While religion and politics may be subjects to avoid at most social gatherings, the media have never had any problems delving into the latter. Now, editors and producers are increasingly comfortable boosting their coverage of religious and faith-based issues after finding their audiences can't get enough of the topic.
"There's a much greater media recognition of the role faith and spirituality play in all sectors of US society," says Andy Morris, partner and principal with New York-based Morris & King Co., which represents Beliefnet.com and coined the phrase "metrospirituals" to describe this growing demographic.
David Bohon, project management VP for WDC Media, which specializes in Christian and faith-based clients, adds: "Every newspaper and major radio and TV station has a reporter dedicated to this beat, though some do other things, as well. But in the past, being a religion reporter was on a par with writing obituaries - now that's changed as reporters realize there are so many issues that religion can impact."
It's tempting to assume that 9/11 and the Middle East conflict are playing a major role in driving short-term public interest in religion. But Steven Waldman, CEO and editor-in-chief of Beliefnet - a site that serves followers of most religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism - suggests the current faith-based revival predates those events.
"This is a baby boomer-driven trend," says Waldman, whose site also provides a weekly column on spirituality/religion to Newsweek. "Many boomers have arrived at a stage where [they are] naturally more interested in spiritual matters, so they can't get enough reading matter, TV, movies, and music related to their spirituality."
Gary McCullough, director of Christian Newswire, adds that the vast majority of the reporters using his service are not on the religion beat. "These journalists realize that religion is the up-and-coming news topic - you've got The Da Vinci Code, and you've got a president who talks about his faith. Obviously, it affects policy."
In addition to the mainstream press, there's also strong growth in religious-themed outlets. Doug Trouten, executive director of the Evangelical Press Association, which represents 300 print and online titles serving 22 million readers, says this audience may be the great hidden demographic.
"There's been a stereotype of the poor ignorant Southerner living in a trailer with eight kids and a Bible. That's not the reality," he says. "A surprising number of Americans cite faith as an important part in their daily life."
PITCHING... Faith-Based media
Positioning a story as faith-based or family-friendly, rather than simply religious-themed, will make the general-interest media more open to cover it
Leverage breaking news. There's a religious angle to most major events, especially for reporters looking to do analysis stories
Do look at the vertical faith-based press. It's a great demographic, but will require you to tailor your pitch to show how your client is appropriate to that audience