Big small-town vision

Again this year, WJI deserves your gift support

Issue: "Humanity Under the Microscope," Dec. 8, 2001

I'm assembling these thoughts in the editorial office of the Vandalia Leader-Union, the newspaper of record for Fayette County, Ill. Vandalia, you should know, was an early capital of Illinois, up until 1839. The old capitol building where Abraham Lincoln served as a state legislator is just a block north of the present newspaper office. Vandalia is 70 miles south, and a little west, of the current capital, Springfield. It is also just 70 miles east of St. Louis.

This is not a grandiose place. Vandalia's population is just 7,000. So even at its main intersection with the very busy Interstate 70, the only name-brand hotels are the Travelodge and a Days Inn. Two railroads used to crisscross here, but there's only one now, and while Amtrak blows through Vandalia, it doesn't stop.

But to say that Vandalia is not grandiose is not the same as saying it isn't important. Like maybe 2,500 other towns its size in our country, it is the hub of daily activity not just for its residents, but for two or three times that many more people in the countryside around. It is where most of them are born, where they go to school, where they see the doctor, where they worship, where they buy their groceries, where they check books out of the library, where they have their cars and combines repaired, and where they are finally buried.

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That's why a big media company like Landmark Communications in Norfolk, Va., will spend substantial money to buy a newspaper like the Leader-Union, even in a relatively small market like Vandalia. People in communities like this take their newspapers seriously; a journalistic voice like the Leader-Union can do much to bind the hearts and minds of a community together.

Which is also why WORLD subscriber (and booster) David Bell finds it fulfilling to serve as publisher of the Leader-Union. "The people you write and editorialize about," he told me last week, "are the people you go to church with; they teach your kids in school. In a big city, you can swagger more and make pronouncements from on high with less accountability. Here, you're close. You'd better know your facts, because an hour after the paper comes out, you're likely to meet someone on the street who might set you straight if you don't."

All of which-in a very roundabout way-is to remind you again this week of the important role being played these days by the World Journalism Institute, a spinoff activity of WORLD magazine. First established in the summer of 1999, WJI has already exposed well over 100 college age students to one of the most demanding and effective journalism curricula available anywhere in the world.

Vandalia's David Bell is just one of more than 50 journalism professionals who will share their varied skills and experiences over the coming year with a hundred more eager students at WJI programs in New York City (in January), in Washington, D.C. (in May), in Los Angeles (in June), and at the WJI classroom in Asheville, N.C. (in July and August). Students will hear from staffers at papers like The Wall Street Journal-and their vision will be stretched to think about perhaps serving sometime in influential spots like that. But David Bell will also remind them that Christians can serve a salt-like role in less conspicuous places-maybe on the front lines in towns like Vandalia.

Already, in its first three years, WJI has placed more than 20 of its graduates in a variety of such posts. To give WJI students an added advantage, newspapers and other media organizations are also being challenged to sign up the very best WJI graduates for internships following their course work. Thanks to several generous gifts by WJI supporters, such internships carry with them comfortable stipends to cover living expenses.

Thoughtfully designed by WJI director Robert Case, this entire program operates efficiently on an annual budget of about $500,000. The full-time staff numbers 1.5 people! Because the WJI program is an add-on for many of the students, or takes away from their opportunity for summer earnings, scholarships are an important part of the financial picture.

None of this program would be possible apart from the generous support of WORLD readers like you. That's why I've tucked an envelope in the fold of this week's issue-so that you will consider making this important work part of your year-end giving. If full tax deductibility is important, be assured that WJI qualifies.

But the real vision I want to plant in your heart and mind is the opportunity to prepare several dozen more Christian young people this coming year with a top-notch exposure to professionals in the field-and then to launch them into careers in the nation's media. Could be David Bell in Vandalia might even be able to use one of them himself.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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