Last week, traditional media was abuzz about the economy, while bloggers and other news sources discussed religious trends, according to new research released Friday from the Pew Foundation's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Newspapers' top stories swirled around AIG and Bernard Madoff, and overall traditional media focused 35 percent of their coverage on the economy-no other topic came close. But bloggers discussed more ultimate questions-like the state of religion in America.
Released last week, the American Religious Identification Survey showed an overall decline in people who subscribe to one religion or another. The study was met with wide-ranging interpretations, generating lots of conversation online. Some foresaw the demise of evangelical America, like columnist Michael Spencer with the Christian Science Monitor (see Tony Woodlief's "The end of evangelical America").
"Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated," Spencer wrote. "Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close."
Evangelical leader Charles Colson, head of Prison Fellowship Ministry, said the numbers show no decline of evangelicals in comparison with recent years-it remained steady at 34 percent, though numbers in specific mainline denominations declined.
"So, I'd say it is a healthy trend," he wrote on a Washington Post blog. "It shows serious Bible-believing Christians increasing, both in the evangelical and Catholic traditions, while mainline liberals continue their long decline."
The Pew study points out that Catholic indulgences were a major topic among "social media"-bloggers, podcasters, etc.-last month, another religion story that didn't get much play in the mainstream news.
Interestingly, President Obama's executive order allowing federal funds to go toward embryonic stem cell research, a hot-button topic, was a top story among traditional media-and not among bloggers.
Last fall, Pew released a study demonstrating that mainstream press gave minimal coverage of religious voters during the 2008 presidential campaign-only 7 percent of religion coverage focused on religious voters. Catholics were a significant voting demographic that switched from supporting a Republican (George W. Bush) to a Democrat (Barack Obama)-and the study reports that "the alternative religious press" and bloggers were the only ones covering that shift.