An old Hebrew proverb declares, "A man's judgment is no better than his understanding." That many people still pass faulty judgment upon the theology and religious concepts of Seventh-day Adventists is due in part to their lack of understanding. However, many of these good people on the outer fringes of our church and evangelistic teachings are uninformed about us because our plans of information have not been sufficiently far reaching. Many thousands of people just beyond the horizons of our denominational ventures can be reached and properly informed through the public press.
The press is today, without doubt, the most powerful avenue for the molding and fashioning of public thought. Every day tens of thousands of newsmen hurry to work and read through stacks of material to glean news to keep their presses running. Many a newspaper is on the lookout for religious news, and some church editors are crying for church news. Here, then, lies open a great field of opportunity.
We spend many thousands of dollars a year to keep our denominational presses operating. This is as it should be, for these are God-ordained avenues for the proclamation of the gospel. Yet without cost to our people, with a little training and preparation, we can use the great facilities of the public press in a powerful way. Under the good leadership of J. R. Ferren and his expert associates much progress has been made in the utilization of this power. However, through a possible lack of local interest in newspaper evangelism and public relationships, many openings across America are not realized. Some of the pointers essential to good press relations and newspaper evangelization may be summed up as follows:
1. Church Publicity.
Publicity should be news. Any obvious deviation from this standard will meet with failure. Compliance with this simple rule will bring an abundance of success. It is well known that every newspaper has an editorial section for the expression of opinion, and an advertising rate for those who seek unduly to laud themselves or their organization. Publicity, then, should be news in its most exact form.
2. An Educated Church.
It may be necessary to educate your own church on what constitutes church news. A bit of understanding in this matter will eliminate much of the possibility of intrachurch friction because one department appears more frequently in the press than another.
3. Survey of the Field.
Upon entering a new field of labor one does well to make a tabulation of all newspapers in the city and surrounding community. Such a list will include weekly papers as well as daily. This is very important. It is generally more difficult to get into the press of the bigger daily papers, but the smaller weekly papers will gladly accept church news on a community level. The smaller weekly is a great open field with tremendous possibilities.
It is amazing how many suburban people will pick up the community weekly and scan it from cover to cover. It the past few years our workers in the city of Montreal have made good use of the smaller reputable weekly. One of our better suburban weeklies, with about forty thousand readers, in addition to carrying many a sermon digest and report of church activity, has on three separate occasions carried an inch- deep, black headline on the front page announcing some phase of our work in the community. Imagine my joy on walking to the newsstand to find there the front page carrying such headline stories as "Sports on Sunday, Blue Laws Rapped" or, "Civil Defense, Advent- ist Church" or, "Humanity at Crossroads, Adventist Clergyman," each headline followed by a favorable story. (Of course, every care should be exercised not to become connected with some of the more undesirable "hush" type pa pers, weekly or daily, even though the publicity given may be favorable.)
4. Knowledge of Paper.
Discretion demands that the church reporter understand something of the political, religious, and racial leanings of the paper with which he seeks to do business. The church reporter is not likely to make even the comic page in a pro- Catholic paper with a story decrying the proposed Vatican ambassadorship. The same paper will, however, give space on a choice page to a story, an address, or a sermon excerpt noting the theological rift and disintegration of modern Protestantism. The church reporter will find it hard to interest a proarmament paper in a story decrying world rearmament. These seemingly little leanings should be understood.
5. Church Reporter's Understanding of His Mission.
The church publicity director will want to understand the matter of newspaper space. He must never feel that he or his organization is entitled to space; nor is it wise for him to give the impression that he is merely a "free" space seeker. The church reporter must conduct himself, on behalf of his organization, as the official source of information. He is not a space beggar but a source of newsworthy information for his church. If perchance a newspaper editor is unfriendly or openly unkind to the church reporter or to the organization represented by the reporter, it is considered bad taste to purchase space in another paper to air the trouble openly. Because of his vantage point the un friendly editor can outwrite the church re porter, outlast him, make him look foolish, and do a brisk, thriving business at it. The church reporter's business is to report facts, news worthy facts. The closer he sticks to this mission for his organization, the more successful will be his work and his relations with the press.
