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Earlier this week, I spent an hour visiting via Skype with more than two dozen students at this spring’s World Journalism Institute. We talked about embracing discomfort, asking good questions, and the time a monkey hopped on my shoulder while I was covering a Ron Paul campaign event.
I later thought about how journalistic disciplines sometimes mirror Christian disciplines. Here are 10 examples of journalistic practices that roughly translate to the Christian life:
1. Accept assignments.
One of the great things about writing for WORLD is the freedom to find your own stories and pursue your own interests. But sometimes, a particular story must be done, and an editor asks you to do it. Often, it’s a difficult story requiring hard work and tough skin. But we accept the assignment: The story is important, we trust our editor’s judgment, and we know he’ll back us up.
In the Christian life, God gives us freedom to pursue our passions and desires. But sometimes, He gives us an assignment we wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves. Whether it’s a long-term illness, a tough marriage, a wayward child, a strained church, a dashed dream, a lost job, or a lost loved one: Our Savior is asking us to do it. It’s important, we trust His (perfect) judgment, and we know He’ll give us what we need to do what He asks.
2. Pound the pavement.
Once a journalist has accepted an assignment, the next step is to pound the pavement: Make the phone calls, do the digging, write the questions, drive the miles, lose sleep, keep digging, ask more questions, write for hours, and sometimes begin that process all over again.
When God gives His children assignments, He expects us to work hard. The Bible tells us whatever we do, we should do it with all our might—even when other people have no idea how much work we’re putting into the hard relationship or the weekly menu or the children’s Sunday school class or the battle for joy and contentment.
3. Check your facts.
I still make plenty of mistakes in journalism, but I try to avoid it by fact-checking every story I write. I print each article I’ve written, and I highlight every name, word, and assertion. I force myself to check each detail, even if I’m sure I have it right. It takes a lot of time and energy, but I’m often surprised at how much I find to correct. (And how I still get things wrong.)
In Christian living, it’s easy to jump to conclusions or make assumptions about other people (including our opponents). The Scriptures demand we take the time—and show the discipline—to speak the truth and not cut corners with the details.
4. Listen to your editors.
No matter how much a journalist thinks he knows about the story he’s written, a fresh pair of eyes can bring crucial perspective. It can be tempting to resist or resent feedback, but sometimes outside wisdom can save our journalistic britches.
In Christian living, God gives us other people—parents, pastors, spouses, friends—to help us see what we can’t see, and to share the wisdom we need for godly living. Instead of resisting or resenting it, we should seek it out and take it in.
5. Listen to your critics.
Reporters do make mistakes—not just factual errors, but errors of judgment. The best journalists listen to sincere criticism and consider whether someone else is right and we’re wrong, or at least whether we could have said something in a more helpful or accurate way.
Christians need help to know when we’re sinning or making unwise choices. A large portion of the book of Proverbs is devoted to telling believers to listen to wise criticism—and not to become fools.
6. Make corrections.
When WORLD gets something wrong, we’re committed to saying so. Most journalists dread printing corrections, but admitting an error is one of the most important parts of the job.
Christians sin every day, and the Bible invites us to confess our sin to God and find forgiveness in Christ. It also commands us to confess our sins to each other and to make it right when we’ve given or taken offense.
7. If you don’t have the story, don’t print it.
Sources often contact us with juicy bits of information that would bring guaranteed web traffic. Sometimes we check it out and discover it’s not true. Other times, we can’t find enough evidence to verify the information. And occasionally, we find that a story would be more of a self-serving exercise than a meaningful article that would serve others well. So, we drop it until something more develops.
I’m convinced that one of the most urgent Christian disciplines of the 21st century is to be slow to speak. That often feels impossible in a 24/7 Twitter universe. But we can do more damage by speaking without enough information (or without enough context) than by waiting to say something more substantial and helpful. Not everything demands an instant hot take, even when the pressure to offer one can feel intense.
8. Pursue both truth and love.
Readers sometimes wonder why we write stories that criticize other believers. There’s a lot that could be said, but here’s one principle we follow: It’s often unloving to withhold the truth in situations where other people are being harmed or endangered.
It’s true in our Christian lives as well. In our personal circles and in our churches, we want to show mercy, but being merciful sometimes means pointing out error or sin that is harming others. When we must do this, we still ought to speak the truth in love and humility, and not in self-righteousness.
9. Fight cynicism.
One of the great journalistic temptations is cynicism. Spend each week trudging through the muck of human experience, and even the most enthusiastic journalist can grow hardened.
Believers can grow hardened too. We sometimes feel like Solomon in Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” But the Christian, whether a journalist or a janitor or a mom or a pastor or an accountant, remembers what Solomon says in the rest of his book: “I commend joy.” Why? Because God “has made everything beautiful in its time.”
10. Take joy.
Christian journalists are in a unique position to take joy. We’re not prophets about the daily news, but we do know the rest of the story. All of our work unfolds in the context of God’s grand redemptive purposes.
This is the core of all Christian hope: Christ has died, He has risen again, and so will we. Whatever our work or our assignment, if we’re united to Christ by faith, we work with joy and we sing with the saints: “Ours the cross, the grave, the skies—Alleluia!”