Religion News Coverage Doubled, Focused On Islam Controversies In 2010


Islam dominated religion news coverage in 2010, a year that also saw religion reporting double to 2 percent of all news, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The so-called "Ground Zero mosque" and threat of Quran burning from a Florida pastor helped bring coverage of Islam and related controversies to 40 percent of all religion news last year. From 2009 to 2010, religion-related reporting increased from 1 percent to 2 percent of all news coverage in the U.S. media. And for the first time since 2007, when Pew began tracking such coverage, neither the Catholic Church nor religion's role in American politics were the most reported topic.

The top religion stories of 2010 were: Park51 mosque controversy (22.7 percent), Catholic priest abuse scandal (18.8 percent), Terry Jones' Quran burning (14.5 percent), religion in the Obama administration (6 percent), 9/11 commemoration coverage (4.7 percent) and Westboro church protests (2.3 percent).

The Rev. Eddie Long sex scandal, Pope Benedict's U.K. visit, religion in the mid-term elections, and education and religion issues rounded out the top 10, each accounting for less than 2 percent of total religion coverage.

Other key findings in the report:

  • Although the volume of religion coverage in the mainstream media increased more than two-fold from a year earlier, it was still small compared with coverage of some other topics, especially elections and politics.
  • The Tea Party replaced the religious right as the most-talked-about element of the
    Republican Party‟s grassroots support in coverage of the 2010 midterm elections. Religious individuals, groups or institutions were mentioned in only about 1% of all mainstream media coverage of the elections. By contrast, the Tea Party movement was mentioned in nearly one-in-six midterm election stories (14.1%).
  • In 2010, religion appeared as a major topic more often in the blogosphere than it did in traditional media. Religion was among the most-discussed topics on blogs in 12 of the 48 weeks studied by PEJ and the Pew Forum. In three of those weeks, the plan to build a mosque and Islamic center near ground zero was among the top subjects.
  • Analysis of social media, produced with technology from Crimson Hexagon, indicates that people who were active on social media sites were deeply divided about the proposed New York City mosque. About a quarter of the comments about the mosque and Islamic center posted on blogs, Twitter and online forums were neutral in character; the remaining comments were roughly evenly divided between those ardently for and those ardently against construction of the proposed mosque and Islamic center, now known as Park51, for its location at 51 Park Place in Lower Manhattan.

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