Hi everyone! I wrote an article for Christianity magazine recently, about how ‘health and fitness’ has become a ‘trend’ on Instagram. Check it out here! There are are reasons to be concerned about it, though social media can inspire us, too. It made me reflect on how lucky I was to grow up in an age when image and media influence was more limited.
The past week I’ve been working on a news story that required contacting small Christian charities for their opinions. This took me back to days when I was doing this more often and finding the experience a tad frustrating. Anglican dioceses often had some particularly interesting media strategies… perhaps I’m impatient because I used to deal with large, well-funded corporate PR teams. However I thought of a few tips to help a small charity serve journalists better – which could lead, hopefully, to more awareness of the charity in the media and the wider community. If you’re doing something great, it’s worth trying to let people know about it!
- Respond to a journalist’s query as soon as possible, even if just to find out more, or to tell them that you won’t be able to comment quickly. Aim to reply within two hours and have any comment ready within 24 hours. If there’s only one person who can talk to the media, make sure there’s someone else who can take calls in their absence or when on holiday.
- If the only means of contact on your website is a contact form, general email address or phone line with an answering machine, make sure they’re checked regularly and the people who check them know they should pass on a media query quickly.
- It is probably wise to be cautious with journalists, before you know what they’re after. However avoidance is not the best strategy.
- If you are interviewed and you want to check your quotes before publication, be aware that some publications don’t allow journalists to do this. Check facts rather than trying to self-censor or change what you said into corporate gobbledegook. For example, if the journalist (accurately) quotes you saying, “I don’t like hymn books, they’re outdated,” don’t try to change this to “hymn books can be a wonderful addition to a multi-media offering in a dynamic congregation that is reaching out to all generations in the local context, though complementary digital vertical offerings can best serve some sections of our situated population.” Journalists, and readers, tire of double-talk – if you don’t want to say something clearly, best not to say anything.
- In other words, statements are best given with as little corporate speak as possible, saying what you mean as plainly as possible.
- Don’t say anything ‘off the record’ without checking what the journalist means by this. It usually means (to the journo) that the information can be used, but you won’t be quoted by name. It doesn’t mean the information won’t be used at all.
In a nutshell, there’s not much point in spending several days getting approval for a long, carefully crafted and nuanced statement if a) it’s not saying anything comprehensible or interesting or b) it’s too late. Either way, the journalist won’t use it.
But, the media can be a great way to get your ideas and your actions across to the wider public. You don’t need expensive PR agencies – some are terrible, anyway! Some of the best PRs I’ve known have been one-man bands – they’re just very good at understanding what journalists (and their employers) need, and supplying accordingly. And if you deal with one query well, it’s likely the journalist will come back to you in the future.
Media folk – feel free to comment with your suggestions…
I really apologise for not updating this blog more regularly. I have been writing now and then for Christian publications, but not noting so here…
The most in-depth piece I’ve written in recent months was about identity politics for Christianity magazine. Take a look here.
The aim was two-fold: one try to describe the phenomenon for those who are bemused by it all. Secondly was to ponder on whether Christians should be involved. Huge subjects for a short magazine piece, but really important ones… let me know what you think.
It’s a talking point, after the Pope questioned it. But what is a Christian? I wrote this piece for the Indy online trying to answer these questions.
I’ve just written a piece for Christian Today, reflecting on a recent article by Brandon Withrow. He was brought up in an evangelical home, and had worked in a Christian university. But after what he describes as an ‘intellectual journey’, he has publicly declared he does not believe, and is now a secular humanist. He sounds genuinely heartbroken over this, which I find really sad – even more so as I don’t think it’s necessary.
I’ve probably said all I’d want to say in the piece, so please do go and have a read. But I think it’s really important that those of us who have a ‘thinking’ faith articulate very clearly why we believe – the ‘heart’ reasons and the ‘head’ reasons. There’s no intellectual reason to abandon Christian faith. The only reason to do so is to conform to the dogmatic secularist worldview that most of us are absorbed without even being aware of it.
Christians are pretty used to having the positive fruits of our faith being erased from history. The media will happily tag the label ‘Christian’ to ranting or philandering pastors when they hit the headlines, the atrocities of the Crusades or Westboro Baptist Church.
