Have you ever wanted to be a journalist?

World | An invitation to apply to the World Journalism Institute mid-career course
by Marvin Olasky
Posted 9/04/20, 04:24 pm

A church I was a member of 30 years ago published a daily Bible-reading schedule showing several chapters, along with a list of many more labeled “For the Hearty Ones.” I believe those of you who regularly read our Saturday Series are also hearty ones, so this is the place to extend an invitation to the World Journalism Institute’s annual mid-career course. The next course, No. 12, will meet Jan. 7–13, 2021. The previous 11 have met in the living room of the Olasky home, but the coronavirus pandemic is pushing this one to a virtual version either on Zoom or Google Meet.

Curriculum

The course is for the hearty ones. It emphasizes news feature reporting and writing, based on principles of Biblical objectivity. It’s not for those whose goal is to write columns, op-eds, devotionals, exegetical essays, memoirs, fiction, or poetry. It is for those willing to learn about pavement-pounding, phone-calling, document-reading reporting, and about writing with strong verbs and nouns in the active voice. Only those prepared to absorb tough criticism of their writing should attend. The courses also will touch on the history and current state of Christian journalism.

The course week runs from Thursday through Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central Standard Time, with evening homework. Halfway through the course comes the Sabbath, a much-needed day of rest. Students during the week rewrite a previously composed obituary and write a profile, a review, a website story, part of a feature story, and a proposal for a WORLD Magazine Notebook story.

Tuition is free. The course rarely leads to full-time WORLD work, but it leads to opportunities for those with talent and drive to report on news within their metropolitan area or field of expertise. More than 50 people who have taken a WJI mid-career or college course are now WORLD reporters, editors, or occasional correspondents. Among them are lawyers, doctors, professors, pastors, homemakers, and a CIA retiree.

How to apply

Between Sept. 5 and Nov. 30, please email to molasky@wng.org a resumé plus a 300-word autobiographical sketch that includes specific details about what God has done in your life and summarizes your theological understandings and church involvement. Please attach PDFs of two or three articles you’ve written, if they exist. If we accept you, we’ll ask you to write an obituary and watch a television show that you will review in January.

Also, please read Marvin Olasky’s book Reforming Journalism and email another 200 words or so about what you like in the book and what you dislike—that’s important to see whether your interests and goals are compatible with those of WORLD. If you are in a place where it’s difficult for you to obtain a copy, please request a PDF by writing to molasky@wng.org.

Required reading

Required items

  1. A Wi-Fi-enabled laptop. We’ll all look at student writing on Google Docs, so every student should have a free Gmail account and know how Google Docs works.
  2. Smartphone for taping and taking photos.

Schedule

Wednesday, Jan. 6
7 p.m.: Technical check: Make sure you’re set with internet and Google Docs

Thursday, Jan. 7
9 a.m.: PAMO, ladder of abstraction
10 a.m.: Rewrite of obituaries
Noon: Lunch
1 p.m.: Group-edit obituaries
4 p.m.: Biblical objectivity, rapids
5 p.m.: Free time and dinner
7 p.m.: Interview for profiles

Friday, Jan. 8
1 p.m.: Introduction to roundups
9 a.m.: Covering unheard voices
10 a.m.: Write profiles
11 a.m.: Read profiles
Noon: Lunch
1:30 p.m.: Research roundups
4 p.m.: Broken windows
5 p.m.: Free time and dinner
7 p.m.: Hone roundups

Saturday, Jan. 9
9 a.m.: Editing roundups
11 a.m.: Instructions for street reporting
Noon: Lunch
1 p.m.: Street reporting
4 p.m.: Discuss results of street reporting
5 p.m.: Free time and dinner
7 p.m.: Write reviews

Sunday, Jan. 10
Day of rest

Monday, Jan. 11
9 a.m.: Edit reviews
Noon: Lunch
1 p.m.: Write feature segments
4 p.m.: Journalism history
5 p.m.: Free time and dinner
7 p.m.: Develop Notebook stories

Tuesday, Jan. 12
9 a.m.: Writing reminders
10 a.m.: Edit feature segments
Noon: Lunch
1 p.m.: Additional editing
3 p.m.: Pitch Notebook stories
4 p.m.: Biblical sensationalism, ethics
5 p.m.: Free time and dinner
7 p.m.: Planning a podcast story

Wednesday, Jan. 13
9 a.m.: Training in writing radio scripts
Noon: Lunch
1 p.m.: Official ending, but informal tying up of loose ends

Instructors

Susan Olasky: WORLD’s story coach, has written and produced hundreds of book reviews, lifestyle features, and radio stories. A graduate of the University of Michigan with a master’s degree in public policy, she founded the Austin Crisis Pregnancy Center in 1984 and has co-authored articles opposing abortion along with a book, More Than Kindness: A Compassionate Approach to Crisis Childbearing. She was a columnist for the West Austin News during the 1990s and is the author of eight historical novels for children. In 2006, an $800 Jeopardy clue—“Susan Olasky has written a kids’ series about the adventures of Annie, daughter of this fiery Virginia orator”—was a triple-stumper.

