5. What It’s Going To Take – NOT YOUR GRANDMOTHER’S JOURNALISM
5. What It’s Going To Take –
NOT YOUR GRANDMOTHER’S JOURNALISM
While journalism might not be thought of as ancient profession (it developed after the invention of the printing press), you could be forgiven for thinking that it is now an outmoded profession in much the same way that buggy-whip making is now a craft assigned to yesteryear. While the first journalists who lived tens of thousands of years ago were simply people who gave eye-witness reports of events without the benefit of photography or video – or even recorded audio, journalism evolved from one person telling another person what happened into a professional craft where the journalist was trained to get a broader perspective from multiple sources and retell it succinctly to an audience prepared to pay to read it. With the advent of radio and audio recording technology came the emergence of broadcast journalism. With the development of the camera, photo-journalism was born. Then came motion pictures and television journalism. In much the same way that people predicted the demise of physical books with the rise of the internet (more hardcopy books are sold now than at any other time in history) many people are predicting the demise of the journalist and journalism. I think history will prove them wrong. Here’s why.
Cedric: “What on earth was that Ethol?” Ethol: “I think it was one of those new fangle mechanical carriages Cedric!” Cedric: “They’ll never replace the horse and buggy Ethol!”
And the report of this went through all that district. Matthew 9:26
THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE BECAUSE OF JOURNALISM
I have been making the case that ever since Jesus divided time, the world began to become an even better place. Historians such as Professor Rodney Stark of Baylor University have pointed out that Christianity has been the greatest force for good the world has ever seen. The impact of Christ, His example, His teaching, and His followers, upon the world changed the way culture regarded women, serving, humility, and truth-telling. And arguably, it was journalists who were initially responsible for this! The earliest accounts of the life of The Christ were told by journalists – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – but particularly Luke. Of the gospel writers, he was the only non-eye-witness. He stakes his claims on his efforts to be a thorough journalist who employed the sound principles of journalism – go to the primary sources of a story – to report about The Christ, His teaching, and the deeds of His followers.
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. Luke 1:1-4
Luke wrote his account sometime around A.D. 50. Many of the eye-witnesses to the life, ministry, and teaching of Jesus, were still alive. A few years after Luke published his account in what has become known as, The Gospel of Luke, the Apostle Paul cited from it and made reference to the many eye-witnesses to the events described by Luke as still being alive – and therefore able to verify or dispute the account.
¶ Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. ¶ For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. First Corinthians 15:1-6
As Professor Stark has demonstrated in several books, Christianity has been a force for good in the world. This has also been documented by the British historian, Professor Jonathan Hill in What Has Christianity Ever Done for Us? (How It Shaped the Modern World, 2005). But Christianity’s involvement in pioneering modern journalism was never just limited to the retelling of the life and teaching of the Son of God. At the time it was birthed, history was being written by the Romans who epitomised the saying, History is always written by the victors. From the second century Christians began writing what are now referred to as polemics. A polemic was what we might today call, an exposé. Some of the earliest Christian polemics criticised idolatry and the practice of exposure (the killing of newborns).
“We have been taught that it is wicked to expose even newly-born children, first, because we see that almost all those who are exposed (not only girls, but boys) are raised in prostitution.” Justin Martyr (Saint Justin Martyr, The First Apology, in The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation, ed. Thomas B. Falls (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1977), 27.)
This journalism contributed to Roman Emperor, Valentinian (364 – 375), banning the practice of infanticide particularly after polemics written by Bishop Basil of Caesarea (330 – 379). Christians writing about the evils of Roman society would have been informed by the Christian teaching of truth-telling :
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible Ephesians 5:11-13
Down through the centuries, authentic Christians have often done journalism based on this teaching. Here is just one example. From the late 1800s King Leopold II of Belgium was conducting a rein of terror across the African nation of the Free State of The Congo as he brutally sought to exploit its natural wealth of rubber, minerals and ivory. His unchecked atrocities came to an end when an English missionary, Alice Seeley Harris, who was also a pioneer photographer and a journalist, began to document the Belgian King’s atrocities with a series of graphic photos. Her journalistic efforts led to ‘Congo gaining its independence and the demise of the King Leopold. You can read more about Alice Seeley Harris and how the work of other Christian journalists have made the world a better place in another article I wrote here. There are of course times when even non-Christian journalists practice the kind of tell-telling-exposure-of-evil encouraged in the New Testament. I think most recently of the Boston Globe investigative team, Spotlight, who exposed the sexual abuse of children by clergy – initially in Boston, then around America, then around the world.
