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Be guided by ethics rooted in faith, editor Bob Terry counsels writers

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Whatever the kind of writing — news, features, devotional or editorial — Christians must be guided by ethical principles that reflect their faith, Bob Terry said July 31.

Terry, editor of The Alabama Baptist newsjournal, spoke daily during the annual writers workshop, July 30-Aug. 2 at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tenn. A total of 96 writers attended the workshop.

“It is important that the sense of ethics we have affects the writing that we do,” Terry said.

Beginning with the importance of a “free flow of truthful information,” Terry listed guidelines from the Statement of Principles of the Association of State Baptist Paper Editors.

He cited free flow of truthful information as rooted both in the reader’s right to know and in the theological principle of soul competency.

However, Terry cautioned, “not everyone believes in the free flow of truthful information” because some truthful information can be negative or embarrassing.

Truthful information must be handled carefully, he said, and writers should not form a conclusion and then look for a rationale to support it.

“What we are about is not a sales job or propaganda. What we are after is information,” he said.

Writing should be accurate, timely, relevant and balanced, Terry said.

“The most important news element is the immediate future,” followed by the immediate past, he said.

To highlight relevant content for readers, a writer must “distill the information. Identify what is minutia and get rid of it. You have to make sure the information is appropriate in the lives of people who are going to read your articles.”

Achieving balance among varying points of view does not require attributing the same number of words to each position, Terry said. “You cannot present every side of every argument that exists,” he said. “Your job is to make sure that it’s accurate, timely, relevant and that the appropriate viewpoints are represented in your story.”

He urged the writers to seek to inspire and involve their readers in Baptist life. “Simply making us have warm, fuzzy feelings on the inside,” he said, “is not what communication is about.”

Involvement may take the form of prayer, pocketbook support or participation, he added.

By providing truthful, relevant information, Terry said writers can play a critical role in empowering people to make decisions. “When we are furnishing information and inspiration, it is going to be part of the change process,” he noted.

Christian writers should view their ministry as an opportunity to glorify God and extend his kingdom, Terry said.

“Our purpose is not to advance ourselves,” he said. “Our purpose is supposed to be to glorify God. The currency of our trade is open, honest, truthful communication. The end toward which we work does not justify any means we might employ.”

Writers also should recognize their accountability to God, their readers and each other, he said.

“I hope you believe writing is a calling. Our stewardship is an accountability to him,” Terry said.

Urging writers to engage in regular study of the craft of writing, Terry said they should recognize the biases they have and guard against allowing them to color their work.

He also emphasized the importance of disciplined research as a critical part of writing. “If you put everything you know into a story, you don’t know enough to write the story,” he said.

Welcome criticism and questions while being willing to admit mistakes and correct them, Terry counseled.

“This is part of accountability. We are going to fail. We are going to make mistakes. We can’t afford to be defensive,” he said. “I’ve had some very embarrassing things appear in my publication because I’ve misspelled a word.”

Other principles outlined by Terry included:

— Protect your credibility.

— Label opinion and commentary.

— Champion free speech.

— Secure the resources necessary to function.

— Avoid compromising yourself with news sources.

— Work for the trust of readers.

— Cooperate with one another.

— Avoid interests that impede the free flow of information.

— Avoid conflicts of interest.

The 2002 LifeWay Writers Workshop will be July 29-Aug. 1.

    About the Author

  • Linda Lawson