Marvin Olasky: WORLD’s editor in chief, is dean of the World Journalism Institute. He worked at The Boston Globe and for 25 years was a journalism professor at The University of Texas at Austin. A graduate of Yale University and the University of Michigan, Dr. Olasky has written 26 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion, Fighting for Liberty and Virtue, and Reforming Journalism. Most of his journalistic writing has come out in WORLD, but he’s also written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. A one-time member of the Communist Party USA, he became a Christian in 1976 and is an elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (a theologically conservative Presbyterian denomination).

The Olaskys have four sons and five grandchildren.

Philosophy

In June 2000, as WJI was just beginning, here’s how I explained what we’re looking for in writers:

We try to be salt, not sugar. We don’t like sticky-sweet stories. We stand for dry humor and wet handkerchiefs. We want our readers to weep over injustice and everyday cussedness and children starving in Sudan, as this week’s cover story grimly shows. We want to be tough-minded but warmhearted.

We try to serve our readers. We try to avoid entangling alliances with ministries or political factions. We don’t let advertisers influence news content. We don’t print glorified press releases. We try to avoid sourcery, where unnamed sources spin the news their way. If we use an unnamed source, we explain why we’re doing that.

We print only stories we believe to be true. The Mailbag pages belong to readers. When we goof we print corrections or let our readers take us to the woodshed, and we don’t talk back. We print pro and con letters in about the ratio we receive them. We read all the letters sent to us.

We look for provocative and evocative news stories that are the result of pavement-pounding rather than thumb-sucking. We push for crisp headlines that snap, crackle, and pop! We often fall short but we always try. We like family feuds over who gets to read WORLD first.

We want our readers to enjoy the world God has made, full as it is of nooks and crannies and weirdness. We stand for factual accuracy and Biblical objectivity, trying to see the world as best we can the way the Bible depicts it. We like sex, within marriage. We’re not amoral hedonists, but we’re not stoic moralists either. We like the vines and fig trees God gives us. We particularly like ice cream.

We’re a sports magazine, showing how people play the game in front of a great cloud of witnesses from the past and an angelic host. We stand for baseball in its timelessness and hockey in its blazing speed. In outdoor ballparks (and they should be outdoors) we prefer grass to artificial turf. We honor the tradition of smoke-filled rooms as venues for political sports.

We think that all reporting is directed reporting, with a point of view either clear or covert. There are no neutral facts. We tell anyone who asks that we hope to be Biblically directed. We distinguish between issues on which the Bible is clear and those on which it isn’t.

We distinguish between journalism and propaganda: Journalism is about truth-telling, even when it hurts, while propaganda involves a willingness to lie whenever that will supposedly help. Our goal is to tell the truth, and we want others to do so also.

We believe that the heavens declare the glory of God but the streets proclaim the sinfulness of man. We don’t grasp God’s full glory in condescending to save us unless we understand how sinful those streets are. We thank God for His tender mercies, although not as often as we should. As we work our fingers to the bone we don’t think the only result is bony fingers.

We stand for plain language and lots of action.

World Journalism Institute World Journalism Institute The first WJI mid-career class in 2011

Experience of previous mid-career students

Alumni on the WORLD staff include Paul Butler, Mary Reichard, Myrna Brown, Kim Henderson, Jenny Rough, Angela Lu Fulton, Sharon Dierberger, Charles Horton, Jenny Lind Schmitt, Julie Borg, Laura Edghill, and Steve West. WJI mid-career graduates now total 110, and we’ve received kind remarks from more than 100 of them. Here are six examples:

Jesse Yow: The mid-career writing course expanded my horizons. It taught me to write in new ways, for different audiences, and on topics that need attention from a Christian worldview. Sometimes a well-meaning amateur tries to coach your batting swing or tennis serve and ends up disrupting your natural rhythm so badly that you can’t even hit the ball! The mid-career writing course had the opposite effect: Coaching by experienced writers sharpened my skills and led to opportunities that I had never anticipated.

Kiley Crossland: I draw from what I learned at the mid-career course every week. It was a practical exercise in how to think, write, and edit like a journalist. As a small class, we walked through each step of writing and were able to make mistakes, correct them, throw out ideas, and bounce questions off expert journalists. The mountain of journalism became a hill I could climb because of the mid-career course.

Julie Borg: I loved the classes and found the seminar to be very helpful. I especially enjoyed being able to critique each other’s writing and do the line-by-line editing together. The hands-on experience was unbeatable.

David Sonju: WORLD’s mid-career course is fantastic! The course content is outstanding, but even more valuable is the opportunity to learn from one of the Christian world’s most experienced journalists and editors. I gained tremendous confidence through the—fearful—process of Olasky-led group edits. Watching clunky first drafts forged again and again into tight, bracing prose transformed my writing and inspired me to greater success as a writer. I was also impressed by the high-caliber students in the course, men and women who loved the Lord and were serious about improving their craft. Make every effort to attend this course—you won’t be disappointed!

Rob Holmes: It was immensely helpful for me to be publicly edited and educated at the same time during the course.

Mark Russell: My prior opinion about WORLD’s high regard for truth and clear understanding of the journalist’s calling were confirmed. The week flew by and sometimes it felt like drinking from a fire hose, but I managed to hang onto a number of the pearls that Marvin and Susan so graciously shared with us. Best of all, WORLD allowed me to write on a regular basis. I must be making progress because my word processing program rarely corrects my spelling and grammar anymore.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD and dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has also been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism. Marvin resides with his wife, Susan, in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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