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Seek excellence, college journalists urged

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The pursuit of Christ-honoring journalism was the focus of the 10th annual Baptist Press Collegiate Journalism Conference Oct. 7-9 at the Southern Baptist Convention Building in Nashville, Tenn.

Journalism professor Michael Smith was among those delivering addresses on the theme, “Excellence in Journalism” to 100-plus students and faculty, while the conference’s workshops addressed such topics as news writing, photography, blogging and career advancement. A panel discussion led by FOX News reporter Todd Starnes highlighted the importance of internships for aspiring journalists and featured testimonials from several students and a recent college graduate who all benefitted from internships.

Rachel Weinstein, a senior at California Baptist University in Riverside, Calif., said she found a session led by Manny Garcia, metro editor at the Miami Herald, particularly helpful.

“He gave a lot of helpful tips on what’s going on in the business now and how we can prepare ourselves for graduation and working in a news setting…. It really made me want to start pushing myself more in investigative journalism,” Weinstein said.

For Seth Woods, a senior at Milligan College in east Tennessee, the conference provided an opportunity to meet people in his field and sharpen his multimedia skills.

“It’s really been beneficial to me for getting more contacts and for networking purposes,” Woods said. “I also did the multimedia track, so I was able to go out and shoot a video and get a lot of experience doing that.”

The conference additionally featured worship led by Christian recording artist James Tealy and a dialogue for faculty members on how to recruit journalism students during hard economic times.

Awards to students for writing, photography, yearbook, Internet journalism and broadcast journalism were announced 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.

Kristina Webb, a student at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla., received the 2010 President’s Award, which included a $1,000 scholarship.

Will Hall, executive editor of Baptist Press, said, “Kristina showed a level of technical proficiency in compelling ideation throughout the portfolio she submitted. Not only was her work exceptional but her expression of her personal faith was convincing.”


Smith, professor of mass communication at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., said the press has an implicit contract with its audience and that Christian journalists glorify God by fulfilling the contract with excellence.

“Because of God’s grace and due diligence, your work and my work bathed in prayer can be seen as a kind of an offering,” Smith said. “You and I … craft our stories to make them as good as they can be.

“And others will notice. Your colleagues will notice. Your readers, your viewers, your listeners will notice. And sometimes when they see that work, that excellent work … they’ll reconsider the person of Jesus just based on the high quality of work you do.”

To fulfill its contract, the press must first be reform-minded, Smith said. While journalists hold a broad array of political and ideological views, they are united in the desire to bring problems to light and solve them, he said.

“You desire to see society improved, and that’s a good impulse,” Smith said. “You earn trust a little at a time, and the more trust you earn, the greater your standing in the newsroom is, and then you’ll get even more responsibilities.”

The press must also be restless — consistently seeking ways to improve the news business and relentlessly searching for more and better stories to tell, Smith said.

Restlessness is not “necessarily a bad thing,” he said. “You can be restless for good things too, like solving problems.”

Through all their work, Christian journalists should remember that the press is redeemable, Smith said. By getting facts correct and crusading to expose the truth, believers working in journalism may gain an opportunity to lead their colleagues to saving faith in Jesus, he said.

“Be reporters who can look at your face in the morning every day without regret and do the hard work of being reform-minded,” he said. “Enjoy the restlessness of finding solutions, and be aware that your example may be the model that leads others to redemption.”


Starnes told students at the panel discussion that internships are valuable for young journalists because they develop work skills and help begin the process of professional networking.

“Networking is a major, major part of your life. And if it’s not, it should be,” Starnes said. “It’s important for you to meet people and get to know people. And you need to do that through social networking.”

The panel included Kenton Jacobsen, a student at California Baptist University; Paul Conner, a student at North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C.; Angela Abbamonte, a student at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.; and Kevin Sajdak, a speechwriter for the New York state comptroller.

Jacobsen said the internship he held at FOX News in New York City sharpened his Internet and writing skills and began professional relationships that will help him find a job after college.

“Pretty quickly they actually put me on a development team,” Jacobsen said. “So I was working on the websites directly with the option to do additional writing and reporting. So it worked out really well because I was able to use my best skills and talents to show them what I can do.”

Conner’s internship at the Daily Caller, a political news website in Washington, D.C., developed his sense of what stories are worthy of publication, he said.

“It really just worked on my news judgment — what would our readers want to read? What’s interesting right now? What’s newsworthy? It was my responsibility to pick that out,” Conner said.

For Abbamonte, an internship at Religion News Service in Washington provided writing and photography experience and the opportunity to develop story ideas.

“The experience made me a well-rounded journalist. Obviously I’m still young,” she said. “I’m still learning and continuing to work on it. But it was invaluable.”

Sajdak used two internships — one with NBC at the 2006 Winter Olympics and another at SiriusXM — to help build his resume and his skill set, he said.

“Both provided unique things to my career,” he noted.
David Roach is a pastor and writer in Shelbyville, Ky.