Newspaper reporting of Seventh-day Adventist activities takes time. However, it pays for a district leader to dedicate some of his valuable hours each week to this kind of work, for the newspaper becomes the preacher's multiplication table.
During the half-year period from the first of December, 1946, to the last of May, 1947, with the Lord's blessing, 249 articles found their way into the two Holly, Michigan, weekly papers. These filled 1,575 column inches. Items of sufficient interest to out-of-town papers to warrant publication amounted to 25 articles, covering 191 column inches. This made a grand total of 274 articles extending over 147 column feet, requiring an average of half a day's work every week during six months. Were this space to be paid for at religious advertising rates, it would represent an investment of approximately fifteen hundred dollars. These papers go into nearly five thousand homes of Holly and near-by towns. To give an idea of the kind of material that went into these newspapers, a breakdown of the articles might be of interest:
72 religious items --------------------------------------------------------- 304
7 articles on missions --------------------------------------------------- 48
8 church reports --------------------------------------------------------- 73
51 write-ups on church and general news -------------------------- 279
18 articles on S.D.A. benevolence ------------------------------------- 546
6 open letters to editors ------------------------------------------------- 75
8 marriage and funeral items-------------------------------------------- 28
72 articles on Adelphian Academy activities ------------------------- 581
7 releases describing social activities -------------------------------- 41
25 out-of-town articles ------------------------------------------------- 191
Of what significance are these statistics to anyone but the one who wrote these items? There are a number of personal benefits to the minister that should be of sufficient importance to induce every district leader to give this phase of his work a fair trial. Among the advantages to the preacher we would suggest the following.
Personal Benefits to the Preacher
I. INFLUENTIAL CONTACTS.—It places him in direct contact with the editors. These are generally some of the most influential men in town. They sway public opinion on important issues. We have found that by taking the editors into our confidence, they readily reciprocate. This is true in both small town and big city newspapers. Why be a "hermit" preacher when you can just as easily be in the swing of things, exercising your God-given right to help men of influence come to the right conclusions ? Through personal experience we have helped newspaper editors in making their decisions on such issues as liquor, prostitution, gambling, religious liberty, and clergy pressures. Many unfavorable comments or news items regarding Seventh-day Adventists have been toned down or entirely eliminated as a result of these pleasant associations.
2. INDUCES DEEPER THINKING.—It awakens the minister and makes him concentrate. You cannot write acceptable newspaper articles and be a rambling thinker. Every word has to say something that will catch the reader's eye; otherwise he will look elsewhere for his reading material. Carry that same principle into the pulpit, and there would be less "dry as the hills of Gilboa" sermons that first irk the audience, and then lull them to sleep. Mere courtesy keeps many a member from leaving church when that same person would not spend five minutes reading that same dull sermon in print. Newspaper writing is a good antidote for this kind of preaching.
3. DEVELOPS ORIGINALITY.—II also teaches one to be interesting. You learn how to supplement your news releases with feature articles in getting your point across. Feature write-ups draw upon human experience to explain the news. Ministers have long found out that "windows" in sermons help to "ventilate" brains, both of the speaker and the hearers. You learn that in writing you cannot continually copy or paraphrase someone else without atrophying your own initiative. "Canned" sermons should also receive some extra spice every time they are warmed up if this principle of good writing is to be carried into the pulpit.
4. DIPLOMACY AND PATIENCE.—The greatest compliment I ever heard from an editor was that directed to a certain minister.
"Reverend, the reason we like you is that you are not trying to impose your viewpoints or your articles on us. We editors are an independent lot of men. Some preachers come in and try to make us print articles that we know will only cause dissension, and are of little interest to the public. Sometimes they make themselves so obnoxious that we print the article, shaded somewhat with our ideas, just to get rid of them. But when you come in you frankly tell us that if your articles are not of interest to the public, to feel free to throw them into the wastebasket. The result is that we like the way you trust us editors, and we'll give you every break we can."
Salutary Effect on Reading Public
Of far more importance than the benefits to the preacher is the effect our newspaper writing may have on the reading public. In the new book from the inspired pen, Counsels to Writers and Editors, page 141, this pertinent paragraph appears:
"Men will misrepresent the doctrines we believe and teach as Bible truth, and it is necessary that wise plans shall be laid to secure the privilege of inserting articles into the secular papers; for this will be a means of awakening souls to see the truth."
In many communities not only do doctrines become misrepresented but also our attitudes and practices develop prejudices which close hearts to the gospel. Perhaps a typical example of this may be seen in the experience of our work here in Holly. This church was founded over seventy-five years ago, and the Adelphian Academy had its birth at the turn of the century. A sort of modus vivendi has developed whereby there is no open animosity, neither is there any special manifestation of cordiality. The attitude is, "You go your way, and I'll go mine." Evangelistic meetings brought no newcomers to the lecture halls. The town was indifferent to academy happenings. Similarly, to a certain degree, 280 Adventists took no interest in civic affairs. Prejudices long established kept the two worlds apart.
