Faith and the media ‘can function together,’ Mexico City workshop emphasizes
Deseret Management Corp. — alongside the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Google News Lab and the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute — co-host a daylong workshop about religion and media for Mexican journalists
MEXICO CITY — Around the world, people recognize a need for robust coverage of faith and religion in the media.
In other words, “There are very important, interesting stories that need to be told about people of faith,” said Hal Boyd, executive editor of Deseret Magazine, on Saturday. “And we have to be good journalists and search them out.”
The comments came during a workshop series for media members and other communications professionals called “Exploring Best Practices: Journalism & Faith in Today’s Media Reality.” The workshop series, held in Mexico City, was co-hosted by Deseret Management Corp., the parent company of the Deseret News, alongside the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Google News Lab, the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute and the Industry Affairs Council.
“Our goal today is to show how these two sectors — religion and journalism — can function together,” said Aaron Sherinian, the senior vice president of global reach at Deseret Management Corp., to a group of Mexican journalists gathered at Casa Lamm Cultural Center in Mexico City’s Colonia Roma neighborhood.
All of the workshop’s sessions were conducted in Spanish. Comments from the presenters have been translated into English.
David Peña, executive director of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), gave the opening remarks, saying it was an “honor” to introduce the workshop’s speakers. In coming weeks, NAHJ will hold similar workshops for journalists in Monterrey and Guadalajara, Mexico, on topics ranging from technology to climate change and immigration.
Valentina Almeida, strategy director at Boncom, presented findings from a recent study about representations of faith in the media. The survey, conducted by HarrisX in conjunction with the Faith & Media Initiative, analyzed global perspectives on religious representation in the media. It included online interviews with nearly 10,000 respondents in 18 countries.
The survey suggests media organizations have a ways to go to adequately meet the public’s desire for coverage on faith and related issues. A majority of respondents — 53% — said the media “actively ignores” religion’s role in today’s society and culture, and 61% said the media perpetuates stereotypes about religious groups instead of protecting them. Over three-quarters of respondents expressed a desire for more robust action combating negative religious stereotypes. Some 63% of survey respondents said more high-quality content on faith and religion is needed in their respective countries.
Journalists and other media members describe “newsroom economics” as another major factor hindering religious coverage, as financial constraints and shrinking newsrooms restrict the array of issues a publication can adequately cover. Further, other respondents explained a “fear” journalists sometimes have for writing about a sensitive topic like religion that requires nuance and care.
“I want to invite you to join our initiative,” Almeida told the journalists. “I hope these ideas can strengthen our efforts to make a significant change in the media.”
Faith and media in Mexico
The panel of Mexican journalists discussed the complexities that come with covering faith and religion in Mexico specifically. Verónica Basurto Gamero, a journalist with nearly three decades of experience, moderated the panel.
José Alberto Villasana Munguía, a National Journalism Award winner, explained how his interest in faith parallels his interest in understanding truth. Faith, he said, is a process of seeking the truth, and he sees journalism as the same work.
“Ever since I was very young, I’ve been anxious to seek out the truth in everything,” Villasana said. “This, in many ways, led to my background in journalism.”
Carlos Villa Roiz, a longtime TV news reporter and columnist, suggested the influence of the Catholic Church in particular plays a monumental role in Mexican society — including in media, politics and government. Further, as many journalists in Mexico are people of faith, they should not ignore their beliefs while covering events around them. Instead, journalists should be more open about their faith, he said.
Basurto said efforts to cover journalism should not be chalked up to an effort to expand representation alone. Instead, as newsrooms pride themselves on quality, fast journalism, accurately covering faith issues should be considered a point of pride.
“Better faith reporting is more than a representation issue,” she said. “It is a journalism quality issue.”
Journalism and mental health
The final session of the workshop dealt with mental health in journalism. Titled “How to Care for Our Mental Health and Avoid Stress,” Araceli Ramírez García spoke about the unique challenges facing those in the media today and what approaches can be taken to combat negative repercussions on physical and mental health.
“We’ve passed through a number of recent crises: Social crises, political crises and health crises, like the pandemic,” Ramírez García said. “All of these brought a lot of grief and fear.”
Journalists have a unique responsibility in covering and studying these crises, but the work can also take a toll on their own physical and mental health, Ramírez García explained. “Even though we’ve all lived through this same era, we’ve all handled it differently,” she said. “Some people turned to alcohol. Others, unfortunately, died by suicide. Others stopped sleeping. Why? This is the question we wish to answer today.”
In addition to stress and fatigue, journalists in Mexico are among the most unsafe in the world. In 2022, at least 13 journalists have been killed, according to data from the Committee to Protect Journalists. A CNN story earlier this year claimed it’s “never been more dangerous” to work in the media in Mexico, and nonprofit groups have expressed concern about a lack of investigations into crimes against journalists.
Perhaps the most common mental ailment among journalists is “burnout” syndrome, a malady that has received increased recognition in the scientific community in recent years, according to Ramírez García. Burnout has three main characteristics: excessive emotional exhaustion, derealization and inefficiency in work.
Ramírez García encouraged journalists to frequently take time to analyze their mental state and ask themselves, “How am I feeling?” and “Why?”
“There aren’t enough resources for journalists who struggle with this,” Ramírez García said. “We are looking to change this.”
‘A sacred work’
To conclude the workshop, Basurto interviewed Hal Boyd, executive editor of Deseret Magazine, about the different dynamics of covering religion in Mexico and the U.S
“It isn’t only interesting to learn about the situation in Mexico, it’s important for us,” Boyd said. “It helps us improve our work.”
Boyd explained that covering faith is valuable to people in the U.S. and Mexico, as the majority of people in both countries are religious.
“Faith is interesting. People of faith are interesting,” Boyd said. “And when we aren’t listening to and learning from these people, we’re losing something.”
Boyd gave the example of the Middle East — while much of the news coverage dealing with this region deals with the economic, social and political climate, having a better understanding of faith is necessary to understand the dynamics there. Even so, too much of the global media industry overlooks the role of faith in that region as well as in the United States and Mexico.
Boyd also commented on the difficulties of journalism and its affect on mental health. “It’s a work that’s dangerous. It’s difficult. It requires a lot of time and money, and it doesn’t pay much,” he said.
“It’s an act of love, just like faith is an act of love. They can help each other.”
Boyd said journalism, done well, is essential in combating corruption and upholding truth.
“It is an important work. It is a sacred work,” he said.