Monday, February 13, 2006

The greatest beat you'll ever cover: Why every professional journalist should join a church.

A bold statement, perhaps. Every working journalist should sit in a pew once a week. Or folding chair, or whatever it is. While I would hope the motivation would be spiritual or at least altruistic, I realize for some it may simply be a selfish career move. I don't care what drives someone to go to church. Plenty of wrongly-motivated people have probably benefited from some good churchin'.

Hardly a day goes by that I don't turn to a contact from church. Just today, I used several. A local businessman was arrested for some illicit, downright icky behavior involving an underage girl.

Thanks to contacts at church, I know at least one teenage girl who also worked with this man, and another who did business with him.

Then there was the story about my city's odor issue. I started with the routine stuff, digging through city council minutes to see who had addressed the council in the past. Out jump the names of Charlie and Jan. I don't know them well, but we were in the same Christmas program. My church averages 1,000 worshippers on a Sunday morning, so it's hard to know everyone, but that's a discussion for another day.

And while Charlie and Jan may have declined other interviews, because of the common connection, they told me to come right over. How many retired couples do you know who would invite you right over if you told them you were bring a TV camera, mics, and lights? And were going to talk about a hot issue no less?

Not only do church connections lead me to people when I have an assigned story, but they lead me to stories. Not a Sunday goes by when someone doesn't tell me a great story idea. I get so many, I can't use them. I'm a hard news guy, trudging through city council agendas, legislative bills, and court dockets. But I still gather unique takes on things the others don't.

In TV reporting, especially in small to mid sized markets, most reporters are young and single. Professionally, if you want to set yourself apart, plug into different demographics. Get to know older couples, families, parents with teens, etc. Having a church directory with hundreds of friendly faces inside is a blessing at work. Last summer, we had a number of internet sex cases. It was easy for me to find a family to ask what concerns they have about privacy online, and what steps they take to protect their kids.

Plus you'll be plugged in to the spiritual journey of your community. The other reporters in town have finally caught on about The Passion or The Purpose Driven Life. But what's the new thing that Christians are rallying around? Is there a homeschooling movement? A growing emphasis on missions around town? Are churches struggling with tough social issues, or are churches adding staff, starting unique ministries?

I remember my boss was thrilled when I did a story about church construction in town. There were dozens of churches with building projects going on. What does that say about a community's spiritual health? Those are the stories most twenty-something single journalists don't catch. But it's real life for your viewers / readers.

Faith fuels so many lives, yet may be the most underreported aspect of our culture. Sports, entertainment, politics, and business get the headlines, along with the routine beats like crime and education. An education reporter could do a No Child Left Behind story every day of the year. But are they missing things parents really care about?

Even if it's selfishly motivated, get to church. It'll do you good, in a business sense. It extends beyond journalism. I'm sure other professions would benefit from church ties too. But it truly works when you are the church. Give back. Grow in your faith, and help others grow in theirs. Besides, everyone journalist should want to not only know, but live the greatest story ever told.


Anonymous said...

I agree. I have to separate myself professionally sometimes from my "social life" at church, but I often come out of small group meetings or Sunday services with story leads or ideas.

-- Dan

Anonymous said...

I agree. I have to separate myself professionally sometimes from my "social life" at church, but I often come out of small group meetings or Sunday services with story leads or ideas.

-- Dan

Katinka said...

Nice post!:)