Yet in the secular media, our faith is rarely, if ever, associated with the true inspirations of Christianity: Martin Luther King, William Wilberforce, Josephine Butler. Such people are presented as modern day humanists, rather than the devout and conservative believers in Christ that they really were, motivated by their faith.
So it’s also the case for modern believers.
Earlier this year, successful rugby player Jason Robinson talked to an ITV programme about how he once contemplated suicide. What changed? His Born-Again team-mate, Va’aiga Tuigamala, talked to him about God, and Jason found new life in Christ:
I honestly believe the Lord sent him. He came to me and said: ‘I’m concerned about you. I had a dream about you last night. You were stood on top of the world and as I watched, slowly from underneath you, the world started to crumble.’ The Bible talks about repenting [changing your mind] and asking the Lord into your life. That’s what I did. After I said it, I felt something lift. Had it not been for him I certainly wouldn’t have the hope that I’ve got now. And hope is something that people can’t take away.
Yet, most of the secular media that reported the story totally ignored the main part of the story. Reports from The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Mirror, and the ITV website, all totally ignored that it was Christian faith that changed Robinson’s life.
Is there anything we can do about this? I’m seeing more and more anti-Christian rhetoric and propaganda on social media, even in people I’d have thought would be open and tolerant.
In the meantime, read about Jason’s faith in his own words from a Christian site:
A player called Va’aiga Tuigamala (Inga) joined my club, Wigan. As I watched him it was obvious that he had something I did not have, something that I wanted. He played the same game as me, but didn’t need all the going out and drinking that I did. He was at peace with himself. He was the happiest man in the place. I talked to him about it and he explained his faith. I became a Christian.
(Does believing in Jesus Christ make a difference?) I am leading a better and more fulfilled life than I ever lived. I have been a better father, a better husband, and 100 times better morally than I was before.
Sorry I’m a bit late with this. I took a trip to Tanzania to observe the work of a charity – Plant With Purpose – and see how permaculture ideas, Christian faith and development can be integrated holistically to help people. I’m writing a few articles about it, here’s the first short piece for Christian Today, about how something as simple as a tree can help people as well as improve the environment.
For people on the breadline, the link between the environment and poverty is much clearer and easier to see. A significant root cause of poverty is the state of the land.
The picture is of a beautiful area in this lovely community of Marangu that’s been set aside as a nature reserve, and it’s truly gorgeous. Leaving nature to do its work has also brought them a new water source – good news for rural farmers in a hot country. They were so generous and welcoming – it was an amazing experience.
If you’ve any questions about the work, I’d be really happy to answer them.
Christians talk about marriage a lot – but do we actually encourage it or hinder it?
I wrote this post for Christian Today based on a conference that tried to answer this subject.
All weekend I was talking about my story, of why I became a Christian. I was hearing other people’s stories too. People are always interested, especially when you come from a pretty secular background, like myself.
In my old life, I would have thought it hilarious if I’d known that I would become a Christian. But it’s without doubt, the best thing that’s happened to me in my life. The best thing being Jesus.
I used to love to party. I smoked, drank, danced and suchlike. It was fun, at times. But it didn’t bring me a lot of joy. Joy being a more whole happiness – from inside out. Not dependent on situation, friends and nightclubs, but just in my being.
I left a fairly decent newspaper career in my mid-twenties, to try to do something more caring. I worked in mental health for a while. But dropping the gear from the frenetic and boozy world of journalism to the chaotic and humble acute mental health ward prompted a lot of thinking. Why did this suffering go on, and what is the answer to it?
I had a kind of itch inside. I knew I needed something spiritual, but didn’t know what it was. I started exploring various different kinds of faith. Buddhism, paganism, Islam… Christianity would have been the last on my list, because it seemed to be a bit uncool. Really, there was a bit of social stigma about it – a prejudice – that is very prevalent in the liberal left world in which I had inhabited. But hey, I like to swim against the tide. Often that’s how you get to the truth.
When I first started going to church, and reading the gospels, I knew that there was something about Jesus that I wanted. I started seeking, and asking, and knocking. And as Jesus promised, I found. And what I was looking for was love – and the love of our Creator.
