By Marilyn Stewart
In my eight years as a contributing writer and columnist for New Orleans’ longest-running newspaper, I found church leaders to be among the most difficult to contact.
But when a church leader fails to return a journalist’s phone calls and emails, it may be a golden opportunity missed.
Editors and reporters, I’ve found, are quite willing to quote conservative, traditional Christians who provide what the media needs most—clear and timely statements, and stories that appeal to readership.
One particular example comes to mind.
Author and pastor Robby Gallaty visited his native home of New Orleans a few years ago to preach in a local church. I interviewed Gallaty about his journey through brokenness to redemption, and included the following in my article:
“I was the last guy you’d ever think would come to Christ,” Gallaty said … Gallaty prays, “I want my life to be a picture of God’s grace where people will say, ‘If God can do that for Robby, then I wonder if he can do that for me?’” Gallaty answers them, “Yes, he can.”
I held my breath when I submitted the article, thinking editors would remove at least part of his quote. They didn’t, and Gallaty’s story—invitational as much as it was inspirational— resonated with readers.
While some are called to speak into the culture on social issues that deeply divide the nation, any pastor can speak grace to a community or give a reason for the hope within (1 Peter 3:15) on community-impacting issues and events.
Here are some tips for engaging the secular media:
1. Respond quickly.
Reporters live by tight deadlines and need quotes promptly. Failure to return a phone call or email may mean the reporter instead uses quotes from organizations eager to respond but whose agendas are contrary to biblical truth.
2. Prepare ahead.
To keep thoughts organized during an interview, write out brief responses ahead of time on pertinent issues.
Share with a reporter quotes and material from leading, respected Christian voices that support your view, and be ready to provide real life examples that show the beauty of the Christian worldview.
3. Take advantage of email.
When a reporter calls, ask if an emailed response is workable and agree on, and adhere to, a specific time frame for responding. A written response allows time to process the question and helps insure the quote is printed as intended.
4. Be concise and clear.
Reporters need quotes of 30-40 words, or less, for print and online formats. When a reporter is forced to edit a long, wordy quote due to space constraints, misquotes can happen. Brief quotes are more likely to be printed as stated.
5. Ask clarifying questions.
Asking a journalist questions such as “What do you mean?” or “Are you asking …?” ensures that the response fits the question and avoids the pitfalls of strict “Yes” or “No” answers.
Clarifying questions keeps communication lines open, insures that terminology is understood, and helps the reporter better understand the believer’s position.
This allows the believer to answer the one posing the question, rather than simply answering a question.
6. Avoid being preachy.
The media will include quotes of well-articulated and vibrant faith when delivered with grace and clarity. For example, statements acknowledging that believers struggle with sin while showing the beauty of the gospel will resonate with the culture.
7. Be proactive.
Know the names of reporters and feature writers and read what they write. A reporter may appreciate a local pastor who sends clear, biblically sound quotes that fit their reporting niche and relate to community-impacting events.
An example could be quotes on why religious freedom benefits all faiths as July 4 or Veteran’s Day approaches.
8. Don’t underestimate features.
Publications often rely on feature stories to strengthen their readership. Sending story tips, such as a pastor who served in Vietnam or a church member who gives senior adults free piano lessons, may provide opportunity for believers to speak about their faith.
Feature writers are eager for stories of hope and restoration, particularly around holidays.
9. Pray, pray, pray.
Ask God to provide opportunities and insight. Ask Him to bless your efforts.
The world hungers to see genuine, grace-filled, courageous faith. God is providing his church a unique and opportune moment to say it well. Let’s be sure not to miss it.
MARILYN STEWART is assistant director for news and information, Communications Office, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and blogs and speaks on apologetics.