June 26, 2012

Atheists and the Media

NewspaperThe posts I write at Atheist Revolution are inspired in many different ways (e.g., personal experience, information gained by visiting other atheist blogs, a variety of news sources). One of my favorite sources of inspiration are the comments left on the blog by my readers.

Here is part of what SonicYouthFan had to say in the comment thread for a recent post about how other minority groups do not allow politicians and the media to ignore them:
To the political right, atheists are seen on a level equivalent to Jerry Sandusky…The left, meanwhile, is so attention-starved, they're desperate to get faith-based voters on board…Therefore, the politically polarized portion of the media simply won't engage us…So the question is: how do we get attention form the media if they won't even return our calls?
That is a damn good question.

I agree that the politically polarized parts of corporate media typically won't engage us, at least not in a serious and objective manner. Yes, Fox "News" will put David Silverman on to scare their audience from time to time. And yes, MSNBC occasionally permits someone to criticize aspects of religion that are consistent with their political agenda. But that is about the extent of it.

National Media

What about the rest of the national media? Newspaper and blog columns by atheists seem to be more common now than what I can remember from even a few years ago. But of course, that isn't saying much. Nearly all newspapers regularly feature pro-religion material, and most of the big media outlets rarely feature atheist columnists (e.g., CNN's Belief Blog). It would be fair to say that atheist voices are underrepresented in the national news media relative to our numbers.

I don't have any answers here because I think that part of the problem is that the national media, at least in the U.S., seems more concerned with celebrity than anything else. If a celebrity atheist were to come forward and want to address atheism, they'd draw coverage. For the rest of us, I think it is a much harder sell. We are too easy to ignore, and many of us do not have the luxury of publicizing our atheism even if we wanted to do so.

Think Local

I think it has to be much easier for local atheist groups to attract the attention of their local media than national media. True, I have heard from some atheists who have tried to reach out to local media and had their submissions rejected multiple times without explanation. That can be discouraging.

But I wonder how many local atheist groups even try to work with their local media. Does your local atheist group send press releases to the local newspapers, radio stations, and television news programs in advance of your events? My guess is that you probably don't, in part because you'd almost certainly have Christians show up at your events to proselytize.

What do you think? Should we be working on increasing the degree to which atheists are represented in the news media? If so, what might help?

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