The most important value that Southern Baptist editors offer their readers is trust, said Bob Smietana, editor-in-chief of Religion News Service.
The keynote speaker for the 2020 annual meeting of the Association for State Baptist Publications (ASBP) held Feb. 10–13 in Tucson, Arizona, said, “Real stories about real people experiencing God in a real way are powerful.”
Much like Mark, the writer of the gospel bearing his name, today’s journalists talk to witnesses, check and verify facts, discern what is true and write down an orderly account, Smietana said.
Discussing the theme, “Good News/Bad News: All News Is God’s News,” Smietana told the more than 30 Southern Baptist journalists, “Telling good news is much more dangerous than bad news” because journalists often fail to fact-check good news stories. Sharing examples of stories of good news that later were discovered to be in error, Smietana said, “We [sometimes end up promoting] people whose claims are not true. … We want good news to be true. It’s so perilous.”
‘Transparency is better’
Beyond reporting good news, Southern Baptist journalists also have a responsibility to report bad news. “Every reporter is an investigative reporter,” he said. Reporting “just the facts” is the best approach to take, he said. When determining whether to report an alleged bad news story, journalists can ask, “Is this a story? Is this a story we want to do? Is this a story we have time to do?” Even when a journalist or a denominational leader may not want to report a bad news story, Smietana said, “Transparency is better.”
Reflecting on Smietana’s sessions, Terry Barone, editor of The California Baptist, said, “This year’s meeting was especially meaningful as I was reminded of the importance of telling both the good news and bad news because it is all God’s news. It is not always easy or pleasant to report bad news about one’s organization, but it always is best if the information is shared by the organization itself. It also was helpful to be reminded to always ‘tell the truth and trust the people’ with both good and bad news.”
The annual meeting’s training sessions each year have been “very helpful and insightful,” said Kevin Parker, editor of the Baptist New Mexican NewsJournal. “My takeaway from this year was the realization that reporters – myself included – tend to under-fact-check stories about good news. Thus, we are prone to report inaccurately if we do not exercise careful diligence with stories we like. That prompted me to examine my own thoroughness. Smietana’s sessions were great,” Parker said.
Southern Baptist entity leaders
Throughout the meeting, participants heard from Southern Baptist entity leaders, including many leaders elected in the past year: Ben Mandrell, president, LifeWay Christian Resources; Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO, Executive Committee (EC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Jonathan Howe, vice president for communications, EC; George Schroeder, associate vice president for convention news, EC; and Adam Greenway, president, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Additionally, editors heard from Paul Chitwood, president of the International Mission Board; Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board; J.D. Greear, SBC president and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; O.S. Hawkins, president/chief executive officer of GuideStone Financial Resources; Sandy Wisdom-Martin, executive director-treasurer of Woman’s Missionary Union, SBC; and Russell Moore, president of Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Devotionals were led by Art Toalston, retired senior editor, Baptist Press. Also a brief update was provided on ASBP’s new logo and website.
A long history
ASBP annual meetings have been a staple of the organization which was launched in 1895 as the Southern Baptist Press Association. The first meeting of ASBP was held in May 1896 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with 15 editors present.
“Though it has experienced zeniths and nadirs in its one-hundred-year history, the Southern Baptist Press Association likewise has proved its value. Editors through the years have profited from the fellowship, mutual support, journalistic training, and cooperative actions the Association has facilitated (and) have sought out the organization as a source for information and professional growth,” wrote C. William Junker in 1996 in “Contending for the Right to Know.”
Parker agrees with Junker’s insight. “The editors meeting always provides two essential ingredients: interaction with colleagues and interaction with SBC entity heads. It closes gaps between sister publications and between state convention news (as a whole) and SBC entities,” he said.
The annual ASBP meeting, Barone said, “is always a highlight because of networking with fellow state Baptist editors/communicators and SBC agency communications personnel. It also is important to hear SBC agency executives provide timely, valuable and meaningful updates about agency ministries.”
In the ASBP business session on Thursday, Feb. 13, members honored Roger S. “Sing” Oldham, who retired as vice president of convention communications and relations for the SBC EC in 2019. In a resolution of appreciation read by Parker, chairperson of ASBP’s 2020 resolutions committee, Oldham was recognized for working “diligently to develop relationships with members and support the ministry of members of the Association of State Baptist Publications.”
The group also recognized Toalston, who retired as Baptist Press senior editor in 2019. The resolution read by Parker noted that the “thousands of news articles, interviews, and op-ed pieces” written by Toalston “have helped to shape Southern Baptist and Christian journalism and have preserved the narrative of Southern Baptists’ activities.” Also, the resolution stated that Toalston’s “personal character, spiritual life and writings have inspired his coworkers and others in the journalism field and in local churches.”
Members of ASBP also recognized Shawn Hendricks, former Baptist Press editor, who has “developed and facilitated friendships and partnerships within and between Southern Baptist journalistic entities and publications.” The resolution expressed appreciation on behalf of ASBP members for Hendricks’ “impact upon member publications’ ability to tell Southern Baptists’ story.”
Lonnie Wilkey, editor of Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector, also served on the 2020 resolutions committee.
In closing the meeting, 2019–2020 ASBP President David Williams, editor of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist, passed the ASBP gavel to Jennifer Davis Rash, editor-in-chief of The Alabama Baptist/TAB Media, who will serve as 2020–2021 ASBP president.
“ASBP has a rich history with editors of state Baptist publications,” Rash said. “I am honored to lead the organization as it moves into its future with all the challenges and opportunities facing state Baptist publications today.”
Holly Smith, managing editor of The California Baptist, was elected ASBP president-elect, to serve as president 2021–2022. ASBP’s nominating committee was chaired by Todd Deaton, managing editor of South Carolina’s Baptist Courier. Cameron Crabtree, editor of the Northwest Baptist Witness, and Tim Yarbrough, editor of Arkansas Baptist News, also served on the nominating committee. The next ASBP annual meeting will be held Feb. 8–11 in Honolulu.
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