All the news that’s fit to print – sometimes?
PHILADELPHIA – This week state newspaper editors throughout the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) are having our annual meeting here, across the street from Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was penned.
We will take time to visit that historic site where its authors pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor in their quest for liberty and freedom from the tyranny of King George. Among the freedoms they sought were those of religion and speech. It seems fitting we meet here to discuss those topics.
I’m not sure there has ever been a time like this when Southern Baptist editors are confronted with so many important issues – and at a time when the Internet is having a profound impact. However, the more things change, the more they stay the same. For example, I believe Southern Baptists still want two things out of their state newspapers: they want them to tell the truth and to be loyal. Both are attainable, but tension between the two can often arise when people misunderstand our task. To do otherwise is to paint a false sense of reality – and God will hold us accountable for our faithfulness in imparting His truth to our readers. For a newspaper editor to print only the “victory” stories while ignoring the sinful ones is like a pulpiteer not preaching the entire counsel of God’s Word. I think The Pathway has been able to walk this fine line, but it has not been painless.
I knew when the Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Board hired me in June 2002 it would not be an easy job. I knew moderates were still making trouble and would hate The Pathway. I knew the continuing legal battle with the five renegade agencies would be a “drag” on circulation. I knew more and more readers were turning away from the printed newspaper and heading for the Internet to get their information. Nearly five years have come and gone since The Pathway’s birth and these continue to be challenges, yet The Pathway continues to be blessed.
If readers want the truth, then we have no choice and must report even the transgressions – but with humility and tears in our eyes. For we are sinners, too, in constant need of God’s grace. Am I suggesting that “victory” stories should take a back seat? Absolutely not!
The Pathway staff conducts a content analysis of every issue every six months to make sure the overwhelming majority of our stories reflect the ministries of Missouri Baptists – whether on the mission field or in the hallways of the State Capitol. An analysis of our coverage in 2006 shows that 50 percent of all our stories dealt with the ministries of Missouri Baptist churches or the MBC staff; 20 percent dealt with moral issues (a little heavier than usual because so many articles were devoted to educating people about embryonic stem cells); 15 percent were SBC-related stories and five percent dealt either with the legal battle with the five renegade agencies or continuing attacks on the MBC by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri or the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.
That being said, I must constantly examine my motives when printing unpleasant news. An editor with a personal agenda is an editor that needs to be booted out the door. There is no substitute for integrity. An editor without integrity is an editor without credibility. Once credibility with readers is lost, all is lost.
We serve a mighty God who is actively involved with His creatures. Christian journalists are eyewitnesses to His handy work. We are privileged to write the first draft of history and the God whom we serve will hold us accountable for our accuracy. May He always find us faithful.