Journalism and Religion
JOURNALISM AND RELIGION
JOURNALISM AND RELIGION . [This entry discusses reporting on religious topics in the daily print and broadcast media in the United States.]
Alexis de Tocqueville devoted a chapter of his Democracy in America (1835), "Of the Relation between Public Associations and the Newspapers," to the interdependence of communications media and other institutions in a democratic society. Tocqueville highlights this interdependence in the following observation:
There is a necessary connection between public associations and newspapers; newspapers make associations, and associations make newspapers.… A newspaper can survive only on the condition of publishing sentiments or principles common to a large number of men. A newspaper, therefore, always represents an association that is composed of its habitual readers. This association may be more or less defined, more or less restricted, more or less numerous; but the fact that a newspaper keeps alive is proof that at least the germ of such an association exists in the minds of its readers. (Tocqueville, ed. Bradley, 1960, vol. 2, pp. 120, 122)
The Creation of the News
Tocqueville's view ties newspapers and other media closely to their own associations of readers and viewers, and, at the same time, gives newspapers and other media a representative function. The representative function is actually twofold. First, the media represent the associations that make up their readerships and regular listeners, those in whose minds the germs of such associations exist. Second, the media, while being associations themselves, also represent other associations. They are both lamp and mirror in a society in which many groups seek to keep their own torches bright, thereby creating a need among the citizens for mirrors in which to perceive what is going on among the diversity of associations, each with its own self-interested agenda. In their preoccupation with matters of personal and neighborhood interest, the citizens "require a journal to bring to them every day, in the midst of their own minor concerns, some intelligence of the state of their public weal" (Tocqueville, p. 120).
In their interdependence the media and the associations they serve are among the central institutions in American society. Media shape and are shaped by the dynamic consensus of advocacy and counteradvocacy among the associations. To read a newspaper, listen to radio, or view television is to participate, whatever the attenuations, in a communion with the central institutions and ethos of the society, an act more powerful for being in large part symbolic and hence less obvious. The media, then, are a part of the consensus-making and consensus-reflecting exchanges that create a public out of a diverse and scattered population, encompassing even peoples of the globe, many of whom depend on American media for their news of the world.
Without an understanding of media as symbolic matrix, there can be no helpful understanding of "the news," much less the news of religion. The publication of the news is little noticed in its symbolic aspect, and the news becomes more powerful than it should be in a democratic society because the media through which news is mediated are disregarded. Why, then, are citizens not more critical of the media—not as institutions with their own affiliations, self-interests, and eccentricities, but rather in their symbolic function? Citizens are in fact critical of the media because of "bias" (writing and broadcast that takes words and images "out of context," or that touts a standard party line). Rarely, however, does criticism of the media touch on the means by which they make news out of persons, issues, movements, and events in the world. Why is this so? It is not possible to proceed to an examination of the way religion is reported in the media in the absence of some field against which to assess the ways in which aspects of various religions and religious practices become, and do not become, news. The "news" must be understood first.
News is not fact, but the mediation of facts through symbolic media, through conventions of writing and editing, and through inclusions and exclusions created in the practice of such conventions. This is not generally understood because the creators of the news and its readers and viewers are in common agreement on a key theory about what constitutes knowledge, particularly that form of knowledge called "news." News is not self-evident, because it is the creation of the media, but it is assumed to be self-evident because it is understood to be identical with "facts." Both reporter/editor and reader/viewer typically share a theory of knowledge that tacitly teaches them that news gets its status solely by reference to facts. What is published are matters of fact, a set of signs whose primary reason for being is to refer, copy, or imitate brute facts (the person who spoke, the event that occurred) or actions that happened beyond the pages and film, in the real world. On this view, news is reference; it is what is reported or photographed. The news-as-reference theory leaves unnoticed the nature of the media as symbolic matrices through which "facts" become "news."
