I write this article to the Bryan community as a human who makes mistakes, a sinner who doesn’t always make the right decisions, a Christian convicted of Biblical truths and a journalist dedicated to a duty to tell the truth when it’s hard and when it’s easy.
In light of recent controversial editorials and articles published by the Triangle, some of you may not believe that, but maybe this article will show you that the people behind Triangle genuinely care about what they are doing and the impact it is having on our community. Maybe the words written here will convince you that Triangle is not motivated by a desired reaction or response to what we publish, but by our commitment to a journalistic duty that is not always black and white.
As you expect your Letters to the Editor and personal emails to us to be considered seriously and with an open mind, please let this article help you understand our perspective as Christian journalists. Let your mind open to the idea that maybe we as a team at Triangle are attempting to do something with our student news publication that has never exactly been done at Bryan before—but maybe that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
Recently I was sent an email that asked these questions:
“[Could you] articulate for me the purpose of the Triangle as a student newspaper of Bryan College. What is your personal vision for the paper? How does the Triangle support and work as an extension of Bryan’s motto and Mission statement?”
The point of this article is to answer these questions. But before I address them directly, I would like to provide an explanation of what I believe to be the duty of a Christian journalist, because it is from this duty that my personal vision for the paper extends and the answers to the other questions become a little more clear.
Journalists often speak of the seven news values: impact, timeliness, prominence, proximity, bizarreness, conflict and currency. Along with many subcategories, these are the factors that determine whether a story has news value and have much to do with whether or not it will be published.
For a Christian journalist, however, this is only the beginning. The biblical architecture for the profession of journalism rests on a foundation of truth.
The Old Testament speaks to this obligation when the prophet Zechariah says, “these are the things you are to do: speak the truth to each other and render true and sound judgment.” (Zech. 8:16)
The glory of journalism lies in the use of this demonstrable truth to make a difference for the greater good. To do this, journalists play the role of speaking truth to the powerful and powerless. They publish what will inform the public, give a voice to those who don’t have one, expose injustice, create and enable discussion, persuade, entertain, etc.
“We are not preachers, but we are interpreters… We are not reformers, but we often reveal the pathway to reform. We are not diplomats, but we can be peacemakers. We are not judges, but we can be critics, and through criticism help purge from our midst the unclean, the unjust and the untruthful.”
The purpose of reporting news, especially for a journalist of faith, is to expose what must be known to protect the public interest. Because of this, the free press is a key part of a democratic society and culture as a whole.
In the late 1800s, journalist Finley Peter Dunne wrote a nationally syndicated satirical column called “Mr. Dooley.” He wrote from the perspective of a created character—an opinionated, first-generation, Irish-American bar owner—who criticized the nation and its powerful people, openly tackling topics like racism, the Spanish American war, and the imperialism of the Supreme Court. In this column, Mr. Dooley aptly characterized the job of a journalist:
“Th newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, controls th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted an’ afflicts th’ comfortable.”
I particularly agree with Mr. Dooley’s last two phrases; journalism should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
Criticism and exposure do not contradict the requirement of edification for Christians, but rather support it. They are part of the “building up” of people commanded in Ephesians 4:12 because true support of others cannot be done simply by being polite and avoiding hard subjects, but by holding people accountable to a community.
Triangle has received complaints about the inclusion of individual names in articles that could be embarrassing to those associated with them. We have also been told that we have abused our platform of free speech by publishing certain controversial articles.
Please realize, it is essential to include names of those involved for the truth of our stories to be verifiable. If our stories become unverifiable, we lose the essence of our credibility and journalistic integrity. We cannot shade the truth in that way or shy away from reporting it entirely simply because it is unpleasant or might offend.
“Christian journalists must never be afraid of reporting the truth of a given situation… because ultimately God will use the reported truth to work His good and perfect will. It is the duty of the journalist to bring the truth to light for his neighbor because it is the power of the incarnational lifestyle.”
As a Christian, I understand the peacemaker mindset. However, I strongly believe that there is a definite place for discussion, for sometimes heated discussion, the kind that creates sides and forces people to confront the way they live with what they believe.
Was Christ always a peacemaker or did He question the status quo? Did He create discussion? Controversial discussion? Discussion that lead to arguments, arrests, beatings and death?
If you’ve noticed, the recent articles by Triangle have created quite a stir—for better or worse; we believe for the better. These discussions have pulled students from various religious, philosophical and cultural backgrounds into a debate over our actions in relation to what we believe.
What other outlet at Bryan College creates a situation where students willingly and passionately take part in something like this in the public eye? Do lectures in chapel, CLF or Bible classes ever create such a stir so extensively throughout the cliques and cultures of the Bryan community? I have never witnessed it. But this, we are all talking about. This, we can all witness and be a part of. This, we are sending a message loud and clear, is something that is important to us as a community.
Being informed, thinking, debating and discussing are part of education and part of what distinguishes us from the rest of creation. They are part of what makes us human. This is one way that we are made in the image of Christ and, therefore, has a rightful place in a community of Christian education. These discussions are how we learn, how we get better, how we keep each other accountable, how we reach out and pull someone in who is lost. These discussions are but one facet of the redemption of creation.
Please do not hold the opinion that Triangle stands behind their opinion pieces and criticism with a lofty attitude. We know we are students and we admit to making mistakes, even in the midst of criticism. However, just as in any calling or mission, we cannot avoid doing our job for fear of making mistakes.
Because we make mistakes and because we are your peers, it is extremely important to us that the Bryan community holds us accountable. By all means, call us out on our mistakes; send in letters to the editor. This interaction between the press and the public is what journalism is all about.
By striving to fulfill this duty of a Christian journalist, we believe that we fulfill our mission statement (as posted on our website) and place “Christ Above All.”
We believe that our calling supports the Bryan College mission, “Educating students to become servants of Christ to make a difference in today’s world,” by fostering discussion that aids the education and growth of ourselves, our fellow students, and the Bryan community as a whole.
As for making a difference in today’s world, we agree with Bryan Chapell, president and professor of Practical Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary (St. Louis, Mo.).
“Journalism pervades culture and by consistently penetrating media with journalism that… is—in the truest sense—Christian, a journalist furthers the redemptive message of Christ. At the same moment, this kind of journalism can radically counter culture and redemptively transform its mindset.”
Please visit http://www.worldji.com/monographs for the monographs mentioned in this article or for more information on what it means to be a Christian journalist.