Melanie Brooks: The recent study released by Baylor University titled “American Piety in the 21st Century: New Insights to the Depth and Complexity of Religion in the US” was the topic of news articles across the country in the last few weeks. While most of them had a common thread, a few dug through the findings to report on less prominent findings. These lone wolves focused their articles not on what the researchers felt was the most important aspect of the study, but what they felt would attract their readers.
Baylor University spent considerable time dealing with the declining importance of denomination in this survey. The researchers determined that “Americans may simply be more likely to connect with religion at the local level” and no longer connect with the word “evangelical.”
Such was the story, anyway, as reported by The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, The Salt Lake Tribune, and any paper that relied on the AP.
The study was broken into two sections: Religious Affiliation and Religious Belief, which included five subtopics apiece. “Paranormal America” was one of the topics barely grazed upon by journalists in their pieces. Perhaps they felt that the topic wasn’t as serious as the others or that because it was near the back of the report it wasn’t as newsworthy.
Here are a few facts that apparently aren’t news:
• 45.3% of people living in the eastern part of the U.S. believe places can be haunted
• 27.2% of females (as opposed to 14% of males) believe that it is possible to communicate with the dead
• Education explains little of the variation in paranormal experiences
• Over 80% of the population living in the East, Midwest and Western parts of the country believe in alternative medicine
These facts seemed to be overlooked, but are they any less interesting? Perhaps the journalists took the information that the Baylor researchers wanted to push out front and felt that it was good enough. For a study that touts itself to be “the most extensive and sensitive study of religion ever conducted,” the stories that came out after the study went public seemed to be from the same one page press release.
Melanie Brooks is a graduate student in New York University’s Department of Journalism.