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Aspiring writers in the Northwest receive training, encouragement

VANCOUVER, Wash. (BP)–More than 40 aspiring writers learned about newspaper and magazine journalism at a two-day conference in Vancouver, Wash., hosted by the Northwest Baptist Convention.

The Feb. 4-5 Regional Reporter’s Training Conference drew participants from across the convention, which encompasses Oregon, Washington and part of Idaho, and also from Utah and Canada.

“I was completely amazed that such professional people would come to lead in a conference like this,” said participant Judy Shrout of Calvary Baptist Church, Albany, Ore. “This was the most encouraging experience I’ve ever had.”

Regional reporters are writers who as part of their ministry produce articles for the Northwest Baptist Witness and their local newspapers. In addition to the conference, a regional reporter’s training program has been developed by Karen Willoughby, associate editor of the Northwest Baptist Witness.

Willoughby said she was overwhelmed by the response to the conference.

“If even half of them complete the regional reporter training, they’re going to produce more copy than we can use in the Witness. But that’s OK,” Willoughby said, “because what I really want is for them to be writing articles for their local community newspapers about what God is doing through Southern Baptists.”

The two-day conference, sponsored by the Witness at no charge to participants, featured several editors, a publisher and a freelance writer, along with an inspirational message by Witness editor Ed Ernsting.

Program personalities included Art Toalston, editor, Baptist Press, Nashville, Tenn.; Carolyn Curtis, editor, On Mission magazine of the North American Mission Board, Alpharetta, Ga.; Connie Cavanaugh, freelance writer, Cochrane, Alberta, Canada; Steve Massey, editor of the Idaho edition of the Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.; and John Fortmeyer, publisher, Christian News Northwest, Portland, Ore.

“I asked some nationally known Christian journalists to help me put on a writer’s conference,” Willoughby said. “I was delighted with their eagerness to contribute their expertise to keep the standard of Baptist journalism high.”

Cavanaugh, a successful freelance writer and humorist, provided comic relief and a glimpse of what it takes to make it as a freelance writer.

Before beginning her hour behind the microphone, Cavanaugh expressed gratitude to Willoughby, whom she named as both a friend and a mentor.

“Karen taught me that the student must be ready to throw the whole story in the trash and start over — more that once!” Cavanaugh said. “She taught me how to write news stories and features and helped improve my Glimpses column [in the Canadian Baptist Horizon newspaper]. She has a very good grasp of what type of articles different publications are looking for and helped guide my style to fit with the mandate of the particular magazine or newspaper.”

Massey, who is both a newspaper editor and a regional reporter for the Northwest Baptist Witness, doubled as both a participant and a conference leader.

“I think it’s great to meet so many aspiring and experienced writers who want to use their abilities in ministry,” Massey said. “It is also interesting for me to learn of the many opportunities for Southern Baptists in journalism.”

As a workshop leader who spoke on the topic of writing religion for a secular market, Massey emphasized that religion writers stand a much better chance getting their work published in secular media if it’s done professionally.

“We should not assume that a [secular] newspaper will always discriminate against stories with a religious bent for philosophical reasons. That’s not fair,” he said. “Sometimes our own poor work can get in the way. And that’s an obstacle that can be avoided.”

At the end of his presentation, Massey asked participants to remember him in prayer. “We’re instructed in Scripture to pray without ceasing” he said. “I’d like every person who picks up a daily newspaper and then laments the demise of our culture to pray first, then complain. There are many believers working in the secular media and they do make a difference. But they need encouragement and prayer, not scowls of disapproval from other Christians.”

As an example of one of the many ways the gift of writing can be used, Toalston opened his two-hour session by sharing his written testimony in the form of a personal tract. As he shared about his journey into the field of journalism, he also instructed writers in newspaper style, what newspaper editors expect from writers and the mission of Baptist Press, which now is carried internationally over the Internet and via e-mail.

“Baptist Press is a respectful reflection of the people called Southern Baptists to the nation’s media — pastors and church staff, laypeople in all walks of life, in churches large and small, rural and urban,” stated one of several handouts Toalston distributed during his presentation.

Curtis, as editor of On Mission, gave examples of magazine-style journalism and also talked about the purpose of the flagship publication for the North American Mission Board. She presented writing and editing principles for On Mission, which has experienced unprecedented growth in two years to 320,000 readers.

“On Mission equips Christians for leading people to Christ and encourages churches to reach new people through new congregations.” Curtis said. “The magazine’s success may be due to the recognition within its pages that personal evangelism is sometimes hard to do, but pastors, missionaries and evangelists need the help of on-mission Christians to reach North America for Christ. So we provide practical, effective ideas for a lifestyle of sharing Christ with non-believers in the real world.”

The success of the Regional Reporter’s Training Conference was evident in many ways.

“Not only was there a lot of networking going on,” Willoughby said, “but there was an excitement and an energy in people’s eyes that was absolutely thrilling for me to see. They came to learn and they did learn.”

“I see that my entire ministry has been impacted by written words,” said a pastor participant, Dale Pugh of Grace Baptist Church, Bend, Ore. “The impact that may have on individual lives is immeasurable. As a Christian writer, that’s what I hope to see happen.”

Willoughby will lead a writer’s conference July 3 in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Canadian Southern Baptist Convention.

Moreau is a regional reporter for the Northwest Baptist Witness.

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  • Gini Moreau