NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“Excellence in Journalism” was the theme around which 150 students, faculty and guests gathered at the seventh annual Baptist Press Collegiate Journalism Conference Oct. 11-13 to celebrate their Christian faith and their commitment to excel in their profession.
The conference, held at the Sheraton Music City in Nashville, Tenn., featured keynote addresses by Christian journalists Manny Garcia, Don Boykin and Gary Fong. Conference workshops covered such topics as news writing, photography, broadcast journalism and feature writing.
The conference also included music led by Christian recording artists Everyday Driven and a dialogue for faculty advisors on how student journalists can cover difficult stories on their campuses.
Awards for writing, photography, yearbook, Internet journalism and broadcast journalism were handed out to students in the competition.
Conference attendees had an opportunity Friday night to view a pre-release version of the latest Veggie Tales movie, “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything,” and interview the CEO of the company that produced the film for feature stories in their campus publications.
“I don’t think I have experienced a more impacting conference,” said Will Hall, executive editor of Baptist Press. “Each event had a special spiritual emphasis and the times between events allowed for some incredible fellowship with remarkable individuals.
“Not only were the speakers and faculty distinguished, but many of the students impressed me with their portfolios, professionalism and drive, and by the sustaining faith they described.”
JOURNALISM A CALLING, BOYKIN SAYS
Boykin, a recently retired editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said journalists must not separate their faith from their career.
“It’s all spiritual,” Boykin said. “It’s not that you have one part of your life that is spiritual and the rest of it is not. It all is.”
The biggest professional battles in journalism today, he said are:
— increasing newspaper circulation in an age when many people no longer read the paper.
— preventing staff layoffs at newspapers that are struggling to make a profit
— learning how to convey news stories in an era when news content is changing.
Spiritually, the biggest battle for journalists is learning to see their task as a calling that can make a difference for God’s Kingdom, Boykin said.
“I’m going to assume for a moment that every one of you understands that you’ve got a calling — as much of a calling as any pastor has or any youth pastor. I believe that you have been called,” he said.
Boykin said of his own career in journalism, “There’s no question that I believe I’ve been in a mission field for 40 years.”
The key to serving God successfully through journalism is to commit to do every task God’s way and on His terms, he said.
“Win the Pulitzer for the glory of God,” Boykin said. “Write the great story because it’s God’s instrument in your hands to change lives. Give the calling back to Him.”
A life in journalism can be an incredible adventure for a Christian, Boykin said.
“Understand that God has called you to a place and He will bless you in that place,” he said. “Anticipate an incredible life in this profession.”
FONG ENCOURAGES STUDENTS TO BE A ‘LIGHTHOUSE’
Fong, principal of the Genesis Photo Agency and former director of editorial graphics technology at the San Francisco Chronicle, said Christians in journalism can bring light and calm to a field that is dominated by a secular worldview. He formerly served as a juror for the Pulitzer Prize.
“When I was in the newsroom, I just wanted to be a lighthouse,” he said. “… I like to see Christians in newsrooms because they give balance and concept and perspective to the newsroom.”
Fong recounted episodes where photos have made a difference in the world by bringing aid to helpless people, inspiring patriotism in times of war and pushing the government to action.
“We are a witness to history as photographers and as journalists,” he said. “We see things that normal people don’t see. We witness tragedies. We witness the joys and the highs of life that we see all the time. It’s just a pleasure to be able to do that.”
It is especially important for Christians in journalism to trust God to provide for their daily needs, Fong said, recounting how he recently was laid off at the Chronicle after more than 30 years of service. In his current role at Genesis Photo Agency God has repeatedly overcome Fong’s anxiety about provision for his family by bringing work when it is most needed, he said.
Aspiring Christian journalists must remember God’s love and always take their faith with them on the job, Fong said.
“You are the young people who are the future to take this media forward,” he said. “But I’ve got to tell you one thing if you haven’t heard anything I say. If you decide to go to the newsroom or you decide to go into publication, if you decide to go into this profession, you take God with you.”
SHINE LIGHT ON DARKNESS, GARCIA URGES
Garcia, metro editor at the Miami Herald, said Christian journalists’ calling is to expose evil and corruption in order to make the world a better place.
“This is a calling to do God’s work and make your community better and develop the next generation of reporters like you,” said Garcia, who has been a primary writer and reporter on two Pulitzer Prize-winning entries.
Drawing from examples in his own career, he urged students to use investigative reporting to force proper use of funds by government and private corporations. Garcia recounted how he recently exposed a poverty-relief organization for using money designated to help the underprivileged to fly rap artist P. Diddy to Miami for the MTV Music Awards.
Garcia also told how he recently reported on a developer who was given millions of dollars to build housing for the poor but used the money to start building himself a mansion. After the report was published, construction on the mansion ceased and the developer was arrested.
Young journalists do not have to wait until they get hired at larger papers like the Herald in order to do meaningful investigative reporting, he said, noting that some of the best investigative reporting goes on at smaller papers.
“All of you can touch somebody’s life,” Garcia said. “Don’t think you can’t. None of us are insignificant.”
With determination, skill and a sense of humor, young journalists can make the world a better place, he said.
“Be fair,” he said. “Treat people as you want to be treated. If you ever have to write a tough story on someone, tell them, ‘I have to write a tough story on you,’ and let them have their say.
“And let them have their say on your TV broadcast very high up and in the newspaper very high up and if you’re working for a website, very high up. Always give everybody their side of the story.”
Chansin Bird, a junior at Belmont University, received the annual President’s Award, the highest honor of the conference’s journalism competition. It comes with a $1,000 scholarship.
David Roach is a freelance writer based in Louisville, Ky., and a Ph.D. student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.