Conventions of Storytelling
The Princeton historian Robert Darnton, for an article in which he reflects upon his days as a reporter for papers in New Jersey and New York City, took as his epigraph a graffito he found in 1964 on the wall of the press room of the Manhattan police headquarters: "All the news that fits we print." Darnton called his article, which appeared in Daedalus in 1975, "Writing News and Telling Stories"; in it he tells how the reporting of facts becomes news through the repertory of conventions for writing stories. While the facts that can be reported are without limit, the conventions into which facts are translated are limited, though they may vary from medium to medium, from one journalistic tradition to another.
Conventions of writing include the type of story an event or set of facts is judged to be, the stereotypes and rhetorical modes common to reporters, and editors' norms of judgment. Darnton makes clear that reporters are not rote writers; they are enterprising in seeking new twists on old ways of telling stories, but they typically do so within an approved genre of storytelling. Facts may be observed, recorded, and quoted, but before the reader or viewer sees the results, the reporter, under supervision of editors, writes the news. This sequence is as true of television reporting as it is of radio and print media (one may note, for example, the beginning and ending sentences of every television report from "the scene").
These conventions of story writing compose the symbolic matrix through which the media translate facts into news. Thus the graffito "All the news that fits we print" captures in an aphoristic formulation the "neatness of fit that produces the sense of satisfaction like the comfort that follows the struggle to force one's foot into a tight boot. The trick will not work if the writer deviates too far from the conceptual repertory that he or she shares with the public and from the techniques of tapping it that he has learned from his predecessors" (Darnton, 1975, p. 190).
"Conceptual repertory" comes in the form of rhetorical conventions, descriptive types, and formulaic devices, and not in the form of explicitly held taxonomies of types of stories. The tacit sharing of these conventions of writing and reading (or viewing) stories is the underlayment that supports the public status of the media, that is, the means for publicity based on publicly shared symbolic forms. Even though they may be biased on specific issues, the media in this understanding are representative and consensual.
As a good historian of his own abandoned career as a reporter, Darnton recounts that the first move a reporter makes upon being given an assignment is to go to "the morgue" in search of relevant sheets, a cluster of examples that inscribe an exemplary way of telling the story. "The dead hand of the past therefore shapes his perception of the present" (ibid., p. 189). This is how journalistic traditions of writing are maintained. This practice demonstrates in important if little-noticed ways that news is old. "There is an epistemology of the fait divers " (ibid.). And this epistemology of tradition is displayed not as a theory of knowledge but as a set of slowly changing styles of writing, and through the rhetorical conventions of the trade.
Darnton reinterprets Tocqueville, or rather extends Tocqueville's observations by particularizing them. One important meaning of association is the communion between habitual readers and the newspapers, the sharing of "sentiments and principles" of which Tocqueville wrote; Darnton particularizes the devices of this sharing in arguing that an essential dimension of the media is their symbolic matrix. Many historians and critics of American journalism have neglected or overlooked what Darnton calls "the long term cultural determinants of the news," in part because they have neglected to consider the enduring styles of storytelling through which news is mediated to various publics. Darnton writes:
Of course, we did not suspect that cultural determinants were shaping the way we wrote about crimes in Newark, but we did not sit down at our typewriters with our minds a tabula rasa. Because of our tendency to see immediate events rather than long term processes, we were blind to the archaic element in journalism. But our very conception of "news" resulted from ancient ways of telling stories. (ibid., p. 191)
The reason that newspapers and other media are consensus-making and consensus-made institutions is that stories fit a range of cultural preconceptions of news. These cultural preconceptions are expressed, not as such, but rather in the "fit" of the facts, the fit of a new story into available conventions for writing that story. To study the way the media report religion is to study some of the constitutive rules that govern the display of stories in the media, rules that are never stated as such but that are presented through the conventions of news writing.
