Some of our ministers maintain a close working relationship with the local newspapers. They consider, first of all, that it is worth while to keep their church service announcement card in the paper on the church page or section. They make it a point to have a friendly relationship with the editorial staff. They keep sending in various items. Among these are digests of sermons and in some cases series of short Bible studies. Occasionally we find a continued feature running under some such caption as "The Bible Question Corner," "Back to the Bible," or "Sermonette." I have talked with a number of ministers who are successfully keeping in friendly contact with their newspapers, and they invariably say that this is very definitely helpful in their work. Occasionally as I am in conversation with a newspaper editor there is opportunity to get his reaction. Recently, for example, I talked with the religious editor of a daily in a city that has been for many years an Adventist center, and where there is now a large Adventist church. He told me that in former years the pastor gave him a sermon digest every week, and he was glad to get it and publish it. Now, he says, they are having to cut down, but he still wants sermon material from the present pastor as often as once a month.
Without question the press is open to our ministers. Some have volunteered the suggestion that we should be utilizing it in a far larger way than we are. Just how to proceed and just what to expect, depend on your particular location and program. The pastor of a city church, for example, has the prestige of an organization. He represents a body of citizens of the community. The newspaper serves the community, and church groups are regarded as among the most dependable people of that community. The way is open for you to present any items you wish concerning the activities of the church.
Meeting the Editors.—Meet the city editor first. Let him introduce you to anyone else he wishes you to meet, which may include the religious or church editor. On some items the church editor may give you the best attention : so cultivate his acquaintance. But keep in touch with your city editor, because you will probably have items that should go to his desk and into the news columns instead of the church page.
This suggestion regarding the relation of a pastor to the large newspaper office and its editors applies to any of our workers. With a well-written item in hand, first meet the city editor and tell him who you are and what you have for him.
If you are an evangelist starting, let us say, in a medium-sized or small place, you will want to get in touch with the newspaper editor. Tell him your plans and arrange for some paid advertising space, if this is part of your program for announcing your meetings. We hope that it is, because this usually opens the way for short sermons, features, and announcements in the news columns. You cannot demand this, but you can tactfully suggest it, and can have a brief story of interest ready.
Sometimes the editor of 'a small-town daily or weekly will go out of his way to help you. One young evangelist was out in his overalls one morning fixing up his tent ropes and stakes after a heavy rain. The editor of the local paper came along and stopped to chat. In the next issue there was a helpful little editorial by this man, telling what a "real fellow" this young preacher was. The practical way he went about things had impressed the editor.
Sermons Into a Thousand Homes
We do not know whether a certain young minister in a town of two thousand people in Oklahoma advertises or not, but he gets a story on the front page of the local newspaper every week. That paper goes into over a thousand homes in that community. His stories cover the leading points of faith in an interesting style and deal with items of current interest. He takes advantage of such topics as postwar discussion and weaves side lights from the Scriptures into the story.
I wish that our ministers would help us work out some simple, brief outlines for sermon reports in the papers. We are starting to do this and would appreciate suggestions from those who are having such material published.
Length of Stories.—Present conditions suggest bringing our news stories and articles into shorter space than we had to a few years ago. This, however, should not weaken them. The value of an item does not necessarily depend on its length. Since some subjects naturally require more details in order to be covered properly, there is no .arbitrary rule regarding how much shall be written. In general it is safe to give the essentials in reasonably brief form and still tell the story.
The way in which the war has influenced the thinking of people these days is in our favor. They are more willing now to read about the need of spiritual help, divine power, and the Bible. The copy editor is not likely to change expressions in your story on these points. In your references to Bible prophecy you can often use texts, and they will usually be left there in the published story. While we may need to be conservative in dealing with controversial doctrines, there is a trend of thought now that can be capitalized on in turning the minds of people to the fact that the Bible is the guiding light out of the world's present troubles.
Copy and Form.—The copy should be clear and neat in appearance, and in proper form. Use a typewriter if at all possible. Start your first paragraph down five or six inches on the page. The open space left above is used by the editor for the headline. Double space your typing, make your sentences short, and paragraph frequently.
In news writing put as much as you can into the first sentence and the first paragraph. While endeavoring to do this, avoid making it too studied and heavy. Go through your newspaper and note the introductions to various types of stories. Yours should be interesting, direct, and simple. Writers are constantly studying leads, recognizing that the first sentence and the first paragraph are very important. With the lead written, other details to carry the interest farther are fairly easy to give. In writing for the newspaper, our ministers tell us that the book by W. Austin Brodie is giving them excellent help. This has been listed as an elective in the 1943 Ministerial Reading Course. In a recent Michigan Conference workers' meeting, the president, T. G. Bunch, who perhaps has used the press as much as any minister through the years, announced that this is the very best help he has ever seen on the subject of religious news writing. The title of the book is "Keeping Your Church in the News," and for $1.25 you can get it through your Book and Bible House. It is published by Fleming H. Revell, New York City.
Revival of Interest.—Our leaders feel that the press should now be utilized to the fullest extent possible in carrying forward our great evangelistic program. It can be made to strengthen and supplement every other agency and effort. It is hoped that our ministers and workers generally, will, for the sake of greater success in their work, regard the use of the newspaper as essential. Newspapers are now open to us, but they may not always be. Other church organizations sense the value of the press and are very active. We ought to be. Those ministers who have been and are successful in their contacts with the press should continue in the strongest possible way. We want to encourage our younger ministers and help them all we can in using the newspapers. It is earnestly desired that throughout the ranks of our workers there will be a revival of interest and that renewed effort will be made to use the press to the full. It will help us mightily in telling the world of our activities and in reaching many thousands of people with awakening thoughts of truth that will influence for eternity.
The recommendations passed at the recent Spring Council, looking forward to a more . general use of the public press, are simple and brief; yet they comprehend a program in which conference officials, ministers, and churches may unite for a strong constructive work. Excellent results are now coming from the use of such opportunities as here suggested. These will multiply as our organization throughout becomes more definitely news conscious and works intelligently and systematically to use the newspapers in giving out valuable and interesting information about our work and message for this time. The following action was passed in April at the Spring Council in New York City:
Recognizing that the press can be used effectively in bringing our denominational work and teachings to the attention of the general public,
We recommend, 1. That conference leaders plan for every general meeting to be covered and reported to the local papers.
2. That we encourage our ministers and pastors to qualify to write acceptably for the press and to utilize every opportunity for giving newspaper publicity to their sermons, as well as to church and institutional activities in their districts.
3. That our conferences arrange for the appointment in each church of the pastor or a lay member as the church press secretary, to obtain newspaper publicity and to establish and maintain friendly relations with the public press.
4. That these church press secretaries shall be appointed by the churches in the regular way and shall be recognized as part of the field personnel of the General Conference Bureau of Publicity for constant instruction and guidance.
We recommend, That the present plan governing the issuance of press cards be continued.