Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
If you follow WORLD reporters and correspondents on Twitter (and if you don’t, you’re missing out on a lot of joy), you would have noticed that we’ve been quite social lately. We’ve been retweeting each other’s articles, posting photos of our best reporterly faces, and tagging each other with the hashtag #WorldRetreat. So yes, dear internet sleuth, we were indeed at a WORLD work retreat last week. And it was fabulous.
Many readers already know this, but for a publication that calls itself WORLD, we are a very small content-creating team. I recently watched (and reviewed) a Showtime documentary called The Fourth Estate, a four-part series that takes a behind-the-scenes look into The New York Times’ newsroom as they cover the first year of Donald J. Trump’s presidency. The Times has 1,200-plus reporters, and though the Ten Commandments says, “Thou shalt not covet,” I confess and repent that I did covet The Times’ deep resources and enormous editorial team.
When I saw Times reporters gather in their newsroom to watch Trump’s inauguration speech together, I wished our staff had been able to do the same and discuss it in a roundtable. As I watched Times reporters swing about on their swivel chairs in their cubicles, trading banters and story ideas, my stomach knotted with envy. As I saw editors looking over their reporters’ shoulders at their computer screen, offering suggestions and corrections as the reporters banged out last-minute stories, I longed for that kind of in-person, direct teamwork. And when I saw the Times gain access to the president’s direct phone line, his Air Force One, and other exclusive events, I salivated.
You see, WORLD is headquartered in Asheville, N.C., but most of us are scattered throughout the nation and the world, from New York City to Los Angeles to Taipei to Abuja. That means we’re basically one-man offices, working out of our basements or bedrooms or coffee shops. It means we mainly see each other’s faces on our online profiles, and maybe once every two or four years in person. That means journalism can be a very lonely job—and in my case, it looks like a frizzy-haired, coffee-chugging woman sitting alone in the middle of her 400-square-foot studio apartment, clanking on her keyboard and flicking away donut crumbs while her tuxedo cat Shalom meows and yeows and sheds its fur all over her bare feet. You can’t tell me that woman is not already on her way to becoming a kooky cat lady.
But all of that is not so blatantly problematic compared to our biweekly conference call at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time, which means it’s 6:30 a.m. my time. I do not have the gift of morning perkiness. I do not wake up smiley and chatty; I wake up frowny and grouchy. That early in the morning, my brain is like a rusty, decades-old tractor creaking over muddy slush, and I often have trouble fitting words together into coherent sentences. Sometimes I don’t even speak English. I didn’t think anyone noticed until last week, during our first WORLD retreat in two years, my colleagues ran a running joke that I sound like I’ve just rolled out of bed during our conference calls (which I insist is utter FAKE NEWS).
All that to say, I so appreciated the opportunity finally to get together in person with my fellow staff members. Last week, about 45 of us on the editorial team—full-time reporters, editors, and freelancers (plus members of our design, development, administration, and marketing teams)—sat together in Asheville to get to know one another, discuss work-related topics, and break bread.
Over Subway wraps, bagels, and Chick-fil-A biscuits, we remembered the history and mission of WORLD, certain stories we published that risked our organization’s future, and how God pulled us through each crisis. We discussed things we need to improve on at WORLD (your suggestions are welcome), future fundraising goals (your dollars are also welcome), and social media guidelines (cue in every WORLD reporter frantically logging onto Twitter at the same time after months of inactivity). We talked about our social lives, our favorite movies, funny anecdotes from our reporting trips. We laughed, we prayed, we sang hymns.
We also hugged each other. A lot. Remember, I have a cat. I do not hug; I pat shoulders. But there is something about being in the physical presence of fellow WORLD writers whose bylines and voices you recognize that somehow fattens my too-small heart—and suddenly, I am hugging people, and liking it. Partly, it’s because after a long absence of physical contact, you kind of want to touch your colleagues to make sure they’re real. But mostly, it’s because we share a common mission and purpose as the WORLD family, whether we’re writing or broadcasting or designing or meeting supporters—and that connection is too powerful and inspiring and compelling to restrain our greetings to shoulder-patting.
Our editor in chief Marvin Olasky fondly calls us “Worldlings.” And last week, I felt a comfortable paradox of both pride and humility as I looked around the room and saw how much we Worldlings have grown under the WORLD family.
We’ve come a long way since our founding days as a struggling Southern Presbyterian denominational publication with 5,000 subscribers. We don’t do everything perfectly, but we acknowledge our shortcomings and strive for better. And at every step of the way, we check to make sure we’re in line with our mission to seek and speak God’s wisdom in an era where the journalism field is cacophonic with the skewing of truth, sensationalism, meaningless blabbers, and God-rejecting folly. We call ourselves WORLD—but, WORLD members, please never let us forget that the world we report on is God’s world, and the stories we tell are His story.
By the way, this web journal has been proofread and approved by my colleague Onize Ohikere, who nibbled a chocolate chunk cookie next to me while I wrote this.