Critics say he is not as receptive to dialogue, and may see true dialogue about dogma as impractical at best.
  • Media and religion scholarship pulled away from easy definitions. Scholars are leaning toward finding ways in which religious people — regardless of denomination consume media, and how media become a part of their faith lives in personal and public ways. Stewart M. Hoover’s 2006 book “Religion in the Media Age” is emblematic of a richer approach to this scholarship.
  • Other religions and religious experiences. For example, Hinduism, the world’s third largest religion, has received scant attention from religion and media scholars. Some of the work sociologists have done with Indian immigrants to the United States might be a source of inspiration for media studies.

Online: The Next Frontier of Religion News Coverage

Anita G. DayBy Anita G. Day
Assistant Professor
Loyola University New Orleans

Media critics assert that the press often is incapable of adequately processing and presenting information about specialized societal concerns. In particular news coverage criticism centers largely around the press’ inability to present specialized information in a meaningful way. Religious news and mainstream news has become more dissimilar, due in part to the secularization of the mainstream media.

Furthermore, some media critics suggest there is an inherent tension between religious people and the media establishment. Recent public debates over the V-Chip, regulation of adult-themed online content and the consequence of reality programming on American youth, point to the concerns about the ever-expanding presence of a secular media. This suspicion continues to grow with the rise of cable television and the Internet into American homes. But the Internet may yet provide a solution to this dilemma.

It is important for media professionals to approach the coverage of religious topics with the above concerns in mind. Media professionals should bridge the gap between audiences’ suspicions of a secular media and providing relevant religious news coverage. We can work toward this goal by considering how the religious regard media in order to present religious news in a context more suitable to their views about the media.

A brief look at recent AEJMC research papers reveals that the more religious one is the less likely he or she will consume traditional media. However, the Internet has become a place of refuge for some. Online congregations exist, and the Internet has been used for religious education. Indeed, Google.com has been identified as tool for individuals seeking answers to religious and spiritual questions.

Has the mainstream media noticed this trend? One study presented at the 2006 AEJMC convention reported that fourteen percent of the 1,355 U.S. daily general circulation newspaper with a website linked to news about faith or spirituality. Perhaps this should be corroborated with future studies presented at AEJMC to explore whether the religious view website news to be more credible.

Keeping in mind the religious’ skepticism of the media to fully explore or understand the complex issue of religion in everyday life reminds media professionals that some issues, such as religion, are often not easy to cover with a broad brush. It would appear that the online world should be the next frontier for religious news coverage as it is capable of exploring this important topic in-depth and is deemed more credible than traditional media vehicles such as newspapers.

Virtues of a Student/Teacher Contract

Quint RandleBy Quint Randle
RMIG Teaching Chair
Assistant Professor
Brigham Young University

I tried something new in the classroom last fall that went a long way towards increasing the buy-in I got from students. My quantitative and qualitative ratings were up substantially at the end of the semester and I think this technique help set the stage for those improvements.

Here’s what I did.

First, I reduced the wordiness of my syllabus. I got it down to one page plus the schedule. I got rid of as much of the “loophole language” as possible. That type language makes today’s student feel as if they are being treated like a child, not an adult.

On the first day of class, after briefly going over the course and the syllabus, and the first day’s lecture, the main homework for that day was for the students to fill out the “Expectations Worksheet”

The worksheet comprised the following: 1) List five things you expect of me, as your teacher, and 2) List five things you think I should expect of you as the student.

I then met with them individually reviewed their expectations. (While I did not have any large sections last semester, I believe this technique can still be helpful without the individual meetings.) In the meeting, I had the students bring their worksheet and state aloud their expectations and their perception of my expectations. Pretty much 90% of them are on target, and there is about an 80% redundancy rate.

After meeting with all of the students I then grouped the expectations into the six most common expectations, excluding unreasonable or off-the-wall expectations on both sides of the equation.

Here’s what we ended up with for a senior-level feature writing class:

Your Expectations of Teacher

  • Learn how to market articles and yourself (ideas, articles, portfolio)
  • Make significant improvement as a feature writer
  • Improvements made through methodical, applicable assignments
  • Timely, honest constructive feedback that enables you to improve
  • Be graded and treated fairly; progress is rewarded
  • Have fun and interesting classes that start and end on time

My Expectations of Student

  • Be punctual: Students should be in class on tine, and assignments should be not be late
  • Interact with the class and the professor (discuss/question)
  • Be open to constructive feedback and new approaches, and apply feedback
  • Make your best effort and work hard
  • Take responsibility for your own learning
  • Be honest, professional and ethical

At the next class period I presented these expectations. We discussed each of the expectations and some of the wording. For example, in this case we came to a better understanding of what “constructive feedback” meant for both the teacher and the student.

This exercise created a contract between the students and me. I told them the bottom line is that “if you basically do these six things and I do these six things, then we are going to get along just fine.”

These expectations can serve as a reminder for you, the teacher. It helps you remember the basic things your students are expecting as well. I found that this helped me stay focused on serving student needs while meeting the overall outcomes necessary for the course.

Give it a try. It worked well for me. This semester I’ve already had great comments during these “contract” meetings with students.


RMIG Web link: http://www.rnasecure.org/aejmc/
RMIG blog: http://aejrmig.blogspot.com
Religion | Newswriters: http://www.rna.org/

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