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Does Apple's new News app have a faith problem?
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Many iPhone users woke up to find a new software update for their iPhones, and it includes the new News app. But does the app ignore religion? - photo by Herb Scribner
Many iPhone users woke up Wednesday morning to find a new software update (iOS 9) waiting for them.

The new iPhone software includes the new Apple News app, which allows people to read, share and save news stories, according to Quartz.

Upon opening the News app, which replaces the often criticized Apple Newsstand, users can sort through topics like politics, sports and entertainment. Users may also take advantage of the search function to pinpoint articles about specific issues.

First-time users are given suggestions for interesting news categories, including United States politics, business and social issues.

But these suggestions, primarily for first-timers who havent yet used the app, ignore a growing and important area of news coverage: religion.

Terms like "faith" or "spirituality" arent listed in the menu of category topics, nor are they readily available on the suggested search topics.

One of the only ways to find religious and faith-based news is through the search function. By searching faith, readers are exposed to a number of different stories from sources like The Huffington Post, Quartz and the Columbia Spectator. But few of the options are from religious-specific news websites.

This is despite the many religious news-specific websites that populate the news cycle every day, including Religion News Service, OnFaith, Crux and Relevant, among many others.

Its a similar story when searching the terms religion and God. Stories appear that involve religious news but dont include religious news sources, mostly listing sources like NPR, Empire and The Washington Post.

Searching for religious leaders like Jesus, Buddha or the Pope and for specific religions Buddhism, Islam, Judaism only lead to stories by major and local news websites rather than religion-specific ones, too.

Its surprising there isnt more faith news coverage in the News app. The United States is a religious country, with 76.5 percent of the population following a particular faith, according to the Pew Research Center. More so, 15.8 percent of Americans dont follow a religion in particular, but still consider themselves religious, according to Pew.

And both believers and nonbelievers want to read religious news. In fact, one in four Americans are interested in religious news coverage, according to research done by Diane Winston of the Annenberg School for Commutation and Journalism and John C. Green of the University of Akron.

The News app also seems to focus on hard religion news stories on the pope, how politicians feel about religion and local church events. But that might not be what readers want.

Religious news readers have specific preferences about what they do and do not want to see in the news, and its not close to what theyre getting. Winston and Green's report found that 69.7 percent of the public feel stories on spirituality, religious experiences and beliefs make for good religious stories, where as 30.3 percent favor news about religious institutions, events and personalities.

But journalists and those who actually cover the news feel almost the exact opposite. The research showed that 37.1 percent of journalists think its important to emphasize religious experiences and spirituality, and 62.9 percent think institutions and personalities are more important.

Despite these differences in what readers want, religious news has been plentiful in recent months, which also makes it surprising that there isnt more of a faithful influence in the News app.

For example, Pope Francis has been a media darling, and his arrival to the United States this September has inspired a frenzy of news stories about how people, politicians and celebrities feel about his arrival.

And some of the biggest media companies have also promoted religion in recent months. For example, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recommended The Varieties of Religious Experience to the readers of his A Year of Books reading club back in August, according to Business Insider. The book explores religious consciousness and how people use religion to find meaning in their lives.

In fact, religious news coverage and its reach has been on the rise since the late 90s, according to Stewart M. Hoover, whose book, Religious in the News: Faith and Journalism in American Public Discourse, explained that religious news plays a large role in the everyday life of the average American because journalism and religion both help Americans understand their lives.

Journalism and religion share the need to make sense to the broad cultural environment of contemporary life, Hoover wrote. [T]he relationship between the practice of journalism, the reality of religious practice, and the sphere of public discourse is a symbolic one.

Thats part of the reason why many have pushed for more religious news coverage. At the Religion Newswriters Association's 66th annual awards ceremony last month, many religious journalists spoke of the importance of improving religious news coverage and said it's because both religion and journalism can work together, Religion News Service reported.

Religion writers are crucial in providing a deeper historical, cultural, political and theological framework, RNS reported David Gibson said at the event.

Having more faith representation in Apple News may help increase religious news coverage. But users will have to wait and see if faith gets more play in the News app. Like with all other iPhone software updates, Apple will continually release updates for iOS 9, which could affect the options available to users in the News app.

In the mean time, those interested in religious news can customize their Apple News feeds so they can read their favorites news sources, according to WIRED. Once users search terms like faith, religion or spirituality, they can follow the topic and get related news stories in their feed.

Apple News will also learn user preferences over time and curate the news feed to meet the users interests, according to WIRED. So if youre religious or interested in faith-based news, the News app can eventually find a way to give you what you want, even if it's not readily accessible at first.

News is smart, Susan Prescott, Apple's vice president of product management and marketing, said during the Apple News announcement back in June. The more I read, the better it gets at showing me stories Im interested in.
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