Treatments of the news and how it becomes so are also examinations into the epistemology of power through the analysis of rhetorical forms and conventions that translate facts. The philosopher John Searle, drawing on earlier work by J. L. Austin and G. E. M. Anscombe, summarizes the hierarchical relations that obtain among facts, institutions, or associations, and those constitutive rules that order both: "The description of the brute facts can only be explained in terms of institutional facts. But the institutional facts can only be explained in terms of the constitutive rules which underlie them" (Searle, 1969, p. 52).
To understand how rules operate as norms and mediating symbols and to comprehend how they are refigured, historically, as they confront novel situations, requires an inquiry that can be usefully assisted by the work of historians of religion such as Jonathan Z. Smith. Especially helpful are two of Smith's essays, "Sacred Persistence: Toward a Redescription of Canon," and "The Bare Facts of Ritual," from his collection Imagining Religion (1982). Studies of revision in the canonical status of taxonomies that function as constitutive rules for the governance of facts through sanctioning of particular forms of storytelling would find many useful analogies from similar studies of canonical and ritual change occasioned by time and circumstance.
Media is an overlapping of associations: the association as institution, association as representing other associations, association between the media and habitual readers and viewers, and association as symbolic matrix. Through these complicated connections the news is made.
Media and Religion
With the larger context of the multiple meanings of media established, it is possible to move to the question of the media and religion. How do the media represent religion? It is necessary that the preceding discussion be joined to this key question at many points, because the long-term cultural determinants that decisively affect the play of the news in general affect the ways the media represent religion in particular. The discussion is focused on daily national media in the United States, not on local, state, or ethnic media, nor on the vast array of media owned by various religious organizations, nor on the weekly and monthly periodical press and television programs. The defining pressures of daily and hourly deadlines impose their "fits" on the representation of religion in the national media. This is the most illuminating case for understanding how the central associations in the society transmit and receive news about religion.
In the preceding paragraph this article has borrowed Darnton's term cultural determinant to refer to a catalog of conventions relied upon by reporters to write their stories. Yet one of the problems attending the effort to write with critical consciousness about religion is precisely that the available typologies and formulaic devices used to report on politics, war, sports, and other areas are used to write on religion.
Another sort of cultural determinant involves prevalent ideas among people working in the media about what religion is. Thus notions about religion in the American context determine not only how the news of religion is reported in this society, but also how religious leaders, movements, and traditions abroad are interpreted. Consensus about religion in this country, therefore, involves the ways that religions beyond this country are reported.
The ways the media represent religion through the mediations of their various conventions are different from the ways members of religious groups view their own and other religions, and different also from the ways scholars study religion. These differences account for many misunderstandings and criticisms. The representations of religion in the media are the combined results of both kinds of cultural determinations: the predetermination of story schema and the ideas held by writers and editors about religion, and the repertory of conventions and the conceptual repertories of ideas and images about religion. It is the interplay of these two sets of cultural determinations that make the constitutive rules that govern representations of religion in the media.
The first set requires that a story have a "hook" or "lead" that organizes its telling. The favorite convention or model for organization is some form of drama. Usually a type of conflict, this drama is something that can be grasped in a sharply delineated "take" that arrests the attention and woos the eye to read further. The dramatic, or conflict, scheme may come in cameo or in large-scale settings.
Those aspects of religious life that lend themselves to this prefiguration—namely, highly condensed, dramatic actions—are more likely to appear as stories: controversy, charge and countercharge, conversions, schisms, deviations of many sorts, novel conjunctions of tradition and modern style. Of special importance is the time sense required by this particular model or convention. This time sense is congruent with that that characterizes the entire world according to the media: a time sense made up of a series of discrete units, each more or less self-contained. Any religious practices that lend themselves to dramatic portrayal, that are of limited duration, and that are novel in appearance best meet these requirements. Of course, as has been noted, there is nothing in these requirements that is unique to religion. The way religion is reported must be regarded as essentially similar to the ways news of politics, economics, athletics, law, or military affairs is reported; there is no special category for "religious news" in contrast to "the news."
