I was on a treadmill, watching the news on TV, when the story came on. The President of the United States had fallen and torn a tendon in his knee. He was in Florida at the time, but they had flown him to Washington for surgery.
When the President of the United States gets hurt and goes to the hospital, it's news. It certainly has some significance and many implications, given his position. I wouldn't quarrel with that.
But as I watched the story unfold, I was amazed at the ability of the television news people to lend profound and immediate, if not historical, significance to an event that would be forgotten in a month or less. These people are really good, I thought. The channel I watched interviewed the paramedics called to Mr. Clinton's side as well as various medical experts. They had a reporter on the lawn of the hospital, and they skillfully hyped the event and dramatized it in tones that suggested imminent world disaster.
Can you really compete?
So what chance, I wondered, does The Pentecostal Messenger or The Kansas Christian or Jubilee have to win the discretionary time of the average reader? Not only do these television news producers have super budgets and world-class talent, but they're not encumbered by the value system you've chosen as a guide to what and how you publics.
Even if you put your publication on-line, if current predictions come true, we'll see TV and movies and the World Wide Web all on the same screen, possibly even the wall, so how will you ever compete? Can you expect your long gray columns of type to win out over the glitz and flash and drama that well-heeled production companies turn out? I know we have some super talent and creativity in our community, but look what they're up against. The deck is stacked. The playing field isn't level.
Sure, there will always be folks who want to read linear prose which marshals carefully reasons arguments on a topic they believe is vital, but they're also exposed to and engulfed by the siren call of the news media. Can we really compete?
Are you merely a propagandist?
The answer, I believe, is, no, we can't, at least on that surface level. Sure, a few of us may turn out publications or Web sites or CD-roms or videos that rival the best that mega-entertainment conglomerates produce. But if we're depending on the techniques and the creativity, the innovation and the brilliance of our work to complete our mission, we're doomed to failure.
Propaganda, reduced the message to the level of all other ideologies. Our work becomes mere propaganda. "Christianity ceases top be an overwhelming power and spiritual adventure and becomes institutionalized in all its expressions and compromised in all it s actions." And it it will be treated as such by our readers.
No reason to let down
No, we must depend on the work of the Spirit to use the very best we can produce, knowing that He still reigns and works in the world. If we remove the Spirit of God from the communication formula, we have, as Jacques Ellul wrote in
"Depending on the Lord," of course, is not an excuse for shoddy work or for ignoring what we've learned about writing and editing and design and the process of communication. It is simply the dynamic at work that goes far beyond our poor gifts to usher in the Kingdom of God.
Ron Wilson is former executive director of EPA.