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PASTOR: How Pastors Make News

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PASTOR: How Pastors Make News

Howard B. Weeks

Assistant Secretary, Generfll Conference Bureau of Press Relations

 

Some pastors are always in the news; some are never in the news. The first may be "live wires" around the town, or they may be merely a bit too eager. The second may have an inaccurate concept of the place a minister rightfully occupies in the local news pages and hesitate to seem forward, or it may be that they simply never do or say anything that makes news.

Too many people have an idea that a newspaper has myriads of reporters hovering over the town, eager to snatch up every stray bit of news. The fact is that no newspaper has enough reporters to find or cover all the news in town, and consequently a good share of it is prepared for the paper by press representatives of various organizations.

And a large share of that news is "made news" in the first place; that is, the press was taken into consideration in planning the events or speeches reported. Every organization, particularly a church, has scores of regular functions that in themselves are news and need only be reported to the newspapers. The pastor and his church will make the news pages much more frequently, however, if the pastor goes to the trouble to say things or have his church do things to make news that would not otherwise exist.

Even the routine preaching of the church can be made into news. Ordinarily, of course, a sermon is not news; there is seldom anything in it that can be pin-pointed and written up as an item touching on current interest. But the pastor, by the simple expedient of including in his sermons remarks that deal forcefully with current political, economic, or social situations, can make news of great value to his church, and he need not modify his fundamentalist preaching to do this.

Being "News-conscious"

Melvin K. Eckenroth some time ago launched a series of meetings in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He discovered that the local paper was at that very time crusading against the use of liquor by women. So, in his opening message, he adroitly worked in some sincere and pointed remarks on the subject, harmonizing with the policy of the newspaper. As a result, the opening of his evangelistic program was front-page news the next morning not because he talked in generalities on the world situation but because he included in his sermon some good, fresh statements on a specific community interest and a particular interest of that newspaper. It goes without saying that a resum6 of what he was to say was taken to the newspaper office previous to the delivery time and that he did not merely wait hopefully for reporters to converge on his meeting place.

In a recent church program portraying our worldwide work, a group of Adventist conscientious objectors from a nearby Army base were called in to conduct a litter-drill demonstration. One of the prime reasons for arranging this feature was to arouse the interest of the newspapers. This was in a large city where the papers ordinarily would not be particularly interested in a program of this sort, but they were very much interested in this one feature of the program that touched on a common interest.

The governor of Minnesota recently called upon church groups to support him in a campaign to step up his law-enforcement program by giving State liquor agents the power of arrest. The same day a group of Adventist ministers issued a joint statement of support, listing specific points of action they would take. This was played up on the front page of the local section of the newspaper and was carried over the State by the wires. News was made, because ministers were news conscious.

The church editor of the Washington Post recently told a group of church publicists that in selecting sermons he would personally listen to and report, he scanned the list of sermon titles turned in by local pastors, then chose those sermons that would deal with a subject of current interest. This, incidentally, underscores another important point: The sermon title itself should be worded to reveal its potential news value. "Why We Should Not Have an Ambassador to the Vatican" is likely to arouse more interest than "Dangers to Our Freedom," because it promises to deal with a specific point of current interest.

Among items current at this writing upon which a pastor can "peg" a sermon or special program are: religion in the public schools; neglected Arab refugees in Palestine; the Middle East in general; moral problems connected with military service; prayers for our men in Korea or other trouble spots; helping needy at home as well as abroad; decline of church influence in American life; decline of sanctity of marriage and the home, increasing divorces; juvenile delinquency; effect of television, radio, movies, on homes and children; morality in public office; the church in civil defense; liquor and law enforcement; calendar revision; Sunday laws.

And of course there are others. Most of these are of perennial or national interest. There are other issues of specific local interest that are known to the pastor. In any of these what the pastor says or what the church does should be specific easy to "get the teeth into," and always in good taste, showing tolerance as well as concern. The pastor should also avoid bringing up issues that are out of date. For instance, R. Allan Anderson in London, England, at the worst time of the depression used the title "The Battle for Bread," and drew great crowds. Imitators have since used that title in America most ineffectively in times of great prosperity,

Advance News

It is well to remember that a paper never objects to getting its material, whether a summary or some good quotations from a pastor's sermon, a day in advance. These advance reports can be mailed to the church editor. The whole process need take no more than half an hour after the pastor has worked out his sermon. As a result of this one extra operation, the pastor will have preached not only to his congregation but also to every person who reads his story in the newspaper.

A word of caution may be in order. There is only one thing worse than never sending re leases to the local newspaper, and that is reporting every trivial thing that is done and said. This tends to lower the value of an organization's news. On the other hand, it is a mistake to think that one's news will be more valuable to a paper if it is sent in only on rare occasions. The proper program is the one that has continuity, with good judgment exercised in what is reported to the papers.

In addition to the regular reporting of church events, once a month is not too often for a sermon report from the pastor, provided it is brief (not more than one double-spaced page), provided the sermon deals with something of interest to the newspapers' readers, and provided the newspapers understand that the release is just for their information and that they are not expected to print everything. Of course, local circumstances may bar any sermon reports at all, except for special occasions. In cases like this, the thing to do is to have more special occasions.

A common complaint received at the General Conference Press Bureau from local church press secretaries is: "The pastor doesn't cooperate with me I never know what is going to happen until after it happens." Or, "Our church never does anything that makes news." Of course, not all the blame lies with the pastor. A "live-wire" press secretary will mercilessly hound the pastor and get what he wants for his publicity, or he will work with church officers to arrange special events that can be reported. But if the pastor has a press secretary who is a bit timid or who does not have this vision, he can take the initiative himself, help the press secretary to develop, and make certain that, through the newspaper, the light of his church shines in his community.

 

 

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