Formulaic pieces that report the visits of presidents and royalty, for example, work well for popes: the airport arrival, the crowds along the route of the motorcade, appearances in public places, presentations, brief speeches and testimonies, then departures—a series of sharp segments highly adaptable to the rhetorical inscription, transmission, and display requirements of the media. If drama, in one of its many variants, is the favored model, second in usefulness is the "personality" who dramatizes great conflicts in his or her gestures. Here two major genres for best coverage are those that focus on the spectacle or the personality. These genres, of course, are just as effective for athletic heroes, criminals, and political figures as they are useful in the portrayal of religious persons. Just as the presidential candidate's rally may have the form of a religious revival meeting, so papal visits have the form, according to the taxonomy relied upon by the media, of visits by heads of state. The substitutions of different events or personalities within the same format for writing or image making is a reminder of the power of the image types and story conventions that are used to schematize quite different situations in similar ways. "Facts" are not canonical for the media, but the forms within which they are organized have a canonical status worthy of the attention of scriptural scholars.
One idea that fits neatly with the conventions used to report religion is that religion is most authentically itself when it dramatizes itself, particularly in the lives of interesting human beings. Religion as ordinary living or as tradition, as a symbolic complex regularly reenacted, or as a complicated set of ideas with long histories (even with revolutionary consequences) does not attract the attention of the daily media. It is striking that the same features in religion—its symbolism, use of conventions, dependence on repetitions in institutional life and personal behavior—turn up in the media's analyses and that members of the media pay about as much attention to these aspects of religion as they pay to similar aspects in their own modes of operation. Personal lives and institutional histories do not lend themselves to translation into the major news-reporting conventions. In fact, the category of pastness and the category of the ordinary, so characteristic of much religious life and practice, are alien categories in the prevailing modes and ideas. The ways symbols work in the living of lives and in the continuities of institutional life, of habits of mind and textures of sensibility, of forms of conviviality, and of matters of taste legitimated by religious belief are outside the typical scope of the media—unless they are caught in the portmanteau category of "features," a prime location for worthy efforts that deviate from the prevailing norms and conventions.
The cultural historian will be intrigued by the hypothesis that the disposition to favor the drama of religion over the prose of religion is not original with the media, even though it happens that forms of storytelling most favored by the media conform to this dramatic idea of religion. This author's hypothesis is that one particular strand, a long and dominant strand, in Protestantism's religious practice has become thoroughly part of the media's ideas about religion: The media's dramatic model for religion is in fact derived from the conversion rituals so typical of evangelical Protestantism in particular and of a variety of conversion-oriented religions in general. Conversion and its opposite, deconversion, are metaphors that support the dramatic model for writing news about religion. Manifestly all dramatic stories about religion are not conversion stories, but the metaphor of conversion may serve as the tacit root for a variety of conflict models for use in the coverage of religion.
To write about the slow pace of institutional life and the erosions of change over time; to write about the variety of ways religious identity and sensibility affect other associations and expressions in society, the arts, manners, styles of living, family life; to describe ways of thinking about and imagining sexuality, work, leisure, competition, cooperation, war; and to analyze inside/outside group relations appear staggering tasks within the idioms and notions about religion that prevail in the media.
When necessary the media can do a competent job in reporting formal properties present in the collective life of religious groups, particularly when some of the properties—sexual ethics, for example—generate conflict within individual persons and families. But the distance is vast between the common forms and ideas about religion in the media and the remote but powerful ways religious symbols and behavior affect political and economic actions, for example.
When an understanding of religion moves beyond the personal and specifically institutional and goes in the direction of the less formal and more implicit ways religious belief and sensibility work themselves out in a variety of associations, such indeterminate but no less important aspects of religion place impossible strains on the media's conceptual framework, not to speak of the framework of its writing conventions. These elusive but important aspects of religion are rarely noticed in these idioms, and for good reasons, because they cannot be categorized within the prevailing forms of classification presupposed by reporters' assignments; by story types; by the specialized competences of reporters in politics, law, science, economics, sports; and, not least, by the departmentalization of media into corresponding sections on politics, law, science, economics, sports, and style. There is another set of reasons for large areas of religion's impact on society being dropped from notice by the media; it has to do with a set of intellectual traditions about religion that powerfully affect the outlooks of reporters, producers, editors, and columnists alike.
