As we step into a new year, renewed commitments are on our minds. The latest diets, reading plans and productivity calendars abound. I believe it’s the right time for Southern Baptists to consider their news habits as well. Below I outline five basic priorities that can help us become a healthier convention in 2020.
Each one is presented in a spirit of encouragement to journalists, communications staff and other media providers, certainly including state newspapers, but also bloggers and podcasters. In fact, I believe any Southern Baptist who enjoys sharing news or commentary on social media could benefit from these priorities as well.
Clarifying our purpose may be the most important task Southern Baptist media providers can do at this time. The number of online sites and social media accounts that appear to exist for the purpose of spreading exaggerated, paranoid and sometimes false information that harms our cooperative efforts is multiplying.
It’s vital that Southern Baptist media providers make it crystal clear what we do and why we do it.
We are here to help churches work together to make disciples of all nations by publishing reliable information and inspiring stories that build trust among our churches and the entities that serve them.
That’s a statement we repeat often at the Biblical Recorder as we serve N.C. Baptists.
I encourage any and all Southern Baptists engaged in media to clarify or develop your mission statement. Make it a priority in 2020. You can even steal ours. Take it, adopt it, adjust it – use it however you like. Whatever you do, craft a vision that is beneficial to Southern Baptist work, and pursue it relentlessly.
It sounds obvious but truth should be a priority for anyone in the business of news and information. As Christian journalists, we care about truth because it comes directly from the character of our Lord. All truth is God’s truth, and truth is good for us.
Sometimes the truth is uplifting. Other times it is hard to hear. Regardless, people in our pulpits and pews should feel confident they see the true state of things. That is the key to long-term, healthy partnerships.
Our system of voluntary cooperation fails without trust, and trust does not grow in the dark. Let’s give Southern Baptists the benefit of the truth, so they can give each other the benefit of the doubt.
We demonstrate our commitment to transparency by using sound reporting practices. Make it a priority to redouble efforts in every publication or post to communicate the key facts.
Provide appropriate context so readers can understand, not just recall the sensational soundbites. Gather information from sources close to the issue, and then cite them accurately.
We should not entertain, platform or encourage the anonymous trolling that is so prevalent on social media. In fact, we should actively oppose it because it undermines our own journalistic and communication efforts.
Let’s make it a priority in 2020 to encourage Southern Baptists to share important facts and sincere opinions in the open and on the record. If our reporters, editors or writers make mistakes in the process, we should correct the errors with honesty and integrity.
It’s important to note here that a commitment to transparency does not require the disclosure of private details in every story. Our editors and organizational leaders must use discretion wisely. But they must strive to present a complete picture to the best of their ability.
Many, if not all, news organizations boast about how fair they are. Let’s commit to be, rather than to seem. If Southern Baptists are anything, we are a democratic people who value the voices of everyday churchgoers. Any Southern Baptist with a sincere and newsworthy story should get a fair report.
I readily admit that a lack of staff and resources hinder most of our outlets from achieving the scope of reporting we desire. And, even when we do have the opportunity to publish news stories, we can never achieve pure objectivity. We are human, and often have opinions that color our stories in ways we don’t see. Even still, we can fairly represent the best of all sides on any given issue that we cover.
Ensuring that Southern Baptists have access to information should be a high value for our media providers. Our efforts to promote truth are ineffective if the information never reaches the majority of our audiences. Brand new media platforms are cropping up at a fast rate, and each Southern Baptist has his or her preferred ways of receiving the news. Plus, our audiences are fractured and polarized.
That means what is published online may never reach certain print readers. Similarly, a cover story in a print issue may never surface in social media conversations.
Southern Baptist news outlets must commit to publish information in innovative and cooperative ways that distribute the news as widely as possible. From the most traditional print reader to the early adopter on the latest social media app, let’s serve Southern Baptists by deploying our best and brightest to keep them informed and inspired.