Saturday, March 27, 2004

WJI, From the Horse's Mouth


Journalistic leverage
World Journalism Institute is gaining momentum
By Joel Belz
THERE SHOULD BE AN ENVELOPE TUCKED INTO THE fold of this magazine not far from these words. What you do with that envelope could well affect the future shape of WORLD magazine—and maybe even the nature of American journalism itself.

Five years ago, when WORLD was closing in on a circulation of 100,000 readers and an increasingly enduring spot among news magazines in this country, I found myself wrestling with a nagging concern: Where, I wondered, would WORLD find in the years ahead a growing number of young reporters, writers, and editors who practiced their craft with the unique approach both spelled out and modeled by our editor-in-chief, Marvin Olasky? There was little point looking to existing journalism schools; they were mostly a big part of the problem.

I mentioned the issue to Mr. Olasky, who agreed the challenge was both real and big. I mentioned it also to Robert Case, one of our board members who lived then in Ellensburg, Wash., where he divided his working hours between the real estate business and teaching philosophy at Central Washington University. Would he be willing, I asked, to come to North Carolina the following summer and organize an instructional program in journalism—just to see whether anyone might be interested?

He came, and they were interested. World Journalism Institute was born. But as it emerged from its infancy over the next couple of years, WJI took on a brand new identity of its own. What I had envisioned as a narrow training opportunity for our own WORLD staff started, almost immediately, to produce young Christian journalists with a vision for the broader journalistic task among mainstream media.

Take Lynde Hedgpeth, for example. Lynde expects to graduate next month from the University of Missouri at Columbia, with a double major in journalism and Russian—and with a 3.99 grade point average. Long before she came to WJI, Lynde was on track toward a successful career in journalism. Her father especially, who studied for the Lutheran ministry, encouraged her to be a reader, an analytic thinker, and an adventurer. She was a debater in high school—"but most debaters become lawyers," she told me, "or even worse, they become debate coaches." So she headed north from her home in Midland, Texas, to study journalism at Mizzou.

During her busy college days, Lynde served as an intern for the Columbia Daily Tribune. She wrote editorials for the university's student paper. And she covered city and county government for the Columbia Missourian.

Along the way she heard about World Journalism Institute—a program offering something the University of Missouri had not provided. Here was an opportunity to integrate her Christian faith with her study of journalism.

"It was quite a contrast with the liberal teachers I had at the university," says Lynde. "Yes, I really did have some who wanted me to believe there is no such thing as right and wrong. Did that mean, I thought, that I should get an A in all my classes, since I couldn't really provide any wrong answers?"

Lynde says WJI gave her a framework within which to put the rest of her studies. "I wasn't indoctrinated; I'm pretty pig-headed and would have resisted that," she says. But Marvin Olasky's approach made enough sense that she found herself applying it this last summer while serving as a Pulliam Fellow at the half-million-circulation Indianapolis Star—a prestige appointment she says she earned partly through her involvement at WJI. "God has a plan for me," she says modestly but confidently.

World Journalism Institute thinks God has a plan for a good number of other able journalists—and with your help wants to provide them with that added edge that moves them past just being journalists who also happen to be Christians to the point where they are self-conscious Christians, mixing it up in the secular media, competing for top jobs and making a difference in an often pagan world.

...and, check out the lovely work of Lynde here. Fair and balanced journalism at its finest.