Some Specific Cases
Mary Catherine Bateson, an anthropologist, used the occasion of the Islamic Revolution to call to the attention of the editors and readers of the New York Times the consequences of the intellectual attitude toward religion that is held today by many experts upon whom the media wait for authoritative deliverances about such events as the mass suicide at Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978, and the Islamic Revolution of the late 1970s and early 1980s. She points to the failure of the media and of policymakers in the United States government, as others had pointed to the failure of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), to grasp the revolutionary forces at work in Iran. Such failures were extended in the systematic misrepresentations of the Ayatollah Khomeini by the American media, misrepresentations of a kind that will continue unless "there is a fundamental reappraisal of the role of religion in the world today" (letter to the New York Times, February 20, 1979).
What needs reappraising are notions about religion resident in large portions of the professions and among policymakers, as well as in the media. These ideas comprise an unsteady mixture of the Enlightenment idea that religion is at root superstition and liberalism's teaching that religious beliefs are primarily of interest in the private lives of persons. Neither attitude helps those who hold it to gain advanced notice of a crisis, much less write about many aspects of religion, until there is a dramatic crisis such as a revolution, something that is of course political and economic, not merely "religious"; this is particularly so because such a revolution would be unimaginable in America. Consensus reporting does not prepare the media to view religion as having the power to redirect the history of a nation, let alone affect the life of many other nations. Bateson notes that a new understanding of religion is necessary that will "transcend the fashionable tendency to see religion either as fanaticism or as a cloak for other interests; it must be premised on a recognition that for vast numbers of the world's people the symbols of religion sum up their highest aspirations."
When the media seek expert consultants on religious matters, they frequently call in members of the psychological profession, who are often disposed to see religion as a form of pathology, or other social scientists who see religion as a "cloak," or an ideology covering a variety of other interests, whether ethnic, economic, or political. Neither media notions of religion, derived from Enlightenment critique, nor courtship of the social sciences for authoritative enlightenment about unusual religious phenomena such as Jonestown, prepares the media to understand the power of symbols to inspire group visions other than those of progress and economic growth. The frequency of use of the term medieval in describing the forces led in Iran by Khomeini discloses much of the media's own misunderstanding of religion. The irony is that it was precisely this misunderstanding that led so many intellectuals in America to be surprised by the Islamic Revolution.
The media, then, work with conventions and ideas that reinforce each other in determining the ways religion is represented. In addition, the American press, used to the consensual reporting of religion in this country, is ill prepared to report on religion in other cultures where the manners of pluralism do not obtain and where religious power is often disintegrative of the existing social order instead of communing with it.
Just as there are working models in the media for what is authentically religious, so there is at work a pattern for the typical relationship between religion and the central social order. Nowhere is this model so clearly disclosed as when the media attempt to report minority or fundamentally different forms of religious practice, different ways of being religious than those practiced in the mainline associations and in the major religious traditions. Again, the ways the media report minority religious practices in American society indicate how foreign religions will be reported, or not reported.
