American media needs to tell a better story about faith, Sheri Dew said at a Brigham Young University lecture Wednesday evening. “But (people of faith) also need to learn to talk about what really makes a difference in our lives and do it in a way that we can do it with anybody.”

BYU’s President C. Shane Reese introduced Dew, the executive vice president and chief content officer for Deseret Management Corp., as a distinguished BYU alumnus with a storied communications career who is also a person of profound faith.

Dew began her remarks, titled “The Intersection of Faith, Media and Wellness” with a story about losing her mother in the midst of the pandemic. The family held a small memorial service in her hometown of Ulysses, Kansas — a four stoplight town, Dew quipped.

As the memorial procession drove to the cemetery a few miles down the road, escorted by a local officer, a woman stopped next to her pickup truck and bowed her head with “profound reverence and respect,” without even knowing who was in the hearse. “I’ll bet you there are way more of that woman in this country than we think,” Dew said. “I’m not sure we always see them represented and given their full due.”

She pointed to a global study of some 10,000 respondents conducted by the Faith and Media Initiative and HarrisX showing that 63% of respondents believe that too much of faith content is rooted in controversy. The survey also found that 61% said the media perpetuates faith-based stereotypes. Some 43% said the media’s current approach to religion coverage creates unease and anxiety.

“Why then does a preponderance of today’s stories about faith in news media and entertainment lack accuracy, truth, profundity and why does it lack hope?” Dew asked, noting that 84% of people have some tie to religion, according to Pew Research Center.

When faith is muted or misrepresented in media, she said, society becomes illiterate about faith and the practices of faith wane. But believers can help play a role in creating a virtuous cycle for faith in media, Dew said, by ensuring faith is treated with respect and modeled so it can have a positive impact in people’s lives.

Sheri Dew, author, publisher, the executive vice president of Deseret Management Corp., sits with Paul S. Edwards, director of the Wheatley Institute, and answers questions from the audience while at BYU in Provo on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“Faith and media are both really important to society. They’re storytellers, they bring community together, they provide tremendous support and insight,” Dew said. “The biggest worry is when the two sides aren’t at the table.”

Dew pointed to diminishing numbers of religion-focused reporters and how the politicization of religion factors into how faith is treated in America’s newsrooms.

When faith is muted in the media, “those considering the importance of faith may be dissuaded,” Dew said. “And then, here’s a big one — those looking for hope or peace or guidance may not even consider that religion or faith or God can make a difference in their lives because they’re not seeing it anywhere.”

The Faith and Media Initiative, run by the Radiant Foundation at Deseret Management Corp., has worked over the last 30 months to help train more than 1,000 journalists at conferences held at the Columbia School of Journalism and the National Press Club.

The organization has also traveled to the Vatican, New York City and London, presenting findings with media and business executives.

Audience members listen as Sheri Dew, author, publisher, the executive vice president of Deseret Management Corp., speaks at the Wheatley Institute at BYU in Provo on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Dew encouraged the audience at BYU, which is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to link arms with believers in other faith traditions and live out their faith.

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When Dew went to the Vatican a couple of years ago, she sat next to Sister Patricia Murray, a global Catholic leader. The two women had a lengthy conversation about family and their interests, and by the end of it, Murray asked Dew why the two had so much in common.

“We both feel accountable to God and we believe in God. And for both of us, we believe that Jesus Christ makes all the difference in our lives.”

When students asked Dew what they could do to improve the portrayal of faith in a more honest and accurate way, she suggested practicing talking about their faith authentically and accurately as much as possible.

“BYU, as far as I’m concerned, should lead the charge in developing journalists, broadcasters, communicators, producers, storytellers and scriptwriters who can speak in a way about faith that invites everybody to sample faith, religion and everything that goes with it.”

Sheri Dew, author, publisher, the executive vice president of Deseret Management Corp., shakes hands with former Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert as they and Elder Clark G. Gilbert, a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, talk prior to Sheri Dew speaking at the Wheatley Institute at BYU in Provo on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News