There is a personal side in work with the press that becomes more and more interesting as you give thought to it. The further we go, the larger the opportunities loom for personal work, and the more advantages are gained by creating understanding and good will. Some recent experiences give emphasis to this point.
Russell Hagen, a young Iowa minister, was assigned to report the Iowa camp meeting held at Cedar Falls. The leading paper for that section of the State is the Waterloo Courier. He knew he would probably have to work with the Cedar Falls reporter to get in the Courier, but felt that it would be a distinct advantage to meet the editor and seek his counsel as to their work together in covering the news of the camp meeting. This he did, and as a result of this visit, found relations with the press very cordial. Brother Hagen wrote us and sent a sheaf of clippings. These represented reports for every day and measured more than ninety column inches. The first announcement story was headlined all the way across the top of a page, and several pictures were used. This well-presented information about the Adventist camp meeting went over much of the northeastern part of Iowa. The Courier's daily circulation is more than 42,000 copies.
Just before leaving for the Autumn Council I had an interesting hour with a Washington Evening Star staff writer, who phoned me late one Friday forenoon about getting material for a story on meatless cookery. Someone had told him the Adventists could help him. When I went to his desk at one-thirty that afternoon he was going through some typewritten material taken from the newspaper library, looking for something on the background of the Adventist Church.
"Frankly," he said, "I do not know very much about Seventh-day Adventists. Would you mind telling me why they keep Saturday ?" I gave him a few thoughts on our understanding of the Ten Commandments, God's purpose in instituting the Sabbath, blessings that attend Sabbath observance, etc. He had always thought, he said, that there was no such thing as keeping track of an original Sabbath day, and so, no significance could now be attached to any particular day. This gave me opportunity for a word on how we know the day has not been lost down through the ages.
This staff writer seemed pleased when I told him we would go out to the Washington Sanitarium in Takoma Park and get some points on diet. A little later we were in the office of Dr. R. A. Hare, medical superintendent of the sanitarium. The doctor gave the reporter some interesting medical institutional history, answering his questions as to why we have adopted a vegetarian diet, and its benefits. From there we went into the kitchen, where Miss Myrta Cornor, master in the culinary art, went into practical explanations, and demonstrated some of her favorite protein dishes.
As a result of this visit, an excellent feature story appeared in the Sunday Star, which did credit to the sanitarium and to the denomination. The Lord surely blessed in our efforts to give this man personal help in getting the information he wanted. And I am sure the contacts and what he saw and heard very favorably impressed him.
At the recent Autumn Council in Grand Rapids, Michigan, we saw again the influence of a former personal association and acquaintance with editors and writers on the newspapers there. This was our second Autumn Council in that city, and I had also attended and reported two Michigan Conference workers' meetings held in the same city. To the Grand Rapids newspapers conventions are in no sense a novelty. There it is just one convention after another. However, these editors and their staffs work hard to serve well the groups who come in with their meetings. But with many they have a difficult time, they tell us, to find who is who, and where to go for facts and information.
The good co-operation of the local Seventh-day Adventist pastor, and our own contacts in the past, have helped us to build a mutual understanding and friendship with editors and writers in Grand Rapids that we prize very highly. The church editor of one paper freely told us that he now thinks in an entirely different way of Seventh-day Adventists because of these associations and the material that has gone through his hands. He knows of their earnestness and self-sacrifice, and of the world work they are carrying on. He carefully examined every action we brought in as news, and studied figures presented by way of progress, to be sure he understood their meaning and would interpret it correctly to the public. Confidence and care like this on the part of men in key positions in newspaper offices is priceless. When we said good-by to him and to the city editor and his assistant, they expressed heartfelt appreciation of our work with them during the council. To us it did not seem very much, but to them as they contrasted this experience with other church conventions, we could see that our endeavor to co-operate intelligently had apparently meant a great deal.
At the other newspaper office I saw a young woman reporter who had been very helpful on two or three assignments at our council. She had seemed eager to get everything correct and to know more about our work than merely the story she was working on. As I was leaving I mentioned something of what we are doing to guide our workers and churches in their cooperation with the press, explaining that we appreciate that the newspapers can do much to help people better understand our church and its work. She grasped the idea at once, and responded: "That is surely a good thing. About all most people know about Seventh-day Adventists is that they keep Saturday."
It always encourages us to see ministers building confidence with their papers. While I was preparing this story, T. J. Jenkins, a young minister in Wilmington, North Carolina, came in. I asked him how his series of meetings were going. "Wonderful," he replied, telling of the encouraging attendance from the start. He went on to say that through some Sunday-law issue prior to this he had come into close and favorable contact with the editors of the two Wilmington newspapers, and that they are now giving him very strong support in publishing items and reports concerning his meetings. He expects to have many more write-ups published, and promised to send us copies, that we may share them with others.
We find that where our workers have close personal relations with editors, there is often more liberality in using references to Bible texts and direct quotations on subjects of prophecy or spiritual interest. An example of this is seen in a recent issue of a California paper. We happen to know that our church press secretary there works very closely with the editor. The lead paragraph of the story referred to is in bold type, and introduces a sixteen-columninch report of a general meeting. It says:
"A. S. Maxwell, well-known editor and author, was principal speaker at the second session of the three-day Seventh-day Adventist conference in Vallejo last night. Discussing 'The End of the World—Is It Near?' Maxwell cited a number of recent statements by prominent scientists, political leaders, and statesmen, showing that many authorities believe the end of the world is near.
"In regard to the atom bomb question, the speaker commented that he doubted if the United States will ever give its secret to any other nation.
"'Seventh-day Adventists have never set a time for the end of the world,' Maxwell stated. 'They believe as Christ stated in Matthew 24:14: "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness . . . ; and then shall the end come."'"
The story covered other features of the day's program, speeches, and missions reports. In the closing paragraph a report of a graduate nurse held prisoner by the Japanese in the Philippines is referred to, with this final statement: "In spite of difficulties, during the war eight thousand members were added to the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a result of work by the Filipino evangelists."
There is truly a very important personal aspect in our denominational press program that has in it unlimited possibilities for good. You should always show full appreciation of the editor's viewpoint, as well as friendly interest and sympathy in his problems. The editor who knows you can do more for you than the one who does not. You cannot influence him favorably by propaganda, but you can sincerely and frankly deal with questions, and can tactfully give him information that fully acquaints him with the standards of our church and character, and the extent of our work. We are not doing ourselves justice to let editors, through ignorance, class us with the Mormon Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, or other groups marked by various forms of fanaticism.
I sometimes wonder what would really happen if our three thousand Adventist ministers and workers would bring friendly impact upon newspaper editors within their reach with a view to building up good will and confidence. I believe that the Lord would greatly bless such a united endeavor, and that we would see the interests of the church and the truth advanced beyond anything that has yet been seen. Let us pray for a true conception of the possibilities in developing this important phase of our press program.