leaders and journalists seem to have a mutual disrespect for each
other. Christians often think journalists are unfriendly, and are
thus suspicious of the media. The media think the church is insignificant
but newsworthy when they preach outdated morals, when a church leader
strays from traditional Christian doctrine or some other misdemeanour.
we are currently seeing with the Catholic Church, sex scandals among
clergy make especially good copy as church leaders are seen to be
people that should be beyond reproach, despite being as human as
anyone else. It's exciting when they fall.
But Christians are of the opinion that the media sees the church
as irrelevant. They couldn't be more incorrect, but they could be
more relevant in communicating their good stories. The media will
get hold of the not so favourable news easily enough.
Most church leaders don't understand the media, but are keen for
good copy. Likewise most journalists don't understand the Church
and ignore it as much as possible unless there is a scandal or they
have to do a story on church life. Both groups don't really want
to understand or get to know each other. Christians are suspicious
of the media while the journalists are cynical or sceptical of the
journalists say that Christian leaders have unrealistic expectations
of what the media should cover in religion. They say these same
leaders do not understand news values - i.e.: what makes news newsworthy.
is often reflected in budgets of church denominations and Christian
organizations. The money spent on PR in most Christian organizations
is less than spent on evangelism and less than spent on advertising.
PR can be both, but some use advertising as their PR and refuse
to employ media liaison people even on a part time basis due to
the cost. But a well-written news story in a daily paper can attract
more attention than an advertisement.
religion stories are not the hard news that sells newspapers. Hard
news is "what is happening, what has happened or what will happen".
Most religion stories are soft news or analysis.
journalist who covers the religion round - if a paper has one -
is seen to be interested in the church but not of it. Like his colleagues,
he may not think religion is important as religion is not the money-spinner
that sports or political reporting is. Imagine a sports reporter
who took that attitude, and maintained that sports was a total waste
of time and the sports people would be better spending their time
in. say, helping the poor. This illustrates the bias that journalists
have against reporting religious news.
a paper's religion reporter is a Christian, church leaders unreasonably
expect a greater understanding of the church than secular journalists,
but they are not willing to understand how the media works. Furthermore,
Church leaders sometimes unfairly ask Christian journalists for
copy before publication. Some Christian spokespeople even expect
Christian journalists to put less spin against the church in their
stories and are happy to criticise them when they spin the other
way or even provide balance. This ensures the journalist sides with
his media colleagues when there is a conflict with journalistic
ethics and church leader's wishes.
of the biggest fears for church leaders is that their comments will
be misinterpreted or taken out of context. One of the most annoying
things for a journalist is for a suspicious church leader to grant
an interview, but then say at the end "don't quote me on that."
You can be sure that they will - and probably pick the most inconvenient
comment. The worst thing a Christian leader can do is say nothing
to the media to avoid possible misunderstanding or criticism, as
the opposing view will be reported with a small "no comment" from
the Christian viewpoint to ensure balance. Thus the Christian viewpoint
could also be misunderstood. We must be clear communicators. It
is not good enough merely to mean what we say - we must clearly
say what we mean.
Christian leaders- the Pope being a classic example - suggest that
the media should report the truth, not distort it. Sure, reporting
should be based on the truth, but journalists put the emphasis on
the news, not the truth. The news is what journalists write, the
truth is what they should be told. The whole truth and news are
not always the same, as the person being interviewed tells their
perspective on the truth and the journalist packages it as news.
That is why journalists interview several people for a story as
they all have a different perspective of how they see the truth,
or the story. If a interviewee makes a statement, it is reported,
then the journalist gets a call like "but I didn't say that", what
they often mean is "I didn't mean that, or that was only part of
what I said." Sometimes my response, after looking at my shorthand
book to see what they actually said, might be "why didn't you say
what you meant?"
many journalists in the Christian media put too much spin in the
church's favour, often at the expense of the ethical requirement
of balance. This especially occurs within denominational papers
for reasons that have more to do with politics than news sense.
The religious media - especially denominational publications - tends
to down play conflict, whereas the secular media thrive on conflict
and controversy. If religious media report on conflict, it is usually
in a light that elevates the church against the "them" of "ism's",
be it feminism, communism, secularism etc.
Christian spokespeople tend to understand the media to a lesser
extent than their liberal counterparts. Liberals, on the other hand
are more prolific religious commentators. Bot groups, however offer
a skewed perspective of mainstream Christianity. But mainstream
Christian leaders don't often comment to the media. This results
in the warping of the public's perception of mainstream Christianity,
as only the right and left elements of the faith are aired in the
fact of the matter is that the Church needs the media more than
the media needs the Church. Therefore church spokespeople must be
less suspicious of reporters and more proactive in restoring and
initiating relationships with journalists and media outlets - and
story ideas - if they want to get any copy - let alone copy with
a favourable spin. The press in this country do respect the freedom
of speech. To an extent the press represents free speech, but we
must remember it is the new editors, and chief reporters that determine
what is news and it is up to church representatives to persuade
them that their news is news they should print.
many who have sincerely held beliefs that they feel they should
alert media to are usually conservative, and often they are on the
other end of the religious, social and political spectrum to the
majority of journalists. And these journalists couldn't care less
what Christians thought unless it made for a spicy story.
to get good copy, Christians need to cultivate positive working
relationships with news editors and learn to write media releases.
Christian organizations should not have to wait for the media to
contact them for a story. They could be contacting the media directly
via media releases. Larger organizations should consider employing
a media liaison officer - and one who has good news sense, understands
how the secular media works and knows what reporters want in stories
and what they are likely to cover. They also need to know how to
develop contacts and write media releases and must have the trust
of church hierarchy who do not have a clue as to how the media works.