Columnists > Voices

Preparing for battle

WJI sends students into the war zone of American journalism, but it needs your gifts to train its soldiers

Issue: "Iraq: Bloody Ramadan," Nov. 29, 2003

PAINT IN YOUR MIND, IF YOU WILL, THE MOST picturesque scene you can conjure up of higher education at work. It may be your own past experience-or just the experience you dreamed of one day but never actually realized. Draw for yourself a magnificent campus (with plenty of ivy); a collection of brilliant, wonderfully educated, widely published (and sometimes slightly eccentric) faculty; just enough students to keep the student-teacher ratio at an enviably low 10:1; and a competent support staff roughly equal in number to the faculty to make sure the classrooms are always warm, the AV equipment is working, transcripts are accurately up-to-date, and the bills paid promptly on time.

And now, let me introduce you to World Journalism Institute.

For starters, you can take away the campus. World Journalism Institute occupies several basement rooms-part of a former warehouse where we slapped a little paint on the walls, some inexpensive carpet on the concrete floors, and some leftover fluorescent light fixtures on the ceilings. The heating and cooling system still doesn't work just right.

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And for you to get an accurate picture of WJI, you can also take away the full-time faculty. There just aren't any. WJI has a terrific lineup of teachers-but no full-timers. And no tenure, either.

Please don't take away WJI's support staff. It includes just three people, one of whom is unpaid. The director's wife is an energetic volunteer. His assistant, Kim Collins, is a WJI graduate.

No campus, no resident faculty, just a tiny staff. What kind of school is this?

Ah, but the students. I knew a school headmaster once who always said things would be just great if only he could do away with the students. Not at WJI! World Journalism Institute is all about the students. They come-about 100 strong this year-from diverse settings all over the country. Here's what they bring with them: a Christian commitment, at least a year or two in journalism studies in the college where they're enrolled, and a passion to change the course of typical American journalism. For all of them, WJI is like a highly focused, intense boot camp to sort out a cadre ready to take on the hard stuff.

The "hard stuff" means getting ready to go out into the war zone of American journalism-especially into the daily newspapers of America where secularism, liberalism, and political correctness rule supreme. WJI is here to help the very best of those 100 students who show up each year equip themselves to perform on the terms demanded "out there," but to do so with some gutsy inner equipment of unusual design. It's a lean and mean approach-and it's working.

Credit for WJI's design and unique approach belongs to the school's director, Robert Case-who also makes up 50 percent of the institute's paid staff. Since helping launch WJI in the summer of 1999, Mr. Case has relentlessly sought out what qualifications a young person needs to stand a chance of getting hired by a typical daily newspaper today. And then he has honed the program of WJI to help young men and women develop precisely those credentials.

To do WJI's teaching, Mr. Case has recruited the part-time services of three categories of professionals: From the staff of WORLD magazine itself (and other publications), he regularly uses a dozen creative folks who are not just good journalists, but good teachers as well. From academia, he has discovered a number of Christians (like scholar-writer Nancy Pearcey) who teach in both secular and Christian institutions. And from the profession itself, he has located top journalists from some of the premier newspapers of America.

In three-week courses in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, and other sites, Mr. Case's curriculum helps shape the thinking of his students so that, when they finish, they know both what their secular employers will expect and what it will take to carry a telling Christian influence into those positions. Paid internships and a graduate-level course with WORLD's Marvin Olasky wait for the top performers. And the possibility of someday writing for WORLD itself is high motivation for some of the students. Priya Abraham and John Dawson, both WJI products, write regularly for WORLD.

It's a high-efficiency model. Mr. Case can already point to more than two dozen of his graduates with their bylines appearing regularly in mainstream newspapers, including some with national distribution.

Yet as efficient as it is, WJI takes significant gifts from people like you to operate. Mr. Case and I would like to find 100 people who will commit to giving $5,000 annually for this important project-one donor for each student. Several folks are already giving at that level. But until we find our 100, we need a few with extra commitment to give even bigger amounts, and quite a few to give smaller gifts. Every gift is tax deductible. There's an envelope stuck in this week's WORLD to make it a little easier for you to support someone preparing to do something that's very hard.

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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