For those who have asked, yes, your GetReligionistas read that recent Washington Post story on Liberty University students who want to be journalists.
Spoiler alert: It's a positive portrayal (verging on puff piece) of these evangelical Christian students.
As a journalism graduate of a Christian university, however, I'm not sure this coverage does much to bolster the cause of conservative believers who are training for news careers.
Maybe it's just me, but the students come across as more interested in Christian advocacy than impartial journalism:
LYNCHBURG, Va. — What do you do when everyone around you thinks the media is “fake news” — and you want to work for the media?
That’s the question professor Amy Bonebright needs to help her students answer. This is Liberty University, the world’s largest evangelical Christian school. Most students come from politically and religiously conservative families and churches inclined not to trust the news — and, indeed, the president of the university is Jerry Falwell Jr., a fervent advocate for President Trump, who throws around the term “fakenews” to refer to most mainstream media reporting.
So when Bonebright teaches a room full of aspiring reporters in her “Community Journalism” class, she needs to teach them more than just how to craft a lede and conduct an interview. “Now, everyone’s down on the media,” she says to her class. “Maybe you go home over break and see your parents’ friends. And they say, ‘Remind me what you’re studying.’”
A nervous giggle rises from many of the students. They have had that conversation before.
And the bottom line:
For these college students, the answer to that question is deeply rooted in their faith. Because while they might not always see the news media as truthful, they do believe in the truth of the gospel — and they think that’s a principle they can apply in the newsroom just as they do in the pews.
“As Christians, we believe in truth,” senior Timothy Cockes raises his hand to say. “Christians actually should be the best journalists there are, because we believe there is truth out there.”
Read the whole piece, and you learn that many of the students don't even want to be journalists at all — they want to work in public relations as writers for foreign mission groups. What!?
I mean, where are the rabble-rousers in this story? Where are the Liberty journalists making the administration sweat over each new edition of the campus paper? If such students don't exist or if the paper isn't allowed to do such coverage, then is this really a journalism program?
In my time with The Talon at Oklahoma Christian University (and yes, this was nearly three decades ago), we splashed tuition increases, rape allegations and presidential campaign rally skirmishes across the front page.
My longtime friend Steve Lackmeyer, now a distinguished veteran reporter with The Oklahoman, and I were not the most popular students on campus. We asked too many questions. Our senior year, The Talon won a Pacemaker Award from the Associated Collegiate Press as one of the nation's top student publications, along with two dozen other state and national awards.
My time at Oklahoma Christian prepared me for a career that has included, among other stops, a full-time gig with The Associated Press and national freelance assignments for publications such as the Post.
To the Oklahoma Christian administration's credit, they never censored us, although they did ask us to print one front page (on a Friday) for students one week and replace it with a different front page (on a Saturday) for parents and alumni arriving for homecoming festivities.
I guess my frustration with the Post piece — which maybe isn't the Post's problem — is that someone might read the story about the Liberty journalism program and assume all Christian university journalist programs are just like it. I don't think that's the case. At universities such as Abilene Christian University in Texas — where my friend Cheryl Bacon serves as dean — aggressive, ambitious student publications thrive. And believe it or not, not all of those students are Trump Republicans.
In a Twitter thread, GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly — a veteran journalism professor who probably should have written this post — made a highly relevant point in response to the Post story:
Here's my question for GetReligion readers: What is your experience with journalism programs at Christian universities? Do they resemble the Liberty program described in the Post story? Or are there differences — good or bad — that you'd point out?
Also, if you think my take on the Post story is totally off base, feel free to tell me that, too. I'm writing on deadline at the end of a long day, which is not always the best scenario for making a salient point.
A side note before I sign off: I get what the Post is saying about a traditional believer working in the news media and hearing from family and friends with no respect for journalism (my sacred calling).
In the past year, I've heard myself reminding close relatives, "You do realize I'm a reporter, right?"
And just last week, while on assignment for a mainstream news organization, I was introduced to a pastor as a "believer" who used to work for AP.
"I'm sorry," the pastor said in response to the AP mention.
I think he thought he was being funny. Or clever. But mainly, he just sounded like a jerk.