Our newspaper work was begun to overcome this state of affairs, and to change the existing attitude. How well we succeeded only eternity will tell. But a few known outward manifestations encourage us to believe that it has not been entirely in vain. The following incidents give some indication of this.
1. PREJUDICE ALLAYED.—To break down the prejudices of our Catholic and one Baptist editor, we first approached them with articles on our benevolent work. I set up a Christmas tree on my front porch, dedicating it to European relief. I told about it in ten articles and open letters covering 97 column inches, over a period of nearly a month. By the time Christmas was past, I5oo articles of clothing and $250 in cash had been deposited on our front porch by non-Adventists. But even more important, we had won the editors to our side, and when we began to approach winter, the people began asking us when we expected to begin another drive for clothing.
2. INGATHERING DOUBLED.—With hardly any more effort than had been exerted previously, the church proper, without counting the academy field day, collected twice as much this year in their Ingathering campaign as they did in previous years.
3. ACADEMY PunLicizno.—Academy news received over five times more space and made the headlines more often than did the local high school with five times more students. The township has become academy conscious. The names of our faculty members are better known than those of the high school. In a recent board of commerce banquet given in their honor by the academy, the president extolled the virtues of our system of education, and then said, "Within the last few months I have learned, much to my surprise, that this institution is the biggest proposition, both morally and financially, in this township."
In a recent issue of the Holly Herald I find this interesting editorial written and signed by the Catholic owner and editor :
"Adelphian Academy has been contributing much to the community of Holly for forty-two years. Its religious, moral, and cultural influences have encouraged many to seek for, find, and enjoy a fuller life.
"What Holly receives from this institution in indirect benefits are taken for granted—but there are obvious gifts, in which the whole community has an opportunity to share, and that cannot be overlooked. The lyceum program which it brings this week is one of the latter.
"Each year the academy presents a series of interesting and valuable programs, free to the public. The lecturers, musicians, and entertainers which appear could not be obtained by a civic group without the expenditure of hundreds of dollars. Few communities of Holly's size are financially able to support a lyceum course of this caliber.
"The first program of the current series is Saturday night. Our appreciation can best be registered by accepting the invitation to attend."
4. GETTING ACQUAINTED.—Social activities, academy programs, and the like, written up as interestingly as possible, portray a little-known side of Adventists to a world that has pictured us as austere and long-faced idealists. The present viewpoint here is well expressed in the society editor's conversation with one of our young men : "You know, I can't figure out how you Adventists, having such a strict religion, can still have so much wholesome fun in life. You don't have a 'morning-after-the-night-before' feeling as we do, and you're ready to go on with your strenuous program. You have something that makes you a happy lot, which I don't know how to explain."
5. ATTITUDES CHANGED.—One of the foremost businessmen in town, and the lady president of the Oakland County Northwest Teacher's Association, both mentioned in separate conversations with me a few days ago that they felt our newspaper work had wrought a remarkable change in their attitude toward us, and that of most everyone they know. In similar words they both said, "Our concept of you Adventists was that you were a straight-laced, narrow-minded people, aloof and with a superiority complex. But now we see that you are actually human beings who are getting a lot of enjoyment out of life without lowering your standards."
6. COPIED BY OTHER PAPERS.—Reporters of the Flint and Pontiac daily papers have asked us for copies of all the releases we hand our local papers. A number of our items are finding favorable locations and headlines in these papers.
7. WIDER SCOPE.—We believe that one of the outstanding successes in our relationship with the local newspapers is getting them to print out-of-town happenings for us. Outstanding among these have been the union conference session held in Grand Rapids, the music festival in Broadview, Illinois, the camp meeting in Grand Ledge, the Dorcas Federation in Flint, and the Youth's Congress just 'closed in San Francisco. Not only are our people kept in touch with all these events, but the public in general opens its eyes to the vast ramifications of our work.
Together with other churches, we have kept our allotted space for the church bulletin in the newspaper well filled with all sorts of church activities. This caused the Methodist minister to say to one of our sisters, "Where does your preacher get enough time and strength to keep so many things going at once ? It makes me dizzY just to read his bulletin."
"Now people will swear that I've turned Adventist," said the Catholic editor to one of his employees. Four of our articles had made the first page that day, each with two-column headliners. Three of our pictures also appeared on that page. In spite of his religious prejudices, this man considers us one of his best friends in town.
"God will soon do great things for us, if we lie humble and believing at His feet.. . . More than one thousand will soon be converted in one day, most of whom will trace their first convictions to the reading of our publications."—MRs. E. G. WHITE, Review and Herald, Nov. o, 1885.
Without doing violence to the inspired word, may we suggest this little addition to these words, "and to what we get before them through the newspapers"?