What do you think of when somebody says “the media”?
For most people, the term is synonymous with “Fleet Street” – the eponymous collective of scribes, hacks, journalists, reporters, photographers, snappers – whatever you want to call us, that write or take pictures for newspapers.
Whenever I deliver media training, I always try to dissuade the participants from talking about “the media” because the phrase covers so many different trades; including print and broadcast journalists, photographers, cameramen, illustrators, cartoonists, sound recordists, lighting engineers, editors, sub-editors, producers, directors, script writers, authors, technicians, radio engineers, sat-van operators, film makers, documentary makers, researchers, make-up artists, drivers, accountants, announcers, publicists, PR professionals (the two are different), computer programmers, graphic artists, and many, many, more.
My branch of the media (news journalism) has come in for a bit of stick of late. Some of it deserved. Much of it not. But even putting the hacking scandal to one side for a moment; it can’t be denied that this is a tough time to be a journalist.
Newspapers are continuing to close at an alarming rate, and those that remain are having to cut their cloth. Staff numbers are down, resources are reduced and this has an impact on content. A downgrading of quality and relevant content results in falls in circulation. This leads to a reduction in budget which leads to a further downgrading of content which results in an ever-decreasing circle leading to the closure of the publication – a lesson that Trinity Mirror in particular seem unable or unwilling to learn with disastrous effects for the many titles they publish (or, rather, used to publish before they closed them down).
Freelance journalists are under pressure because there are fewer outlets to sell stories to; and staff journalists are under pressure because they need to produce far more stories than in the past. This has an inevitable impact on quality, fact checking and typos. There was a time that, regardless of attempts to deliver accurate copy, you always knew that the subs would pick up on typos. But not anymore. Many publications have removed subs altogether and others have relocated them miles away from the area they serve.
So far this year, 15 journalists have been killed while plying their trade. The latest was the 26-year-old French photo-journalist Camille Lepage, whose body was found in the Bouar Region of the Central African Republic by French peace-keeping troops last week. Lepage, who had lived in South Sudan since 2012, was travelling with anti-Balaka fighters to document recent killings in the Bouar region. Her work had been published in the Guardian, the Sunday Times, Der Spiegel, Libération, Internazionale, Le Monde, and The Wall Street Journal, amongst others.
Other branches of “the Media” are also under pressure; but it isn’t all doom and gloom. There are many joys in this spere of work too.
Now, the Church and Media Network is asking churches to set aside Sunday 1st June as a day of prayer for the media.
“We firmly believe that working in the media is an honourable profession,” said the Revd Tony Miles, Media Chaplain and Deputy Superintendent Minister at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster. “We want to encourage Christians and other people of faith and goodwill to consider it as a calling. We want to support all those working in and with the media in our churches, including church leaders and communications officers who help to portray and interpret the Church’s role in our society.”
In addition to setting aside time on 1st June, the Church and Media Network is asking churches to include the media in their prayers for the world, country or local community; and to specifically name the key local media when praying for the area.
They want churches to include the media in prayer diary listings and to encourage people who work in or with the media in the church to talk about the pressures they face, and then pray about the issues raised.
But this is not merely an internal thing for Christians in the media. The Church and Media Network also want churches to get to know the staff of their local newspaper or radio station; and to ask them to suggest how the church might pray for them. And also to use newspaper and website headlines and photographs as visual aids for prayer; and to pray for the people who produced the reports – sometimes at great risk to themselves.
My particular prayer request would be for strength: not just physical strength but mental and creative strength too. I work from home, most of the time, and there isn’t much physical strength needed to move from my bedroom to my study; or even to drive around to cover news events. But regular travelling and juggling several stories at once, often moving from slow-burn investigations to fast-turnaround breaking news stories, can impact on your mental energy. There are times when I physically fine, but too mentally tired to be creative. I’ve noticed this more since I broke my addiction to strong black coffee!
- The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has written a prayer for the media:
Lord Jesus Christ, you speak and bring all that is seen and unseen into being:
we give you thanks for the gift of the media to reach the far flung places of the earth with messages of hope and life.
We give you thanks for those who risk their security and even their lives to expose injustice and to bring news of hope.
May they strive to be the bearers of good news that all people may come to know the abundant life for which we have been created; and yet more wonderfully redeemed in Jesus Christ.
We offer our prayer in your name, in the power of the Holy Spirit for the glory of the Father.