Culture Friday: Reforming journalism


MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday the 25th of October, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up today: It’s Culture Friday.

MONTAGE: What I hear a lot from people all of the time is that, they don’t watch anymore, because they’re tired of hearing all of that. / Places like The New York Times and the Washington Post have great reporters, but they tend to be cut from the same ideological cloth, same background. / We, everybody understands the difference between opinion and news, except obviously apparently our dear friends at The New York Times. This is a news story. This is a front-page story. / There’s a very big difference between making honest mistakes and purposefully misleading the American people. / Editorial pages in our newspapers have op-ed pages and that’s perfectly healthy. I think the challenge comes when the line gets blurred, when people are not saying ‘yes, I’m giving you my opinion, rather than telling you what I think is the truth.’

Did you hear that? People are tired of hearing and they are tuning news out. We hear about great reporters. We also hear they are cut from the same ideological cloth. We hear honest mistakes versus purposeful, misleading. I tell you, I cannot remember a time frankly, when the credibility of the profession was under such stress.

Well, Marvin Olasky joins us now. He’s editor in chief of WORLD. He has just released a new book on journalism. It is part theory, it’s part history, it’s part practice. And the aim here is to recover Biblical journalism with the hope of forming citizen reporters and forming discerning consumers of the news.

REICHARD: Hey Marvin.

MARVIN OLASKY, EDITOR IN CHIEF: Hi Mary. Hi Nick. Good job on the history.

EICHER: Yeah. Yeah. So a, I read this book and um, did you mean to give all the house secrets away?

OLASKY: Well, there, there are only secrets if people keep being secretive and there’s no reason to because this is the most exciting time in journalism in nearly two centuries.

In the 1830, suddenly there was the opportunity for lots of people instead of sitting back and just having to take what was given to them. There were presses printing presses that became cheaper than before and they were able to go faster. And as a result you saw a new expansion of newspapers. It was an exciting time. This is an exciting time like this also. It’s a scary time. Back when I started teaching journalism at the University of Texas in 1983, there was a clear career path for journalists. You start in a small paper, then maybe you go to the Dallas Morning News, then you may be go East and so forth. That’s all gone. There’s no clear path. Careers are jagged, but there’s an exciting time where anyone can become an editor and a publisher right away on the internet. The question is, will anyone read you?

That’s a whole thing. And that’s what the book tries to get into both theory and practice.

EICHER: Well obviously I was being cheeky about the—

OLASKY: Cheeky? You, Nick?

EICHER: Yeah, yeah. Jowly. Actually, we know this. We do this on purpose. We have the World Journalism Institute, but a twist to the World Journalism Institute a few years after its founding was the mid career course and we probably have a commercial for it here.

REICHARD: Yes.

EICHER: Mary Reichard actually is a product of the mid-career World Journalism Institute. She’s an attorney if you listen to the program, you know that she does the Legal Docket on Mondays. But Mary decided that she wanted a career change  and World Journalism Institute and mid-career is what that’s all about. But that we believe in that we  don’t hold how secrets in. We would like the whole world to practice this kind of journalism.

OLASKY: Well that’s exactly right. The most fun part of the mid career course is halfway through. We send the reporters out to do person on the street interviews and they are so scared when they go out because these are engineers, lawyers—they’re not used to going up to someone on the street and asking questions. And it’s so much fun because they come back joyous. They’ve been able to do it. They’ve been able to ask good questions, get people to talk. It’s an exciting time when you don’t have to go to journalism school. You don’t have to do all that. You can learn if you’re interested enough and smart enough and a good enough writer, you can learn the techniques there. They’re not secret.

EICHER: Was there something that happened that caused you to think that that would be a good idea? What gave you the idea that people could come from some other profession and train at a later age?

OLASKY: Well, just this idea of citizen journalists, people who know something about a particular occupation and they were able then to go and report on that and then they were able to translate that into, into things that ordinary folks can understand. So this is an opportunity that wasn’t there a generation ago. A generation ago, if you wanted to have a newspaper, you had to be rich. Now we can become our own editors, our own publishers. And if we are clever enough and thoughtful enough and I hope—as Christians—Biblical enough, we’ll find an audience.

EICHER: Nothing short of a reformation in journalism is what you’re looking for. Just small ambition here, Marvin.

OLASKY: Small indeed. Yes. But what’s fun here sitting looking around this room, there are about 45 people on our masthead who have gone through the World Journalism Institute. Mary’s the exception. She’s full time. Just about all the other people are part time and they’re continuing with their jobs, but they, they love doing this.

They have fun doing it and we love reading what they write and hearing what they say and training them. My wife and I do this together in our living room, 10 people at a time. It is the most fun teaching I’ve ever had.

EICHER: In all of your study of history, have you heard the quotations that we were talking about from the press state of the media reports talking about how the transformation is epical. We hear things like this is kind of like the time that the printing press was invented. You agree with that historical perspective that we’re in really epical times?

OLASKY: Epical times, yes. And we don’t know how it will turn out. The good thing now is that Christians are fully competitive and can be fully competitive with anyone else. And you know, the training, again, this is in a sense, this is a public service announcement.

We keep doing this and my wife and I, we’ll be doing this a couple of times a year. We’re going to be having one course specifically for journalism teachers at Christian schools. We’re going to have another course specifically for missionaries in another one for college professors at Christian colleges. They can take what they know and translate that into terms that ordinary folks can understand. And it’s all doable now, in a way it wasn’t a generation ago. The printing press, some people said way back then is God’s gift to expand the ideas of the Bible and to get more, let more people read it. God’s gift to us now in a way, strange though it may sound, is the internet with all the bad stuff that comes in with the internet, there’s just an enormous opportunity for good stuff and we can do it if we, if we seize the moment.

REICHARD: Marvin, I haven’t had a chance to read your whole book, but I know one of your later chapters is titled when societies fall apart. I’m just curious, what do you see the role of journalism when and if that does happen?

OLASKY: That’s such a good question and a hard question to answer. When societies fall apart there are more and more people saying the sky is falling, the sky is falling and giving up in despair. But as Christians, we know the sky isn’t falling. God holds up the sky, hard times come. But God’s spirit is there. The joy that we can have. And, as Eric Liddel said in Chariots of Fire, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” I mean, we can do that journalistically and I am really excited about this. And we see the excitement and our mid career people as they go through. For some it’s like a fantasy baseball camp. They can be reporters. For others like Mary, they actually learned so much in their show. They can become pros at the thing. So it was just a great opportunity and I’m very glad that God has given us this opportunity in this generation right now.

EICHER: Well, as we read through this, actually we were talking about American history and all the rest, but this book is also aimed at another country, not just the U S.

OLASKY: Right. A lot of it is aimed at the most courageous journalists in the world right now. I think in China, facing enormous oppression, facing persecution. My wife and I have met young people there who are on fire for the Lord and under pressure much greater than anything we have in this country. They are holding firm. And we have the joy of knowing some of them. We learn from them. They learn for us from us. And that’s just another way that God is working right now with the opportunities we have.

EICHER: Marvin Olasky, editor in chief of WORLD, author of 22 books, including this new one called Reforming Journalism. It is Culture Friday. Marvin, thank you.

OLASKY: Thank you Nick.


(Photo/New York Times, YouTube)

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