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Christianity in journalism can be beneficial

By Leah Thomas
On April 18, 2017

Many college journalism students are struggling to balance their faith and field of study.

At the Spring National College Media Convention in New York, I attended a session titled “Christian in the Newsroom.”

The session attracted about two dozen Christians, who wanted to know how other Christians were faring in their newsrooms.

During the hour-long session, students shared stories of their experiences in journalism.

One student said he felt like he was hiding a part of himself because his peers didn’t want to discuss religion.

A Christian photographer said she was having trouble balancing her coverage. She said in New York she often covered events that opposed her beliefs. She wants to cover an event that parallels her faith to justify the attention she gave to other events.

Another student said she felt that if she revealed her faith to her peers, she would automatically be labeled a Trump supporter, which would bring a host of unwanted criticism.

Many students agreed that they experienced skepticism from secular journalism students when they revealed their Christian identity. They felt their credibility questioned.

Journalists are encouraged to keep their political beliefs undisclosed, but do the same rules apply to religion?

Are Christian journalists being asked to check their faith at the door before entering the newsroom?

I think most people would say no to these questions, but the reality is that religious conversation in the newsroom brings strife.

There are Christians at the Washington Post, USA Today, New York Times and Huffington Post staff, so Christians can excel in journalism.

McCandlish Philips, a New York Times reporter, did it. He revealed that a high-ranking Ku Klux Klan leader was Jewish.

His death in 2013 sparked a conversation among journalists about faith in the newsroom.

Russ Pulliam, a WORLD News Group board member, met Phillips in the 1970s while working for the Associated Press in New York City. Pulliam said Phillips intertwined his faith into every story. 

“I know for a number of younger Christians in journalism, he was a friend who gave us guidance,” Pulliam recalled. “He could go write a story and he would bring biblical principles to bear in it, and in such a subtle way. And The New York Times editors would love it.”

If Christians have proven themselves in the newsroom, why are conservative college students hesitant to pursue the field?

“Many of them are brought up without a respect for the role that journalism is meant to play in our culture,” journalist, author, and professor Terry Mattingly said.

“If you don’t have an appreciation for that, it’s hard to know what you can do about it. It’s hard to call a newsroom to accuracy and fairness if you basically hate journalism.”

Carl Cannon, Washington editor of RealClearPolitics, wrote in his first installment of “The Problem with the Press” that the ratio of Christians in America to Christians in the newsroom is not equivalent.

“Although the number fluctuates, some 40 percent of the American people describe themselves as evangelical Christians. Yet in traditional U.S. news organizations, print or broadcast, such believers are a rarity,” Cannon wrote.

Former New York Post columnist Rod Dreher said his newsroom executive thought the newsroom should mirror the area’s race-gender-ethnicity demographic. He told her that it was more important that the newsroom represent the diversity of belief and experience in the city.

He said there are various racial and ethnic backgrounds, but everyone attended the same journalism schools and was like-minded.

The newsroom should never be comfortable. It is a place of constant challenge and questions. If everyone agrees, the newsroom is probably missing a perspective.

“Evangelicals should make an outcry for diversity,” Mattingly said. “I’m not talking about affirmative action, but a call for bringing people with different life experiences into the newsroom.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recognized disgust for Christianity in the newsroom.

“Liberal critiques sometimes seem not just filled with outrage at evangelical-backed policies, which is fair, but also to have a sneering tone about conservative Christianity itself. Such mockery of religious faith is inexcusable,” he wrote in his opinion piece “God, Satan and The Media.”

Christianity may be mocked, but it is vital. Matt Lewis, a columnist at The Daily Beast, said there should be diversity of faith in the newsroom in his opinion piece published by The Week.

“Media outlets who want to understand America should at least have a few journalists hanging around who share – or at least, aren’t hostile to – the Christian faith,” he said.

He goes on to say many do, and they benefit for it. Christians bring attention to stories other journalists overlook, he said.

Though it may not be appreciated at first, Christians can find respect in the newsroom.

“When I speak to classes of Evangelical college journalists, I tell them that yes, they will face prejudice in newsrooms. But journalism is not a field for shrinking violets and people afraid to have their feelings hurt,” Dreher said.

“But if you prove your mettle as a writer and reporter, you will win the respect of your peers, and open their minds. In my experience, the bias against religious conservatives in newsrooms is mostly a matter of ignorance, not outright malice.”

Though few, there are Christian journalists who have risen to the top. If Christians want to be journalists, they can.

Christians can balance faith and journalism; it just takes thick skin and endurance.

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