Within the past few weeks I heard the sales manager for the Religious News Service, New York City, tell a group of church press representatives, "We are starving to death for religious journalists." While discussing the attitude of newspapers to religion, he stressed the problems many of them face in not having members on their staffs who can competently handle religious news. At the same time he deplored the fact that oftentimes the material turned in by church representatives is in such poor form that it has no appeal.
"There are 2,000 daily newspapers in the country, and only 284 church editors," this informed newsman told the group. Many of the 284 handle other jobs on the paper. Probably it is an extreme case, but he cited a Brooklyn paper whose so-called church editor also handles barrooms, taprooms, and schools.
The first report coming out of the religious news coverage seminar of the American Press Institute, which convened at Columbia University, quotes Dr. Everett R. Clinchey, president of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. He appealed to newspaper editors "for a new and more responsible attitude in handling religious news," and stressed the need of a "specialized competency in religious news reporting," declaring that "nothing interests people more than religion."
This definite trend to- open the newspapers more widely to religious news in general may well encourage and challenge our Adventist ministers in their relations with the press. It has been found that practically every phase of Seventh-day Adventists' beliefs, teachings, and church activities can be reported in various types of news stories in a way that will be .acceptable to the press. They can be presented in proper relation to current religious thought so as to build interest generally in advancing the cause of Christianity. The fact is that Adventists' statements of conviction with reference to certain trends today, are being sought by editors.
It is significant that other religious bodies who dare to voice belief that the world today may be facing the last days find themselves in the headlines. As I write, the Washington Post brings an AP story from Cleveland headlined "Time is short Lutherans told at Parley." Dr. Franklin C. Fry, in opening the fifteenth biennial convention of the United Lutheran Church in America, had asked the question, "Dare we dawdle along?" Earnestly he declared, "The first Christian century had wings on its feet because it tremblingly expected the imminent return of the Saviour." "What makes us so sure that our time, our lives, and our civilization will not run out?" Fifteen hundred delegates and lay leaders, representing a membership of 1,800,000 in the United -States and Canada, heard Dr. Fry urge that "the Christian church awake from its lethargy."
About "Leads"—Some practical instruction we want to weave into this lession centers in the "lead" in the news story. The lead is your introduction, and it should tell the reader in simple, strong, direct form the occasion or reason for your story. The "who," "what," "where," "why," "when," and "how" should be covered in full or in part in the lead. Using this same Lutheran church story to illustrate, the lead is:
"Asking the question, 'Dare we dawdle along?' Dr, Franklin C. Fry declared in his presidential keynote address today at the fifteenth biennial convention of the United Lutheran Church in America: [Three paragraphs of quotations follow, then a general statement regarding the delegation, a report of Dr. Fry's re-election, and the election of other officers.]"
This is not a "who" lead, though Dr. Fry is prominently mentioned in the first line. It is more strictly a "what" lead, featuring first what Dr. Fry said. Then come the "who," the "when," the "where," and the occasion. There is suspense in this beginning, which leads interestingly into the quotations to follow. The reader wants to learn why the church should not "dawdle along."
We have in mind to feature sermon reporting later in this series, but having mentioned this AP report, we have already used it as a good example of how to lead into a sermon. It also demonstrates that Adventist preachers need not "soft-pedal" statements that relate to the prophetic significance of what is going on in the world today. Here is the lead paragraph to a story in the Detroit Times (circulation, 394,500) headed "Million-Dollar Drive Planned":
"Detroit Seventh-day Adventist churches this week began a drive to add another million dollars to the denomination's rehabilitation fund for war-devastated areas, which has passed the five-million-dollar mark."
Here we have the "who," the "when," the "what," the "why"; and the "where" is suggested. The story could have closed there, and yet have been complete. The next paragraph, however, gives additional information of local interest: "Last year seven Adventist churches in the Detroit area contributed $5,000 to the "fund in a single offering."
Here again, if for lack of space the item had closed, the reader would have accepted it as complete. But now the third paragraph expands in detail on the whole missions program, giving the story added value. Here it is:
"The money will be used to rebuild 15o European churches and chapels destroyed out of a total of 990, as well as hospitals, schools, and publishing houses in all parts of the world. Among the items slated for replacement is a fleet of zo mission launches valued at $270,000, which were lost in the South Pacific."
News style in writing a lead calls for clear statement of facts rather than a literary paragraph. Instead of cluttering up your lead sentence with "the," "," and "it" or some attempted figure of speech, make it strong and direct.
For example, the church school board may have information to give out concerning the purchase of a school bus. In reporting it, start with something like 'this : "Seventh-day Adventist church school trustees in meeting last night voted to purchase a new school bus to bring students from the Johnstown and Cleveland areas to the newly established school at Allentown."