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BP journalism conf. opens with call for influencing the media

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Christian journalists have the power to start a cultural revolution by upholding truth in an industry where truth is eroding, Peter Kerr told nearly 100 students Oct. 5 at the opening session of the sixth annual Baptist Press national Collegiate Journalism Conference in Nashville, Tenn.

Kerr, professor of applied communications at Asbury College in Wilmore, Ky., said Christians should pursue careers in journalism because journalism, which sets the agenda of what people think about, needs a Christian influence.

“If you wanted to change the world, I would say that journalism is one way to do it,” Kerr, who was in charge of media relations for President Ronald Reagan’s funeral, said. “Responsible Christian journalists … are the kinds of people that can actually change the world for the better.”

In past generations religion provided common themes and values that held American culture together, but today the media assumes that role, Kerr said, adding that the media is an important tool to preserve the nation’s Christian heritage.

“You are the frontlines to defend Christianity in many ways,” he said. “I don’t mean that you do all your stories on Christianity. I mean by preserving the culture you’re in, by telling stories that are true, by believing in ideals and things that are greater than yourselves.”

Because of the media’s influence, churches and pastors should learn to use the media as a tool to spread information and positive news, he said.

Speaking from his own extensive research, Kerr said the media does not portray Christianity as negatively as some conservative evangelicals sometimes think. He described the media’s portrayal of Christianity as “a mild but consistent antipathy” and said there is an opportunity for churches to capitalize on journalists’ desire to tell more positive stories.

“I think that our pastors have been blinded basically into not thinking that they can use the media to get out messages about the church,” he said, noting that he has been encouraging pastors to use press releases to tell journalists about positive ministries of their churches.

“Can you imagine if twice a month a TV station actually ran a good news story about Christians doing good things?” Kerr asked. “[Pastors] don’t have to mention their church. It’s not about recruiting. They just have to mention their God.”

Christian journalists who find positive stories and who value truth can lead a cultural revolution, Kerr said.

“This is a challenge to you,” he noted. “I hope that you will not just get behind this coming revolution, this Christian wave, but that you’ll be leading it, that you’ll be at the forefront of it. As Christians who are journalists and journalists who are Christians, you’ll be the ones who write it into history.”

Christian recording artist Jaime Jamgochian was leading worship at the conference’s Oct. 6-7 sessions, with addresses scheduled by Michael Longinow of Biola University and Dawn Eden of the New York Daily News. Marvin Olasky of World magazine will deliver the conference’s keynote address at the Excellence in Journalism Banquet at the close of the conference. Awards presented at the banquet recognize the top schools and individuals who entered their work in the 2006 Excellence in Journalism Competition.

Conference breakout sessions addressed specific topics related to journalism such as news and feature writing, broadcasting, graphic design, feature writing, public relations and photography.