6. Weekly Limelight Impossible.
A half-dozen good picture stories a year, with numerous routine filler stories, is considered in some areas good reporting.
A half-dozen good picture stories a year will greatly enhance your church's standing in your community. Good picture stories that will today be snatched by any wide-awake editor will include: (a) church and civil defense, (b) Red Cross and Dorcas, (c) home nursing and church principles, (d) cooking schools and Adventist standards, (e) human-interest stories (featuring mass gatherings, congresses, youth gatherings, etc.), and (/) local boy made good just returned from mission field, et cetera.
Fill-in material during the year may include the following: (a) distinguished visitors to your community or church, (&) church entertainments, (c) church weddings, (d) elections of new officers, (e) statistical reports giving membership and financial growths of the church, (f) church renovation plans, (g) church building plans, (h) church anniversaries, (i) coming of the new pastor, (j) relocation of the former pastor, and (k) church school functions. These and a host of other such features will be acceptable as news on a community level.
7. Good Copy.
On this point an astonishing fact remains. Many church reporters continue to turn in material that is so badly written and of such ancient vintage that newsmen are compelled to discard it. Only recently one of the editors of the Montreal Daily Star, with whom I had a long conversation, said, "Why is it that churches cannot bring in material written in a reason able style, and on time?" He then went on to show that his firm could not employ special help to rewrite such material, and especially to decipher poor handwriting.
8. Tremendous Returns From the Press.
Recently we launched a Dorcas-sponsored first-aid course on a community level, under the direction of the St. Johns Ambulance Corps. Only a simple thing, you say. We tied our efforts into the city's plan of civil defense. On the opening night we had with us on the plat form local and provincial leaders of the St. Johns Ambulance Corps, as well as the metropolitan leader of civil defense, a high-ranking army man. The day before the opening I notified by telephone a number of the city papers concerning the event.
The opening night found present three cameramen from the city dailies and several reporters from other papers. Next morning our picture story appeared in prominence in three daily papers and one weekly paper, and a number of radio newscasts carried the event. A combined newspaper circulation of nearly 300,000 carried the picture story. Next Sabbath at our home missions period we did some blinking. Our conclusions: If only 10 per cent of the 300,000 read the picture title, then 30,000 people heard and read of the Seventh-day Adventist church and saw our church in action preparing for the world's needy. Was it worth a few phone calls? For many days afterward I heard comments in various places around the city.
9. Important Factors a Reporter Does Well to Consider.
Three modern inventions surround every news desk. The church reporter does well to take a second look at each of these modern tools of the press. In their order of importance I shall arrange them as follows:
a. Telephone. A little to the left on every news desk sits this innocent-looking, jangling bundle of wires. This instrument is the key to newswork. The church reporter should bend over backwards to so write, report, and conduct himself that when copy from his organization appears on the desk the editor will automatically reach for the phone for more details.
b. Scissors. A pair of scissors on the desk has more than an ornamental value. Better to have your copy come in short and sweet than to educate your editor to reach for this instrument as soon as he sees your copy.
c. Wastebasket. If the human race were as well fed as the average city editor's basket, then all would indeed be well. Selfishness, lack of understanding, and ignorance of some of the basic laws of publicity are prime factors for the wastebasket's popularity. Few editors will condone a spirit of "self in the news." Few editors will condone over a period of time a church publicist's failure to report news.
10. Press Relations. Church Asset. Desk men, editors, and reporters of modern presses are very human. Since they deal with so many aspects of human behavior, these men and women may be just a little more human than many other people. For the most part I have found them friendly and more than willing to sit down to help me put my church in the news. Aside from all mechanics of press work, one important aspect should never be forgotten; namely, the personal touch between the reporter and the desk is one of the best guarantees to publicity.