AP, Please Improve Your Reporting

With the demise of newspapers all around us, you’d think the AP could put out better articles. Case in point is an article circulated by the AP today with a headline that screams more Americans have no religion that in years past.

First off, the headline is misleading at best. A 0.8 percent increase really isn’t the main gist of the article nor is it the most relevant factoid in the article.

More Americans say they have no religion (AP via Y! News).

“Fifteen percent of respondents said they had no religion, an increase from 14.2 percent in 2001 and 8.2 percent in 1990, according to the American Religious Identification Survey.”

Second, the article is poorly structured and misses key details that I expect an article like this to include. For example, what does it mean to not have a religion? Does it mean that person is an athiest and does not believe in a higher power? Does it mean a person is agnostic and chooses to not have a religion but believes in a higher power?

The article lacks a summary at the beginning to say in a nutshell what it is about or to provide a roadmap, is disjointed and provides related details in separate areas of the article, and lacks clear thought. I admit that I’m guilty of these violations at various times but I’m not a professional journalist paid to dispense the news.

Building on my first example, above, why is it that the 15 percent statement is separate from and not tied to the statement more than 8 paragraphs down about 12 percent of Americans believing in a higher power but not a personal God? It seems those stats go together but are not tied together or contrasted. So, is the 12 percent group a subset of the other? Are they separate groups? If a subset, what does that say about the remaining 3 percent? Other questions left unanswered include whether the study includes the same respondents from the earlier versions of the study, what answers respondents gave to why they changed religions, and what was done to accommodate people who did not speak English or Spanish in the sample population (is there underrepresentation in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islams as a result?).

Please, don’t make me find and read the study to better understand for myself.