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Collegiate journalism students urged to pursue excellence

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)—The pursuit of excellence in Christian journalism was the theme that drew 147 students, faculty and staff to the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Nashville, Tenn., for the eighth annual Baptist Press Collegiate Journalism Conference, Oct. 9-11.

Christian journalists Rudy Kalis, Jim Veneman and Kathy Chapman Sharp delivered addresses on the theme, “Pursue Excellence,” and workshops focused on topics such as news writing, photography, blogging and career advancement.

Crystal Donahue, a student from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas, said the conference was a “huge encouragement booster.”

“Sometimes it’s a little hard to go out onto the field,” she said of journalism. “You get disappointed, you get discouraged and you get shot down. But then when you’re here, you’re around professionals who are successful and passing down useful information.”

Ryan Puhr, a student from Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla., said having professional journalists review his work was a particularly helpful aspect of the weekend.

“The portfolio reviews were really helpful,” he said. “We got a lot of great feedback on our newspaper.”

The conference also featured worship led by Christian recording artists Austins Bridge and a dialogue for faculty members on how student journalists can address adversity on their campuses.

Awards for writing, photography, yearbook, Internet journalism and broadcast journalism were handed out to students in the Excellence in Journalism competition, including the President’s Award, an overall individual honor based on a candidate’s leadership in a school’s journalism program, scholarship across all studies, portfolio of work and a free-form essay about career aspirations and how faith figures in future journalistic plans.

Katherine Kipp, a journalism major at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., garnered the top award for 2008, which included a framed certificate and a $1,000 scholarship.

“This year we saw highs in both the numbers of entries and the excellence of the work we evaluated,” said Will Hall, executive editor of Baptist Press. “Every area we assessed was extremely competitive, yet Katherine was the unanimous choice of our editorial team.

“She showed extraordinary versatility — putting a face on the effort to combat AIDS in Africa, explaining the complexities of religious freedom issues overseas, and uncovering the hidden but growing trend of sex trafficking of minors in the U.S. — among a range of tough topics,” he said.

“She is a crisp writer who engages the reader from the lead to the end, and does so without shortchanging technical proficiency,” he added. “Katherine has a bright future in journalism.”

Kalis, sports director at WSMV-TV in Nashville, said character and faith are essential for success in journalism.

“It’s tough,” he said of a career in journalism. “I want to tell you it’s tough, and it’s only by faith that you’re going to be able to do it.”

For Kalis, a career in sports journalism began with disappointment. His first chance at sports broadcasting occurred when he was allowed to fill in for the sports director of the Green Bay, Wis., television station where he worked as an assistant producer. But after a month, station executives advised him to get out of broadcasting forever because he was not aggressive enough.

He told students how he responded to that criticism by sending resumes out and eventually being hired by the Nashville station where he still works. However, only when Kalis placed his faith in Christ as Lord and Savior did he begin to understand how God intended journalism to be done, he said.

“You better get straight in your faith and your relationship with God before you can ever be a journalist of any kind,” he said.

As Kalis grounded himself in Christ, he found increased journalistic creativity and discovered that consistent Christian character made sources trust him, he said. He also realized that his sportscast could have eternal impact if he displayed a Christ-like attitude for the quarter of a million people who tuned in nightly.

In the end, the most important goal for a Christian journalist is to leave behind a legacy of faith and integrity, Kalis said.

“God will send the hounds of heaven after you because He’s given you a gift, He’s given you a talent to make a difference in this world and to go out there and change this world and not be rocked by the things that are going on,” he said.

Veneman, director of visual communication at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., said the best photos emerge when the photographer is consumed by his subject and virtually unaware of the camera.

Showing a series of photographs and videos, Veneman recounted one instance in which he shot pictures of a woman in Hendersonville, Tenn., comforting her nephew after the death of his mother.

“It just really gripped me,” he said. “It was another one of those moments I was looking through the camera and I was completely unaware of even focusing, using a light meter, anything. It was just happening right there in front of me.”

Veneman also recounted instances when he missed opportunities for great photos and urged students to take advantage of every opportunity God places in their lives.

“You never know when God’s going to hand you an opportunity to tell a story, really to tell His story in some very unique ways,” he said. “But you’ve got to be sensitive to it. You’ve really got to be trying to see it. You’ve got to see beyond where you are to something a little bit deeper. God has deeper things out there for you, but you just have to be aware of them.”

One part of letting God work through photojournalism is trying new ideas, he said.

“Sometimes you will have ideas that are really compelling, powerful ideas, but you’re just a little bit skittish, you’re a little bit afraid to try it,” he said. “Well, I urge you to try it. Even if you feel like you’re not equipped, that is exactly where God wants you to be.”

Sharp, executive pastor for communications at The Chapel, a multi-site mega church in the Chicago area, gave students advice she wished someone would have given her at the beginning of her career in communications.

First, respect the power of words, she said.

“God gave us the ability to see with our minds and to hear with our hearts, and words and pictures are the keys that open those senses up,” she said. “Words are powerful. They can heal or they can hurt.”

Journalists also must follow God rather than men or the culture, she said. As journalists follow God, it is important not to fear failure, Sharp said.

“You don’t have to hit the bull’s eye every time,” she said. “Shoot arrows like crazy. Shoot arrows because what people don’t see behind the scenes is that for every great exploding success, there were 99 failures, 99 activities and events that helped people learn to get to the point of that great success.”

When believers lose their fear of failure, she said, they will be able to take risks to advance the cause of Christ.

“We don’t have to be afraid,” Sharp said. “We serve the God of the universe. We serve the creator. We can take risks.”


David Roach is pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Shelbyville, Ky., and a Ph.D. candidate at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.