NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Here is a foolproof way for politicians to score points with evangelical voters - attack the media, an institution widely seen as lacking conservative Christian voices.
Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain and his evangelical running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, have done just that at times during the campaign, with repeated jabs at the “liberal media.”
One way to change this perception, some church leaders, social commentators and journalists say, is for mainstream news organizations to employ - and keep - more evangelicals in their newsrooms.
“Journalism has become more of a white-collar field that draws from elite colleges,” said Terry Mattingly, director of the Washington Journalism Center for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and a religion columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. “While there’s been heavy gender and racial diversity … there’s a lack of cultural diversity in journalism,” including religion.
Since the 1980s, when the Christian right emerged as a powerful force in American culture and politics, evangelicals have made significant inroads in law and government by training believers to work inside secular institutions.
But while the same universities that helped students launch careers in those fields are offering similar programs in journalism, they haven’t been as successful at changing the nation’s newsrooms.
“The media - journalism - remain one of the hardest fields for them to realize their power,” said D. Michael Lindsay, a sociologist at Rice University and author of “Faith in the Halls of Power.”
Many evangelical journalists start out in secular news organizations but they soon join Christian media that offer an environment more accepting of their beliefs and more family-friendly than the long hours and low pay of secular journalism, said Robert Case II, director of the World Journalism Institute, which offers seminars for young evangelicals seeking work in secular media.
Martha Krienke, 26, who attended one of Mr. Case’s seminars in 2003, worked for two secular newspapers in Minnesota before she finally took a job as an editor at Brio, a magazine for young girls published by Focus on the Family.
At one paper, Miss Krienke disagreed with the edit of an opinion piece about what Christmas meant to her.
“My editor wanted to change several paragraphs, and it totally changed the tone and message of my opinion,” she said. “Going through that situation just confirmed to me why I wanted to work for a Christian magazine.”
It’s not clear how many evangelicals work in newsrooms, and federal laws against religious discrimination prevent news managers from asking about a job candidate’s beliefs. But the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reported in 2007 that 8 percent of journalists surveyed at national media outlets said they attended church or synagogue weekly. The survey also found 29 percent never attend such services, with 39 percent reporting they go a few times a year.
Pew polling of the general public found 39 percent of Americans say they attend religious services weekly.
In seeking a greater voice in the media, most evangelical leaders say their goal isn’t to evangelize inside newsrooms, which demand that journalists set aside their beliefs for the sake of objectivity.
“They have to be journalists first,” Mr. Mattingly said. “You don’t need more Christian journalists. You need more journalists who happen to be Christians if they’re going to contribute to any real diversity in newsrooms.”