You can’t really describe spiritual experiences, you have to know it for yourself. But all I can say is that my worldview changed into one where love was the real meaning behind the universe, and the source of it all was God. Jesus is the visible image of God – how we can understand God and his love for us.
That’s the problem with the world – there’s not enough love. And that’s because we’ve shut ourselves off from the source of that love. That’s the answer I’d been seeking.
That might sound a bit ‘hippy’, but I’ve had seven years of scientific education and I can assure you I’m pretty hard-nosed when it comes to investigating the truth. I spent a long time questioning my beliefs.
Well, the story is an awful lot longer than this. I’ll not going to go into too much more detail. After working in the NHS for a bit, and finding that secular approaches to mental health did not seem to provide the kind of healing that Christian approaches could do (especially for addicts) I thought I’d go back to journalism to pay the bills, and spend more time doing voluntary work rather than taking an NHS cheque.
Journalism in the Christian world is a lot softer and calmer than the mainstream kind. This kinda suits my lifestyle. Plus, whether the NHS or newspapers, I don’t think it’s easy to be a person of faith in those workplaces these days, unless you’re willing to shut off that part of you. And when that part is what makes you tick, then you don’t want to do that.
All I can say is, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. I think Jesus has his arms open to everyone. You just have to ask him for a hug.
The British Humanist Association has just launched a new advertising campaign on the London Underground. Under the heading, “What’s it all for?” the posters feature quotes from atheists such as AC Grayling and novelists like Virginia Woolf. Partly it’s to rival BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the day’ which continues to be religious.
I rang up the chief executive of the BHA this morning, Andrew Copson. He was more friendly than the folk in certain other secularist organisations. It was an interesting exercise in conversing with someone from a different point of view, while asking my questions about the campaign.
I think most Christians would say that there is very little broadcasting that they can relate to as Christians: what little there is, such as Songs of Praise, is often designed more for the older generation, or can come from a very liberal point of view. I suspect other religions might feel the same. But it seems that this feeling is the same for humanists.
This surprises me, because to me, almost everything on TV and radio has an underlying humanist worldview and secularist assumptions, which are definitely not neutral. I’d love to see some quantitative evidence of to what extent religious and humanist views are expressed on TV, and whether they’re given a positive or negative light.
In any case, the conversation did help me to understand this guy’s point of view, at least a little bit. Perhaps we all notice opinions that are different to ours much more often than we do our own. The difficult thing is to communicate with the people holding those opinions, but that’s the way we come to understand each other.
It’s been an interesting spectacle, to watch the fame of the New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins rise in the last decade, and then a little sad to observe that in recent years they have become increasingly offensive. It’s no longer just believers who are offended, it’s women, people with disabilities, and many others.
I wrote an article for Christian Today yesterday about the latest offence from Sam Harris: that women’s “Estrogen Vibe” led them to be less interested in his books. It didn’t go down very well and feminists expressed their irritation on the hashtag #EstrogenVibe. The article contains a short summary of offensive comments from the New Atheists.
Of course there are plenty of Christians out there who cause offence, too. But those people generally are not put on pedestals, at least in the UK. I am starting to feel sorry for the atheists. They seem genuinely unaware of why what they say is offensive, and really believe that their approach is the rational and right one.
Perhaps that is the problem: that when we become proud of how intelligent we are (or we think we are), then it naturally lends itself to being insensitive to others. The mark of a humble person is often their soft and non-judgemental attitude, and they’re the least likely to cause offence. It’s a virtue that is valued in some religious circles, and perhaps it needs more popularity outside, too.
I wrote this article a long time ago for the Indy on Sunday, but the experience has stayed with me and I thought I’d put it up here. I attended the DSEi arms fair and it was an education.
If you walked around DSEi with squinted eyes, you might think it was a normal trade fair. There are bright colours, glossy brochures, models and video screens demonstrating the wares. But when the gaze comes into focus, the videos are of battlefields – even cluster bombs at the Israel Military Industries stand – and the models are of missiles and bombs, such as the 12ft Tomahawk cruise missile used by the Royal Navy, on sale from its US manufacturer, Raytheon.