On Sunday, June 8, 1980, the New York Times ran a story headlined "Police Seize Animals Prepared for Sacrifice by Cult in the Bronx," accompanied by a two-column picture of an officer of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals holding a lamb with the caption "Lamb Saved from Slaughter." The lead on this story was as follows: "Police officers and agents of an animal protection society raided a garage in the Southview section of the Bronx early yesterday and confiscated 62 animals that they said were apparently being held for sacrifice by a religious cult." The raid, following one that had occurred three weeks previously, was termed in the second lead paragraph "the first major successful raid on secret cults practicing animal sacrifice." The final sentence of the ten-paragraph story read "The animals used in the cultic rituals are usually killed by having their throats slit, according to Mr. Langdon," the officer pictured holding the saved lamb. The drama of the raid, as reported, was followed by lists and numbers of animals confiscated. Officer Langdon was the major source for the story, and apparently the quoted authority on the meaning and history of the cult. "People will give one of the sect's priests $100 to perform a sacrifice so that good things will happen, so they will get money, or become healthy," he said. Not until the seventh paragraph were any words attributed to a member of the group raided, and no leaders were quoted. There was no reference to scholarship on this form of religious practice. Not until the penultimate paragraph was any background information supplied about this group and its affiliations. Again, Officer Langdon was the informant quoted: "Mr. Langdon said that the people in the house belonged to a sect closely related to Santería, which, he said, was derived from a Nigerian religion called Yoruba that was brought to Cuba by slaves in the 18th century and which once practiced infanticide as well as animal sacrifice."
A generous critic of this story may doubt if many adherents of Santeria were assumed to be included in the Times' s readers that Sunday morning. All the key terms of the story—"raid," "sacrifice," "religious cult," "slaughter," "cruelty to animals," "sect," "a Nigerian religion called Yoruba," "slaves," "infanticide as well as animal sacrifice"—along with the quoted final sentence, combine to project a consistent image of the exotic. No reporter would describe a mainline religious group as "an American religion called X that was brought to this country in the seventeenth century by visionaries, refugees, indentured servants, and fortune seekers."
True to form, the story angles on a dramatic event, a police raid, followed by confiscation of the animals. But not so true to form is the hybrid mixture of conific offerings and demonstrating the qualities of taker. The alleged violations of city laws on the treatment of animals and on harboring farm animals in the city are in tension with the story of the religious rite interrupted by the raid, and nowhere is the issue of freedom to practice religion hinted at as an issue. The mixture of types struggling with each other here—the police raid; the exotic practices of a minority religion; the motivation for such practices as involving exchange of money with priests of the cult (a constant, formulaic consideration in reporting of religion); the sentimental story involving officers rescuing animals from danger (no pictures provided of goats or guinea hens, which were also saved)—disclose a clash of genre and, perhaps unwittingly, reveal the problematics of conventional treatments of the exotic for an intended majority readership. All information supplied about the minority religious group only highlights the alien, if not pathological and illegal, status of such groups and their practices.
The loosely braided character of the several story conventions at work demonstrates what happens when news that does not neatly fit gets published. Perhaps here was a telltale occasion when "All the news that's fit to print" prevailed over "All the news that fits we print." The misfits here illuminate the standard fits that prevail in most reporting of religion. The heterogeneity of the "brute facts" on which this story was based may have placed too much pressure on the ruling conventions for them to operate effectively.
The repitition of key words in the story shows how the alien and the minority is encoded for the familiar and majority. Terms such as "cult," "secret sacrifice," "infanticide," "slaughter," and the like had echoed through the media during the previous eighteen months, following the reporting of events at Jonestown, Guyana, in November 1978; at that time, other terms—"fanatical," "paranoid," and "bizarre"—were added to the code to alert readers and viewers to the alien and "other" status of such religious practices and leaders. These signals of differentness serve to reaffirm readers' and viewers' tacit association and to reassert the normative and "normal" status of the familiar and dominant. "Charismatic preacher" may work as a term of approval, but "cult leaders" become "self-proclaimed messiahs," while their believers become "victims."
The mix of conventions used to report the practice of Santeria in the Bronx bear close relations to similar encodings in the reporting of Jonestown and its leader Jim Jones and of the revolution in Iran and Khomeini, who was constantly referred to as a "madman," and whose country was classified as backward, if not primitive, by being called "medieval." The visual image of the shouting mob became the set for television reporting from Iran, recalling a scene type that goes back to the crowd imagery used by those writers hostile to the French Revolution.
