a short lesson in journalism for the Christian blogger

Written by Jennifer Dukes Lee

I’m an Iowa farmer's wife and mama of two girls. You can find me writing about faith and family at Getting Down with Jesus and on Twitter at @dukeslee. I teach journalism at Dordt College and serve as Contributing Editor for High Calling Blogs.

December 7, 2011

News Reporter

[serialposts]On the first day of journalism class, I ask my budding new reporters an important question to kick things off:

“By a show of hands, who in this room trusts news reporters?”

And every time – every single time – no one raises a hand.

(Insert sound of crickets here.)

These are the students who want to be the next generations of reporters. They want to tell stories. They want to write flowing prose and engaging dialogue. They want to capture scenes and engage the senses and help readers enter in.

But before they can do any of that, they have a singular duty that rises above all other duties: They’ve got to get it right.

For reporters, nothing matters more than truth. Our work is built on credibility. Our stories rely on our facts. Accuracy is king.

Maybe that’s why I like Luke, the Gospel writer, so much. The Good Doctor also made a mighty-fine journalist. If he were sitting in my classroom, I’d give him an A. In fact, I’d take a seat in one of the student desks, scribbling notes, while St. Luke expounded his journalistic wisdom.

I can see it now: Luke is up front, with a wool tweed jacket, patches on the elbows. He’s flipping through Power Point slides, and these words appear on the screen, in 36-point Times New Roman:

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us … . Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you …” (emphasis added) – Luke 1:1-3

And at that point, he would pause, giving fresh-faced students like me time to write notes furiously in the margins of our textbooks:

“Carefully investigate everything.”

“Write an orderly account.”

Good reporters respect the integrity of the facts. Luke understood that, evidenced by the way he showed great concern for dates and details. He was an intrepid reporter, connecting Jesus to the people and events that happened before He showed up in a manger one starry night in Bethlehem.

As reporters, we have much to learn from guys like Luke – who was a master at collecting and disseminating the Good News. And maybe if we employ his techniques, one generation from now, everyone will raise their hands when I ask that single question on the first day of class.

22 Comments

  1. Nancy Franson

    Somewhere out in the blogosphere I read about someone’s struggle, wanting to do great things for the kingdom when all he could do was tell stories. I thought immediately of Luke. Where would we be without his careful investigation and orderly account?

    Reply
    • @bibledude

      who is this crazy dude who wants to do great things for God and likes to tell stories? it does sound a lot like Luke, doesn’t it? this theme is something that has been beating in my heart for quite a while, and is the subject of my next book. Jennifer’s thoughts here are right on with where this project is going. awesome…

      Reply
    • Jennifer@GDWJ

      Amen, Nancy! And I love that Luke spells it out right up front. Before we turn even one page, Luke wants us to know that he paid careful attention to the details.

      Reply
  2. Megan Willome

    I made a mistake this week, in my journalistic endeavor. It killed me. I told the person immediately, and he was great, but I want to bury my copy of the magazine and never look at it again. 

    Reply
    • @bibledude

      ugh… i can totally relate to that pit in your gut that comes with failure. that’s one of the reasons that this is a special project for me… it’s taking the opportunity to turn our focus as storytellers on the right things, and Jennifer’s piece speaks to our task of being responsible in our storytelling. but when we falter… there is ALWAYS grace!

      Reply
    • Jennifer@GDWJ

      I’ve been there. Some folks say you can’t trust journalists, but we’re the only profession I know where we fess up and print our mistakes in the next day’s paper. We’re not perfect, but we ARE accountable. Hold your head high, girl.

      Reply
  3. Anonymous

    Trust in the media is so sorely lacking, because we see the slant.

    I once had a pair of shoes where I had a chunk of the heel that broke off. I didnt have money for a new pair, so I just walked differently, careful not to put my foot down fully. I learned to live with what was missing .

    It’s that way with modern journalism. we learn to expect there to be missing pieces, slants and outright lies.

    Professors like you — that teach integrity — are lacking. I think you should have a mandatory ethics lesson for every journalist in America

    Reply
    • @bibledude

      @dukeslee:twitter is a special breed when it comes to integrity in journalism. that’s why i was so excited to have her contribute to this project… it’s going to be a part of the new book project!

      Reply
    • Jennifer@GDWJ

      Maybe I’m idealistic. Or maybe I’ve just spent enough time in newsrooms to see things differently. I have never worked in a news environment where outright lies — or even tiny ones — were tolerated. People got fired for that sort of thing. I do know that there are an abundance of on-air “personalities” who are more interested in ratings and entertainment. But overall, I hold my news colleagues in the highest esteem. They don’t get paid much. The corporations that sign their checks are asking them to do more and more, in an increasingly unstable work environment. But they still do it, because they care about the importance of the fourth-estate. The liars and the slanters aren’t reporters. They’re posers. 