When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. Acts 4:23
OLD JOURNALISM IS THE NEW JOURNALISM
In the same way that people who predicted the demise of books with the rise of the internet have been proven wrong, those who predicted the demise of the journalist are also being proven wrong. It may be true that physical newspaper circulations have fallen dramatically, but in the same way that falling buggy-whip sales did not mean the end of private transportation, but rather, a change in the way private transportation occurred, the role of the journalist has now also changed in two dramatic ways. Firstly, the rise of citizen journalism. Secondly, the rise of global platforms. In both cases, those who are succeeding in this era as journalists are those who are practicing the basic principles of good old journalism: tell the truth succinctly; support your reporting with primary-source evidence. If that sounds like the same principles that governs the recording of history, you’re right. And you’re right because journalism is the act of recording history. The first of these two trends means that nearly anyone can be a journalist of sorts, even if it is only for a moment. Whenever someone writes their firsthand recollection of events on social media with supporting pictures or videos, they are practicing citizen-journalism. For those whose vocation is journalism, platforms such as the emerging Apple News+ is a game-changer. This platform, which was announced last Monday (March 25th 2019) by Apple CEO, Tim Cook, will turn newspapers and magazines into the newspapers of Hogwarts and give every journalist a global platform of up to one billion readers.
THE ETERNAL DESTINY OF SOME IS GOING TO BE SHAPED BY THE ROLE OF A JOURNALIST
I want to challenge (young) people who feel called by God to be a journalist to see their schooling, and more importantly, their education, as necessary for their preparation in becoming a journalist. I want to encourage you to learn the elements of your craft: spelling, grammar, lexicology, investigation. I further want to encourage you to write! If you’re young enough, write for your school newspaper. If you’re old enough, write your reflections on an event you attended and post it on a social media. And be consistent. Write regularly. Like any craft, practice makes perfect. And here’s why we need Christ-followers to revive the ancient tradition of Christians doing journalism:
¶ He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. Matthew 13:24-26
Christ ‘sows’ His followers into various parts of the world, the field. But according to Christ’s parable, so does his enemy. Whether wilfully or unwittingly, some journalists serve the purposes of Christ’s enemy. This becomes apparent by their biased reporting – or, more commonly – lack of reporting about news about Christians. For example, in 2013 when France was debating whether to change its laws about marriage, one million people marched on the streets of Paris (28th May 2013) appealing to their government not to change their marriage laws. The event was boycotted by mainstream media outlets. We were all moved by the tragedy in Christchurch on March 15th 2019 when a gunman murdered 50 Muslim worshipers. We grieved with our Kiwi cousins. But in the same week, several hundred Christians were massacred in Nigeria without any mainstream media (MSM) coverage.
A photo of the second time one million concerned French citizens marched on Paris to protest their government’s marriage law changes. May 28th 2013.
Sometimes the selective reporting isn’t quite this dramatic. But when there is so few Christ-followers serving as journalists, it’s perhaps not surprising that there is so much selective reporting portraying Christians as bigots, intolerant, anti-science, hypocritical, hateful, doctrinaire, and anti-women. In fact, there is an urgent need for competent Christ-following journalists to tell our story/ies (better). These stories can be found readily in how we care for refugees, help those traumatised by sexual abuse, aid those battling with post-abortion trauma, provide meals and shelter to the homeless, maintain free medical clinics among Aboriginal communities, provide education to the under-privileged delivering literacy and numeracy skills, and health services in major cities. Added to this, is the good work every church is doing on the frontlines of their own communities, which are almost entirely never told.
As long as the Christian story is largely untold – or, continues to be largely misrepresented – we will be at a disadvantage in society. This is why I am calling for people, particularly young people, who sense the call to be a journalist to commit to the following –
Undertake discipleship training to become familiar sound Biblical theology (2Tim. 2:15)
Learn your craft (Prov. 18:16). This may mean going to university, being mentored, and learning to handle failure and criticism (Prov. 17:10; 24:16).
In addition to this, it is critical that you commit to being a member of a local church and one of its small groups because you will need people who truly know you and pray regularly for you. I know I am not talking to everyone. But I suspect I am talking to someone.