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Baptist Press ‘entrusted with a great responsibility,’ editor says

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“Baptist Press functions on the trust of the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Art Toalston, editor of the SBC news service, who has been placed in charge of BP’s day-to-day operations by the restructuring of the SBC Executive Committee announced Nov. 30.

“There are many components of that trust,” Toalston said, citing the churches and people within the convention; the Executive Committee under which Baptist Press operates and is funded; and, as Toalston put it, “the nearly indescribable strength of the network of Baptist journalists in the SBC entities, the state conventions and other Baptist entities nationally and internationally.”

“All of us, in varying ways, carry out vital roles of communicating to Southern Baptists and to the world at large,” Toalston said.

In the Executive Committee restructuring, the position of vice president for news services and executive editor, held the past 10 years by Will Hall, has been eliminated as part of a budget reduction. Baptist Press now is housed under the office of convention communications and relations led by EC Vice President Roger S. (Sing) Oldham.

“Personally, I stand on the shoulders of Will, who greatly expanded the reach of Baptist Press on the national media scene,” said Toalston, BP editor since January 1992. “Herb Hollinger, Will’s predecessor, pioneered the technology that brought Baptist Press into the world of the Internet. And, when I worked at the Foreign Mission Board [now International Mission Board], Bob Stanley, director of news and information, demonstrated a level of professional competence that I had never seen in any of the newspapers where I had worked.”

Toalston spent nearly 10 years in newspaper journalism and, now, more than 25 years in Baptist journalism.

He worked at newspapers in Findlay, Fostoria and Middletown, Ohio, and experienced what he calls a “Damascus Road” call to Christian journalism in September 1976. He joined the staff of the Jackson (Miss.) Daily News (now Clarion-Ledger) in late 1977, where he was the religion editor for five and a half years.

In mid-1983, he enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas and worked in the news office for a year before joining the Foreign Mission Board staff in January 1985, serving as a writer and secular news coordinator for seven years.

Toalston holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an undergraduate communications and journalism degree from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He also is the author of “Lamp Unto My Feet,” a 1997 devotional book published by HarperSanFrancisco featuring the favorite Bible verses of 365 notables in all walks of life.

At Baptist Press, Toalston said, “I could not have survived without the help of countless fellow journalists. At the outset of my work in Baptist Press, I remember how gracious and helpful Tom Strode [BP Washington bureau chief] was to me, as were such journalists as Tammi Ledbetter [now news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN], Joni Hannigan [now managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness] and Karen Willoughby [now managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message].

“They and so many others have been wondrous co-laborers in telling the story of God’s work through Southern Baptists,” Toalston said.

The current central office staff members of Baptist Press “likewise are top professionals,” Toalston added.

With the Executive Committee restructuring, Toalston has received approval from Oldham and EC President Frank S. Page to elevate the titles of the office’s three journalists.

Michael Foust, promoted to associate editor from assistant editor, came to Baptist Press in 2003 after serving as director of news and information at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky. Foust holds a master of arts degree in theological studies from Southern Seminary and an undergraduate journalism degree from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He also has been a sports reporter for newspapers in Clarksville, Tenn., and Milledgeville, Ga.

Erin Roach, promoted to assistant editor from staff writer, joined BP’s staff in 2002 after earning a journalism degree from the University of Kentucky. She served as an editorial intern with the International Mission Board in 2000 and as a summer missionary in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in 2001.

Mark Kelly, promoted to assistant editor and senior writer from assistant editor, joined BP’s staff in 2008. During his 30-plus years in journalism, nearly all of them in Baptist life, Kelly has worked at the International Mission Board, the Arkansas Baptist Newsmagazine (now Arkansas Baptist News) and the former Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board). In addition to his work with BP, he also is a media strategist for Baptist Global Response, an international development and relief organization with offices in Singapore and Nashville. Kelly holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and an undergraduate degree in philosophy and political science from Oklahoma Baptist University.