Generalizations about the media as a consensual association enforcing what Tocqueville called "principles and sentiments" are routinely inscribed in the particulars of ordinary stories like the Times story discussed above. The ways that particular "facts" are represented contribute to the consensus while embodying many of the consensus's assumptions. Such representations not only define themselves and their constituents affirmatively toward their conception of the normal but also negatively toward the alien, the exotic, the criminal, the pathological, the animal, the medieval, the primitive, and so on. These terms of exclusion and their encoded idioms within the rhetorical commonplaces of news writing carry power to refamiliarize the normal by distancing the alien. Thus the rhetoric of the media bears close analogies to rituals of inclusion and of exorcism. In these ways the media make their contribution to the manners of discourse and good taste in a society that has shown a decided disposition to view religion as private, lest the plurality of prescriptive and assertive religions within its borders cease observing good form. This equivocal achievement is sustained by a studied absence of attention to the power of symbols, those of religion and those of the media, to affect the lives of the unreported many, who take the former with much more seriousness than the latter.
Anscombe, G. E. M. "On Brute Facts." Analysis 18 (1958): 69–72. A brief and influential article setting forth elementary distinctions among different kinds of facts and their relations. See Searle (1969), cited below.
Bensman, Joseph, and Robert Lilienfeld. Craft and Consciousness: Occupational Technique and the Development of World Images. New York, 1973. Journalists and intellectuals are among the occupational groups treated in this work in the sociology of knowledge. Alert to the power of images arising out of occupations, it is, in effect, a theoretical expansion of Kenneth Burke's dictum, "occupations engender preoccupations."
Cuddihy, John Murry. No Offense: Civil Religion and Protestant Taste. New York, 1978. While not directly about media in American society, this work offers a provocative and controversial thesis about the function of discourses of civility and taste in a pluralistic society. Cuddihy's multiplication of examples from a variety of sources is a persuasive exercise in the hermeneutics of unmasking.
Darnton, Robert. "Writing News and Telling Stories." Daedalus 104 (Spring 1975): 175–194. Darnton shows himself to be a master of two conventions here, making the personal memoir serve the larger purposes of a historical and rhetorical analysis of the ways the news is prefigured. An exemplary approach suggesting literary and cultural analyses can be usefully combined with historical study of the media. Included is a selective and critical annotated bibliography.
Gans, Herbert J. Deciding What's News: A Study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Newsweek, and Time. New York, 1979. Gans's analysis focuses on decision making. This is a standard approach in work on the media. The identification of sets of image traditions, however, such as the pastoral, makes his an important contribution to the symbolic analysis of the media.
Goethals, Gregor T. The TV Ritual: Worship at the Video Altar. Boston, 1981. While not strong on the history of the images employed on television, this art historian offers a novel thesis about the religious functions of television images in their various formats. An effort to suggest a ritual analysis of television image sequences.
Hughes, Helen MacGill. News and the Human Interest Story. Chicago, 1940. This is one of the earliest of the few works that stress the long-term cultural determinants at work in the conventions of news reporting. Like Darnton's memoir, it sets a good precedent for further work on the sociocultural determinants of news writing.
Innis, Harold A. Empire and Communications (1950). Reprint, Toronto, 1972.
Innis, Harold A. The Bias of Communication. Toronto, 1951. These two undervalued works have inspired more famous treatments of media, none of which have equaled Innis's cross-cultural scope and empirical incisiveness. Historians and anthropologists of religion can benefit from Innis's treatment of the role of intellectuals in various media in a variety of cultures, ancient and modern. Innis is particularly helpful in outlining, through comparative study, different time senses in various societies and within various strata of society.
Lippmann, Walter. Public Opinion. New York, 1922. Few subsequent works have approached the comprehensiveness of sweep and the use of telling detail of Lippmann's pioneering study. It is an extensive elaboration of many of Tocqueville's intuitions and notes. Most of interest to the student of religion is Lippmann's fine treatment of censorship and privacy, stereotypes (all of the third section of the book), the role of interests, and the recurrent attention to the function of rhetorical forms in media in a democratic society. A classic work meriting a new edition.
