It’s nothing new for The Index to receive its share of criticism. Actually, it’s something we welcome. Like anyone else, we can develop blind spots in our coverage and welcome input as to how best we tell the stories of Georgia Baptists. That “input” arrives with a variety of tone, but we welcome it nonetheless.
Recently The Index received a letter criticizing my coverage of my home church, Cartersville First Baptist. Specifically, the writer felt it my responsibility to identify myself as a member of the church within any article referencing CFBC. He further insinuated I gave my church preferential treatment.
I grew up in a church where 50 in worship qualified as a high attendance Sunday. Before coming to The Index, I served as a youth pastor of small churches and established a collegiate ministry at a Wyoming community college as a NAMB US/C-2 missionary. I was a teacher at a county high school immediately prior to joining The Index. This fall I wanted another writing outlet and a way to provide additional coverage of local schools, so I launched a prep sports website.
All that to say I know what it’s like to be the guy who feels he’s being overlooked.
That perspective drives me in finding and following up on stories about our smaller churches throughout that state. That can be challenging at times, especially when the church staff consists of a lone bivocational pastor who can’t talk right now because, well, he’s at his other full-time job.
Those churches are our backbone, and their stories deserve to be heard. Some churches send us notifications for stories, but many don’t. Nevertheless, it’s our responsibility to find their stories and report. That’s been accomplished, in part, by looking through every printed newsletter we receive at the office and methods such as searching through social media posts.
In 2016 I wrote 167 stories for The Index. One of them dealt with my church’s new building program, a topic we’ve covered for many other congregations. The most recent addressed a member who won back-to-back state football championships. My critic attempted to toss in another article about the birth of Twitter, in which I included 18 “first tweets” from Baptists throughout Georgia and the SBC. One of those tweets belonged to a young South Georgia pastor now at CFBC.
Being a large church shouldn’t lead to preferential treatment, but neither should it disqualify it from coverage. I’ve been a member at CFBC since 2001. In that time, we’ve experienced growth but also walked through some tough days. It’s the only church my four children have known. If there’s a story connected to it, my writing it makes more sense than another Index staff member driving the 34-52 miles, depending on who it is, to do the same.
I don’t benefit personally from coverage of CFBC. While I’m happy to talk about the benefits of the Cooperative Program to fellow church members, I chose to remain silent on the topic during church budget discussions at deacons meetings, as that held a direct bearing on my salary as an employee of the state convention. My personal conviction over that perceived conflict of interest is why I don’t serve as a deacon now.
My critic also linked the honor code of a secular journalism group to undergird his argument. I have zero problem with the code mentioned and agree with it, but context is important. While The Index does hold to general journalistic writing style and standards, it in no way tries to be a completely objective source of news and information. It is a public relations tool that practices advocacy journalism.
That means it tells stories of Georgia Baptists engaged in missions and evangelism and regularly showcases churches that model those goals and can be an inspiration to others. It strives to write about churches of all sizes and the only thing that prevents a church from being covered is the lack of hours in a day and the number of available staff.
On the other hand, we cannot write about churches of which we know nothing about. We depend on members or friends of members to draw these churches to our attention.
2016 proved to be quite the year for The Index. All of us adjusted from a two-week production schedule to one that really doesn’t end. Sure, I do most of my work during typical office hours, but I’ve also written and posted stories at 6 a.m. and 3:45 in the morning. News happens when news happens.
And to that end, we know stories about Georgia Baptists happen in every locale and every building size across the state. They need to be told. We’re here to do just that.