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Journalism in a Christian community

I’ve had many students confront me with views that seem to reflect a general misunderstanding of what The Clarion’s role is at Bethel University. Here’s a clarification.

By Maddie DeBilzan

I love Bethel University. I wear blue and gold to every Saturday afternoon football game. I love walking through the halls to see strangers holding doors for strangers. I love that I can leave my backpack outside of the Dining Center. I love saying “Hi” to people I barely know, and I love having roommates and classmates who push me to be better.

I also love being a journalist. I love asking questions and having a professional reason to be curious. I love the adrenaline rush of having to submit a story six minutes after the football game ends. And I love piecing all my chicken-scratch notes together until a story is formed – one that’s honest, raw, and true.  I love sitting in a place of vulnerability with a complete stranger as she tells me about her best day, or worst day.

But sometimes, loving journalism and loving Bethel don’t mix. Sometimes, I hear things like, “Why don’t you write more about Jesus?” or, “Why did you have to cover that story when the situation had already been resolved?” or, “The Clarion twisted my words around.”

Hearing these comments pains me deeply. They put me in a difficult place, where my love for Bethel and my love for journalism crash into each other.

Here’s the truth, and the Truth.  

Sometimes, The Clarion makes mistakes. Sometimes, a reporter gets a quote wrong or forgets a small detail or makes a typo. We’re students learning how to enter into the real world of reporting. As the editor, I’ll do my absolute best to prevent those mistakes from being published. But that doesn’t mean they won’t happen.

And sometimes, Bethel makes mistakes. Sometimes, readers don’t like what’s in the news, so they attack The Clarion or each other on social media. Bethel stakeholders owe it to themselves and to each other to keep up with what’s going on around them. But I’ve heard of many students and faculty members who have simply written off the Clarion for a story that’s been written in the past, because they felt it painted the community in a “bad light.” I’ve even spoken with students who don’t read the news in general because it’s too “secular.”

When I lived in New York City over the spring, I met a man named Marshall Allen. Allen is a minister-turned-journalist who works for ProPublica and has written a couple of pieces that have been published in the New York Times. One of his most recent pieces was called “The Biblical Guide to Reporting.” Here’s part of what he wrote:

“God didn’t direct the writers of the Bible to avoid controversy. I love how Luke describes his mission in the first few verses of his Gospel: ‘I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning’ he wrote, ‘so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.’ Luke’s goal was to tell the truth about Jesus, which upset many people.”

I am a journalist, in part, because I am a Christian. But that does not mean I’m a Christian journalist.

God doesn’t need a public relations director. God doesn’t need a marketing consultant. God doesn’t need news outlets that airbrush our fallen world.

God needs more Lukes. He needs more journalists who are courageous enough to bring the dark into the light. To put the truth out there on the table. To dispel rumors. To ask the tough questions.

This year, it will pain me to publish stories about conflict that will inevitably occur within the community. It pained me just this week to publish a story that discussed Bethel’s budget shortage. It will pain me to speak with students, faculty and staff who are hurting. And it will pain me to meet with people who have felt upset about a story I’ve edited or written.

It pains me because I care about Bethel.

But my unapologetic conviction, as a Christian who happens to be a journalist, is to accurately and fairly report on whatever the Bethel community cares about.

So you’ll get accurate stories about the football team winning. And the football team losing. You’ll get fun features about the Welcome Week crew that ignites the faces of incoming freshmen as they move into Bethel for the first time. And you’ll get investigative stories about why Bethel’s budget fell short, and what it has to do to make up for it.

Because this community deserves to know what’s going on.

That’s The Clarion’s role at Bethel.  

 

3 comments on “Journalism in a Christian community

  1. Maddie – well stated. As a Bethel alum, adjunct journalism professor and practicing professional, I can wholeheartedly affirm your care and conviction. Keep writing – the community will be well served and well cared for.

  2. Thanks, this is great to hear! Looking forward to the stories you uncover and share.

  3. Love this post. Very transparent! Thank you for sharing. I run a Christian blog, but I travel around and speak about using WordPress and growing businesses. I’m a Christian, but it’s not all that I talk about. It’s important that people see Christ through me though.

    I enjoyed this! if you’re ever looking to guest post, we’d love to have you on DailyPS. No pressure though, just an idea. 🙂

    Keep up the great work! You’re making a difference.

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