WJI2K

Preparing for this summer's WORLD Journalism Institute

Issue: "Cracking the code," April 29, 2000

We're ready to start reviewing applications for the second WORLD Journalism Institute summer program. The students who are accepted will have lots of reading and writing to do over the rest of the year. They'll also have four weeks of classes, discussions, and special activities like whitewater rafting. There's still a little more time to apply, and we want the best: godly men and women with talent and boldness.

We're hopeful that these students and others, with God's grace, will work to change American journalism as dramatically as it changed a century and a half ago. That's when liberal publications, led by quirky geniuses like Horace Greeley, became the mainstream; Christian journalism became a side current. Greeley attracted to his New York Tribune many young, idealistic writers, including a little-known European correspondent, Karl Marx. One reporter later reminisced that the perks were few, but "Ill-furnished and ill-kept as the Tribune office was in those days, it harbored a moral and intellectual spirit that I met nowhere else during my thirty-five years of journalistic experience. Every member of the force, from reporter to editor, regarded it as a great privilege to be on the Tribune and write for its columns."

That's what all of us at WORLD, and the students this summer, must remember. Our circulation and advertising increases give us the opportunity to be influential (and also to pay reasonable wages), but maintenance of a vibrant moral and intellectual spirit is key. We work long hours because of the joy we feel, and that can easily be lost. We'll try to help students this summer understand how WORLD works by showing them some movies about journalism but also one that explains some of our thinking, The Right Stuff (1984): We're astronauts, not engineers, and every good journalist has to have a little of the fighter pilot in him. (I also like Twister (1996): We're a ragtag band, not a smoothly synchronized entity, but we head toward tornadoes and regard it as a great privilege to do so.)

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Is ours a dangerous mission? You bet, but that's all the more reason to accept it. After all, think of one of the most famous historical chapters of the New Testament-chapter 11 of Hebrews, which tells of the "heroes of faith," including Abel, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Samson, David, and many others. We are told that "some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword."

A decade ago I wrote a history book that told how Christians developed press freedom in England and America. The index of that book is deliberately odd: I typed in the names of those persecuted (from the 1530s through the 1830s) for telling unpopular truths, and listed the penalties they received. About once a year, I look through the index: Bastwick, John, ears cut off; Bayfield, Richard, burned at the stake; Carter, William, tortured and executed; Field, John, imprisoned; Hodgkins, John, tortured; Lovejoy, Elijah, shot to death-and so on.

I remember how they lived, and I reflect on the first verse of Hebrews 12: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." What more can I say? This column does not have space to tell about journalists like John Foxe, Benjamin Harris, John Peter Zenger, and Samuel Adams. But I do know that we have freedom and opportunity in American media today only because of the great cloud of journalistic witnesses.

WORLD editors and writers respect those in authority over us, and we also respect the moral authority of that republic of the dead, the bold and courageous journalists who came before us. None of us at WORLD desires to be a martyr. We'd much rather sit under our own vines and fig trees. If God calls us to martyrdom, so be it, but I'm optimistic that we at WORLD, with the aid of faithful readers, have an opportunity to be a living influence for journalistic good. We need a few more good writers, and we need lots of prayer.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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