WJI 2017 Flashback blog day three

Dec 2, 2017

Andy Wilson


University of South Carolina


This morning Marvin Olasky launched into his series of profiles of Christian journalists, beginning with St. Luke. He discussed how prior religious writers were like modern PR people, stretching the truth or omitting inconvenient facts to accommodate their agenda. Luke was among the first to aim for objectivity, carefully investigating the matter and using eyewitness accounts, so he can be considered one of the fathers of journalism. His unflinching dedication to the truth, even when it reflected poorly on fellow believers, is a model for modern journalists. 


Russ Pulliam spoke next, on understanding journalistic storytelling. He said that “almost every good story illustrates a theme from the Bible.” It’s the job of Christian journalists to search out these themes and let them shine through in our coverage. He discussed some of his heroes, including Abraham Kuyper, William Symington, and John Perkins, believers whose faith informed influential careers in politics, theology, and community development, respectively. 


Building on Proverbs 20:15 and 18:17, Pulliam discussed the journalist’s need to develop wisdom, discernment, and a knack for digging deeper, seeing through attempts to mislead or obfuscate. He noted the importance of gaining perspective from multiple sources, especially when something seems too good to be true. He encouraged us to put this principle into practice with our profile pieces, talking to people who knew our subjects well in order to give a more balanced perspective. 


Next we heard from Mindy Belz, who talked about how succeeding as a journalist comes with humility and willingness to step out of your comfort zone. It’s difficult to admit our own ignorance, but to be good reporters it’s often necessary to “put yourself in an idiot’s chair”—avoiding prior assumptions and opportunities to demonstrate your own proficiency in the subject matter.  This provides an approachable introduction to readers who lack knowledge of the field and avoids confusing them with jargon or overly specialized information. 


Belz said we have to recognize how little we have control over—giving the recent theft of her briefcase as an example—and accordingly develop a daily dependence on God. Traveling around the world, often to dangerous regions like South Sudan and northern Iraq, Belz has many times found herself in situations that were uncomfortable, frightening, or even dangerous. She said that a journalist has to be willing to take some risk, like climbing down a tunnel dug by ISIS, but should be cautious about entering a situation with many unknowns or a high degree of danger. 


We spent the first half of the day learning from these veteran reporters about the craft, challenges, and rewards of journalism before transitioning into some application, writing our profiles—which Kendall will discuss in depth in his upcoming post.

For more information:

World Journalism Institute