Rockefeller Foundation. The Religion Beat: The Reporting of Religion in the Media. New York, 1981. Papers by journalists and academic specialists in religious studies, followed by excerpts from a day's consultation, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, Humanities Division, in the aftermath of Jonestown and the Islamic Revolution. A good collection of occasional pieces, many with bibliographical reference, for beginning an inquiry into the representation of religion in the news. Of particular note is the stress in several parts of the consultation on the interplay between the coverage of religion in America and the coverage of religion in other countries.
Schudson, Michael. Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers. New York, 1978. A quality work clearly represented by its title. In the tradition of the Hughes book noted above.
Schudson, Michael. "Why News Is the Way It Is." Raritan 2 (Winter 1983): 109–125. Other than the Darnton article cited above, the single most useful article on the subject. Schudson is not held captive by any one theory but is deft in relating the reigning theories about the news to each other and in using them to criticize each other. The result, particularly because one of the theories he treats is the semiotic, is a minor classic of synthesis.
Searle, John. Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. London, 1969. Drawing on the work of J. L. Austin and G. E. M. Anscombe, Searle is important for his placement of a philosophy of language in conjunction with questions of factuality, on the one hand, and institutional contexts, on the other, and he dialectically weaves the relations among them. An analysis that is useful to applied work in religion or in the media, or both.
Shils, Edward. "Center and Periphery." In Center and Periphery: Essays in Macrosociology, vol. 2, Selected Papers, pp. 3–16. Chicago, 1975. Shils offers a dialectic in the understanding of the central institutional system in a society, with dissensual forces imaged as "periphery." The bias toward the center is clear, though the delicacy of the analysis, if used to think about the functional and symbolic roles of media, is helpful. Should be supplemented by Shils's chapter on consensus in the same volume.
Smith, Jonathan Z. Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown. Chicago, 1982. Smith provides the only available treatment of Jonestown by a historian of religion. In addition, his essays "Sacred Persistence: Toward a Redescription of Canon" and "The Bare Facts of Ritual," included in this volume, not only illuminate problems in the history and anthropology of religion but are also helpful in understanding media as a canonical symbolic matrix and in exploring the problems attending changes in that canon.
Strauss, Leo. Persecution and the Art of Writing (1952). Westport, Conn., 1973. Strauss offers a hermeneutic for understanding writing performed under particular repressions, especially the threat of official censorship. The work's relevance ranges far beyond issues of writing and censorship if censorship is broadened to include a variety of forms of cultural suppression or exclusion.
Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. Edited by Phillips Bradley. 2 vols. New York, 1960. This work is included because, in addition to the observations on newspapers in a democratic society, Tocqueville's chapters on language and speech in America are early instances that can now be seen to be a part of social semiotics.
Buddenbaum, Judith, and Debra Mason, eds. Readings on Religion as News. Ames, Iowa, 2000.
Hangen, Tona. Redeeming the Dial: Radio, Religion, and Popular Culture in America. Chapel Hill, N.C., 2002.
Hoover, Stewart. Religion and the News: Faith and Journalism in American Public Discourse. Thousand Oaks, Calif., 1998.
Hoover, Stewart, and Lynn Schofield Clark, eds. Practicing Religion in the Age of the Media. New York, 2002.
Lundby, Knut, and Stewart Hoover, eds. Rethinking Media, Religion, and Culture. Thousand Oaks, Calif., 1997.
McDannell, Colleen. Material Christianity, Religion and Popular Culture in America. New Haven, 1998.
Schmalzbauer, John. People of Faith: Religious Conviction in American Journalism and Higher Education. Ithaca, N.Y., 2003.
Smith, Christian, ed. The Secular Revolution: Power, Interests, and Conflict in the Secularization of American Public Life. Berkeley, 2003.
Ruel W. Tyson, Jr. (1987)