There is nothing quite as sobering as preparing to give a lecture on a somewhat edgy topic and, minutes before the event starts, learning that there is a reporter sitting in the audience with journalistic intent. That happened to me the other day at the National College Media Convention here in Washington, where I took part in seminars on topics that are very familiar to those of us who teach journalism in the Council For Christian Colleges and Universities and on similar campuses. I serve as director of the CCCU's full-semester Washington Journalism Center program (more info here).
Elizabeth Redden of Inside Higher Ed was very polite and totally played by the rules (and then some), asking if it was OK to cover the sessions, in light of the somewhat sensitive nature of the topics. I said, "Sure, be our guest." The topics? "Can You Be a Christian and a Journalist" and "Up Against the Wall." What is that second one about? Here is how Redden described the context at this conference:
As just a sampling of the offerings, editors at Virginia Tech's Collegiate Times talked about covering the April 16 shootings; craft-oriented sessions focused on news design, visual storytelling and sports writing; and seasoned college media pros discussed strategies for boosting advertising revenue, recruiting and retaining newspaper staff, and navigating conflicts between student journalists and college administrators.
On the latter subject, a session titled "Up Against the Wall: Working With Administrators" -- which might as well have been called "How to Survive on a Christian College Campus and Still Write News," as one panelist, Terry Mattingly, joked -- offered perspectives on how an effective student press can function within private religious colleges with closed administrative cultures. When confronted once, for instance, by an irate Christian college administrator scandalized by the word "slut" appearing in the student paper (appearing in that case, ironically, in a quote defending the institution's dress code), Mattingly recalled asking, "Look, would you prefer that we never use the word slut in editorials and replace it with the biblical word -- whore?"
There's more to the article and I would urge you to look it over, if the topics interest you, to note the comments of my colleagues David Dixon of Malone College and Richard Kless of Providence College.
However, I was a bit disappointed that the report did not contain any material from the session that I did with my good friend Dean Nelson of Point Loma Nazarene University. That was the one on journalism and Christian faith and, of course, that loaded word "calling" and its twin, "vocation."
I will simply note that the session gave me a chance to share one of my all-time favorite quotes from Terry Anderson, formerly of the Associated Press. Anderson became a global figure for journalists due to his long captivity in Lebanon. During a 1999 conference on faith and journalism, held in Chichester, England, Anderson gave a strong, strong address on journalism -- real journalism, mainstream journalism -- as a calling. Here's a section from a column that I wrote at that time:
(Anderson) is convinced that God does not fear journalists.
"The search for truth is not, in any way, in conflict with the truth that I know as a follower of Jesus," said Anderson, who is an outspoken Catholic. "But, you know you cannot be a Christian and a bad journalist. That doesn't work at all. You cannot practice Christianity and a journalism that takes away dignity, that has no compassion, that exploits pain and misery. That's not good journalism and it's certainly not anything that Christ taught."
And all the people said ...