      I really appreciate your comments, David. Thanks for letting me stand up tall in defense of the good ones — of which there are many.  

      Reply
  4. Adam Forrest

    @dukeslee:twitter Excellent post, but one correction: Luke’s preferred font is Times Ancient Roman. No, I’m kidding yov.

    I have an honest question: Have you encountered a professional writing environment where supervisors may consider writing style and accuracy to be mere luxuries? How would you advise a professional writer in this situation?

    PS, Your excellent post has me excited for your book project with @BibleDude:disqus!

    Reply
    • Jennifer@GDWJ

      Oh Adam, That’s clever. Very clever. I wish I’d thought of that. 🙂

      Bible Dude? If you use that sentence in the book, can you use Adam’s suggestion? 🙂

      With regard to your quetsion: I have not personally worked in (nor would I work in) an environment where accuracy was disregarded. For the sake of my integrity as a writer (and as a human being) I would walk away from a place that didn’t consider credibility, honesty, accuracy and integrity to be top priorities. If you are in a situation where you feel that those standards aren’t being upheld, I would be willing to discuss your situation privately. Let me know here in the comment box, or over at my blog, or on Facebook if you would like to talk about it. Praying for discernment in this situation for the writer you’re referring to …  

      Reply
    • @bibledude

      Luke’s preferred font = Times Ancient Roman… that’s awesome! I’m totally using that in the book!

      Reply
  5. Jennifer@GDWJ

    Dude … It’s an honor to share space with you here today. Sorry it took so long for me to hop over and join in the conversation here. Thank you for letting me spend some time with you and your fine readers.

    – Jennifer

    Reply
    • @bibledude

      it’s always awesome to have @dukeslee:twitter writing at bibledude.net! i love the perspective and conversation with this piece… good stuff for the book project! thank YOU!

      Reply
  6. Diana Trautwein

    Thanks for this, Jennifer. The fact that you teach journalism gives me just the tiniest sliver of hope for the future of reporting in this country. May your tribe increase. And yes, Luke seems like the most reporterly of the gospel writers. But one of the things I love about Luke is that he lets his own eyes help him choose (with the mighty help of the Spirit of God) what to write down. And he is known for his emphasis on the ways Jesus reached out to the margins – women, children, tax collectors, foreigners. Luke has more of these vignettes than any of the others. And I am deeply grateful for that. So…facts, for sure. But allowing our own ‘eyes’ to interpret isn’t always all bad.

    Reply
    • @bibledude

      i love that Luke emphasized reaching out to the margins… that concept will have a prominent place in the book. it’s one of the reasons that i find myself identifying so much with Luke, and why he’s the focus of this latest book project. the more i dig in on this dude, then more blown away i am… 

      #fistbump

      Reply
  7. Ayomide Akinkugbe

    Wow! Great Insight Thanks Jen 🙂

    Reply
    • @bibledude

      totally agree Ayo! i reached out to her with a quick question, and i think we both realized that the answer would be an amazing post… glad to have hosted it here!

      Reply
  8. Anonymous

    Thanks to the Bible Dude for hosting Jennifer, and to Jennifer for sharing 🙂

    Reply
    • @bibledude

      i love hosting Jennifer! she always does a GREAT job!

      Reply
  9. lauralynnbrown

    Thank you for this. I’m late to this discussion — just came across it — but I’ve been thinking about writing something on exactly this topic.

    I met a bunch of Christian bloggers last month. Lovely people, every one. In blogs since then, I’ve seen myself mentioned (not by name, of course) and inaccurately quoted twice. The essence of the conversation was preserved, and there’s a kind of truth (as any married person knows) in “what you said / what I heard.” But I did not know that those conversations might find their way into print.

    I’ve worked at a newspaper for 16 years. When I interview people, they understand I’m going to write about it and that I might use their exact words. How often is this understanding present in the conversations that get retold on blogs? Do people ever ask permission after the conversation but before posting?

    It’s an ethical concern in all kinds of writing, especially memoir. And I will be the first to say I have written about plenty of things without asking or notifying the people who were written about. It’s a Golden Rule issue, I think. Posting photographs of other people, especially if they did not know their photos were being taken, raises similar concerns.

    I’ll resist the temptation to spend all my thoughts here. But two more for the road:

    1) Kneejerk dissing of journalists as a class is not very different from kneejerk dissing of Christians, or of evangelicals, or of any belief-based tribe we locate ourselves in.

    2) Perhaps this conversation’s relevance gets a boost if we flip the adjective and noun and call for journalism ethics for blogging Christians.

    Peace,
    Laura

    Reply
    • @bibledude

      I just wanted to drop you a quick amen for your thoughts! As the line between journalism and blogging continues to blur, there is an emerging need for high standards in however we tell the stories!

      Reply

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a short lesson in journalism for the Christian blogger

by Jennifer Dukes Lee time to read: 2 min
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