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Speakers exhort journalism students to integrity, hard work & faith

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Christian journalists “have a real advantage” in mass media professions because “we don’t have to get bogged down with ‘Why?'” Colleen Rudy told students and veteran journalists during the inaugural Baptist Press Student Journalism Conference. Being rooted in faith, Rudy said, “We already know why, so we can stick with the facts and get to the heart of a story.”

Rudy, a television and radio news veteran from California, challenged students to be not only “hard-hitting” as they gather and report the news but also compassionate.

Speaking to more than 160 people from 28 universities and colleges, Rudy said, “As you dig for facts, be ready to provide biblical insight so you’ll be ready to answer ‘Why?'” A former news anchor for KFMB, the CBS television affiliate in San Diego, Rudy said “the spiritual perspective” will keep a Christian journalist centered and focused. Rudy was one of 24 veterans from across the country and from multiple disciplines in the mass communication field who addressed the Sept. 27-29 conference at the SBC Building in Nashville, Tenn.

Concerning on-the-job evangelism, Rudy said, “Take opportunities in subtle ways to give glory to God.” For instance, a Christian journalist “shouldn’t dwell on the calamity.” Instead, “As you dig [for information], be ready to provide biblical insight so you’ll be ready to answer ‘Why?'”

Christian journalists “have a duty to be armed with God’s Word,” Rudy said, and to remember that God is at work as Christian journalists ply their skills in secular situations. “Be moved to action,” she said, “and when God gives you the opportunity to share your faith, take the opportunity.”

In a “breaking news” situation, television news reporters “can really shine,” said Rudy, who provided live coverage on the Santana High School shooting and the Heaven’s Gate cult deaths. During TV news coverage, “you have the opportunity to get the facts out to people.” She said she enjoys being in a position to reassure people and sees it as “an incredible responsibility and honor.”

Another keynote speaker, Terry Mattingly, emphasized a theme repeated not only by other keynote speakers but also by workshop leaders: “Accuracy!” In describing how a Christian journalist works in a secular environment, he said good journalism practices provide common ground, so that other journalists can see “our commitment to the craft” of journalism.

“Accuracy is about as neutral a standard as we can get” when quality is being judged, said Mattingly, a nationally syndicated religion columnist for Scripps Howard and associate professor at Palm Beach Atlantic College. Therefore, “get the facts down right.”

In the ideal situation, Mattingly hopes for Christian journalists to be judged on their skills, on “the quality of journalism,” not on their beliefs.

“We worship a God who builds and runs universes for a living,” Mattingly said, quoting one of the founders of the Summer Institute of Journalism. “He didn’t retire and go into fulltime Christian ministry. God is the God of ink and journalism.” Speaking directly to the students, Mattingly challenged them as Christian journalists to “take your place in God’s creation.”

Will Norton, keynote speaker during the final plenary session, said, “The Lord throughout history has spoken through skilled communicators.”

Norton, dean of the school of journalism and mass communication at the University of Nebraska, mentioned Isaiah, whose pithy “Here am I, send me,” echoes even today in the voices and lives of those God has called. He spoke of the first 11 chapters of Genesis, which gives a summary of the entire Bible’s message — God created a paradise, man ruined it — and God in his unconditional love promised to restore it.

“We [many Christians] thought the end of the world was near in 1947 (when Israel became a nation),” Norton said. Many thought the plague that swept through the Middle Ages was the end, he added. First-century Christians also thought the end was near.

“We’re all still waiting. Unthinkable tragedies are still happening. And God is still with us,” he said.

“The power of the resurrection is in our lives,” Norton said in encouraging the student journalists to draw on God’s strength as they pursue a career in journalism. “Christ in you is the foundation for who you are and what you will become. The question is whether you’re committed enough to what the resurrected Christ asks you to do.”

Some key SBC leaders spoke to students at the beginning of each plenary session. Will Hall, SBC vice president for convention news, commented on Baptist Press’ theme for not only the conference but also its entire ministry focus: “Witness the Difference.”

“People will witness the difference in your work and in your life,” Hall said. He encouraged students to notice throughout the three-day conference “that Christian professionals are not ashamed to share their faith” in both everyday settings and during times of crisis, such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. A panel discussion on media coverage of the terrorist attacks spanned two hours on the second day of the conference.

Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said, “We need more people who are believers and people of faith in journalism. That can only mean more balance and fairness in media.”

Multiple small-group sessions continued the theme as veteran journalists such as Kathy Dean, public relations director for the University of Mobile, said, “As Christians, we have a higher standard,” during her “Back to Basics: Journalism 101″ workshop.”

A Christian journalist has a higher standard “because we have to go home and live with ourselves before God,” she said.

“We have an awesome power because God has given us this talent,” she said. “We need to be cautious and be in awe of that power.”

A Christian journalist should “bring our journalism ethics and our Christian ethics together” to the workplace, Dean said. Doing so can make a Christian a better journalist because Christians are “called to show compassion and sensitivity.”

To be a good witness in the workplace, a Christian journalist should be “accurate, ethical and hard-working,” Dean emphasized, adding the three most important words in journalism: “Accuracy, accuracy and accuracy!”

During “The Art of the Interview” workshop, Steve Massey, Idaho editor of the Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash., said, “There’s never a time when you stop being a Christian because you’re a journalist.”

For Christian journalists, Massey said the goal should be “to pursue truth,” with the highest priority being “to represent the love of Christ.”
Karen Willoughby contributed to this article. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: CHRISTIAN JOURNALISTS GATHER, COLLEEN RUDY, DESIGNING THE PAPER, MATTINGLY SPEAKS AT CONFERENCE, FELLOWSHIP AND FUN.

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  • Debbie Moore