A fourth staff member, Laura Erlanson, has been BP’s operations coordinator since September 2003. She holds bachelor’s degrees in journalism and in business management from the University of South Florida. She also spends her weekends as part of the contemporary Christian music group No Other Name.

“Undergirding us,” Toalston noted, “are the Baptist Press guidelines adopted by the Executive Committee in 1986. These guidelines, figuratively speaking, are among my best friends.”

Toalston said the 13-point guidelines “describe the kind of denominational news service that is intent of achieving first-rate journalism with the highest standard of Christian ethics.” (The full text of the Baptist Press guidelines is printed below.)

Baptist Press came under the umbrella of the Executive Committee soon after its founding in 1946 at the request of state paper editors through their Southern Baptist Press Association (now Association of State Baptist Papers).

BP reports to Executive Committee members through their communications workgroup.

Baptist Press can be accessed at www.bpnews.net on the Web, Facebook.com/BaptistPress and Twitter.com/BaptistPress. BP headlines can be placed on church websites by going to http://www.bpnews.net/BPNewsfeed.asp. Baptist Press also operates a Spanish-language website, BP en Espanol, www.bpnews.net/espanol, and a sports website, BPSports, www.bpsports.net.

“I and the other members of our staff recognize that we are entrusted with a great responsibility,” Toalston said. “Everything we do represents Southern Baptists. Everything we do represents our Lord.”
Full text:
Nashville, Tennessee

Operating Guidelines for Baptist Press

Baptist Press is the news service for the Southern Baptist Convention

Purpose: to report factually and fairly the news of, about and for Southern Baptists.

General Guidelines:

1. Ownership and management of Baptist Press is vested in the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to provide the required freedom and responsibility necessary for the benefit of Southern Baptists.

2. The news service will be a cooperative endeavor of Southern Baptist organizations, agencies and institutions, coordinated and directed by a staff elected by the Executive Committee.

3. Baptist Press will be alert to the needs of Baptists to fulfill their role as a priesthood of believers who must have adequate information about the issues and developments of the day to function thoughtfully and prayerfully in a democratic fellowship of faith.

4. Baptist Press will utilize the highest professional standards and techniques of the journalism profession in a ministry of news and information about the life and work of Southern Baptist.

5. The news service will implement the working arrangements for news handling between the Southern Baptist Convention, its Executive Committee, the Baptist Press bureaus, the Baptist state papers, and other news media.

6. The Baptist Press central office staff will strive to develop and maintain a trustworthy relationship with news sources, such as bureau personnel, Baptist state paper editors and associates; news, information and public relations personnel in Baptist organizations, agencies and institutions; and with a wide variety of newsmakers and news handlers both inside and outside Southern Baptist life.

7. The Baptist Press central office staff also will strive to develop and maintain a trustworthy working relationship with the users of the news service, both religious and secular, being open and responsible in correcting errors and active in improving performance, regularly discussing news handling with knowledgeable leaders and impartial observers.

8. The news service will strive to be factual and fair, as objective as possible, staying not only in the bounds of legality but also at a high level of professional and Christian ethics.

9. In its role of reporting to the Southern Baptist constituency, Baptist Press will encourage and have a right to expect Southern Baptist agencies, institutions, boards, commissions, organizations, and committees to be open and cooperative in newshandling.

10. Baptist Press releases will be prompt, reporting events, activities and newsworthy developments as quickly as possible, but not at the expense of accuracy and good judgment.

11. The news service will concentrate on news and newsworthy features, rather than on promotional, repetitious and routine activities and developments.

12. Baptist Press releases are expected to be positive and constructive. When necessary, Baptist Press also will report forthrightly and accurately the valid news produced by controversy and adverse events.

13. All who serve in the Baptist Press system will keep in mind that to achieve its ultimate purpose, the news service must be both highly professional in its journalistic function and highly useful as one specialized means employed in the broad denominational effort to bring all persons to God through Jesus Christ.

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