Dear Baptist Press,
I thank you for the good work you do. I’m going to be critical of you here, and I know that is not pleasant. I know what it is like to have your words, your ideas, your thoughts publicly derided. It does not feel good. I thank you good folks for what you do. Before I mention some things that bother me, I’d like to thank you for what you do well.
You do a wonderful job of highlighting the work that is going on in Southern Baptist Churches and other entities. Your stories on churches and ministries that are reaching people and changing lives are inspiring and encouraging. You do a great job of recounting the work of our IMB and NAMB missionaries. You cover political and social issues that matter to us as Baptists. Looking at yesterday’s BP edition, we see articles about the gay-marriage ruling, about the health-care vote coming up. You covered the effects of flooding in three countries – and about our Disaster Relief efforts to respond to that flooding. As someone who serves in an area where bad weather abounds from October into April, the article about the pastor preaching online was fascinating. I found the article about the EU leaving Christmas and Easter off the calendar very interesting. Well-written articles. Interesting topics. Well done.
But I have been reviewing Baptist Press over the last few months and I have several issues with the coverage. I think that my issues relate more to your policies, over which the writers at BP have little control. I would just like to speak my piece here in hopes that at some point the needed changes will be made.
Here’s my problem: I want Baptist Press to inform me about what is going on in the Southern Baptist world. If all Baptist Press is going to be is Baptist Public Relations, then rename it that. When I read the name Baptist Press, I expect journalism, independent investigation and reporting of what is going on – good or bad. We do not get that from you. We have to turn to Associated Baptist Press (which has some biases of its own) or we have to turn to blogs (which dispense information but are not always careful about accuracy). I want a true Baptist Press – not hostile or aggressive, but honest and open. Trust us and tell us the whole, unvarnished truth.
1) Baptist Press needs to trust us enough to talk about controversial and difficult topics.
We are not children. We do not need you to shield us from the hard truths and realities of Baptist Life. A couple of months ago, a trustee of NAMB resigned in protest over the policies and actions of Dr. Ezell. There was a brief mention of the resignation in an otherwise very positive article. But this is a pretty significant event. If you are “Baptist Public Relations” then you should have done what you did. You should have mentioned this in passing but largely ignored the negative opinion. But “Baptist Press” should have called this pastor and asked him to explain why he felt that resigning was necessary. Maybe he is all wet. Maybe he is just a grouchy old codger. Maybe. But he was a trustee whom we voted to help oversee NAMB. We should have had the chance to see an interview with him explaining why he is upset and why he felt that he need to resign.
We can handle some bad news. We are grown ups. You don’t have to pretend that everything is always great.
In the last couple of weeks an association in North Carolina has imploded. Where did I read about that? A blog. The fact that a DOM was fired in some, well, suspicious circumstances isn’t newsworthy?
I’m not asking you people to be muckrakers. I certainly don’t want you treating our Baptist leaders with the hostility that some in the national media demonstrate towards our political leaders. But I think we need to be willing to look at our flaws. If all you do is accentuate the positive, you lose credibility! Don’t try to spin Baptists into thinking all is well when we all know it is not so.
2) It doesn’t look good when articles about our leaders or entities are written by the employees of that leader or entity.
This was the most disturbing trend I saw as I reviewed much of last year’s BP production. Articles about Kevin Ezell and NAMB are almost always written by Ezell’s subordinates. They may be perfectly nice people, but if we let employees write the articles about their employers, we are not likely to get an unbiased look, are we? IMB articles are written by IMB employees. Much of the GCR coverage was written by Morris Chapman’s staff. Anyone wonder why the Baptist Press coverage of the GCR was slanted to the negative? Employees write to please their employers. That is their job.
Again, if “Baptist Press” is simply an amalgamation of press releases by entity staffs, the name-change to Baptist Public Relations seems more appropriate. Shouldn’t someone who does not serve at Ezell’s pleasure write about his actions? Shouldn’t someone who is not an IMB staffer write about the IMB search? If Frank Page were on Facebook, I’d hit the “like” button repeatedly. But I still want someone covering him who is not directly under him in the organizational flow chart.
3) Sometimes, the silence is deafening
What’s going on at the IMB? Month after month passes and still there is no one nominated to replace Dr Rankin. Wouldn’t that be something that Baptist Press should talk about? Baptist Public Relations would ignore the fact that there is evidently an inability in that search committee to come to a decision. But Baptist Press would ask the questions that need to be asked.
Everyone I’ve talked to “knows” what is going on there. There is a split between those who want to hire a Johnny Hunt-style megachurch pastor and those who want a missiologist in charge. But is that really what is happening? Is the information we have been hearing accurate? Isn’t that something we should know about?
Someone might say we should give the search committee their privacy as they make the search. Fine. But for how long? How long has the search committee been struggling? What is going on? Isn’t it your job to find out and tell us?
I don’t think any of us want to simply use CNN, NBC and Reuters as our model of integrity. It is not an easy thing to figure out how journalistic ethics translate into a Christian organization. I may change my views later. But I think that there is a positive effect when the Baptist Press holds our leaders accountable and asks them the tough questions. Powerful people never want to be questioned, but they should be. It is a good thing, a godly thing, to hold human beings accountable. And I think you could be doing a much better job of it than you do.
I realize that you are doing your jobs. The problem here is one of policy, not performance. I am not speaking against the harding working and well-spoken writers who staff Baptist Press. I am addressing the management, the policy-makers. I guess I am addressing the Executive Committee of the SBC – as I understand it, they oversee Baptist Press.
Here’s my view. Either let’s call it what it is, “Baptist Public Relations” or lets make Baptist Press an honest-to-goodness Baptist Press!