The Word Still Holds Power

Thoughts on using -- and not abusing -- the power of the written word.

by Ron Wilson

A commentator on National Public Radio recently described the nervous passengers and serious mood, as well as the over-sensitive security personnel, as he boarded a commercial airline flight. He made it sound as though flying is an unpleasant and hazardous experience. I had just returned from a round-trip flight from Washington D.C.'s Dulles airport to Tampa for the EPA board meeting, and my experience was nothing like his. I sensed no nervousness, only the usual travelers' impatience, even though the long lines I expected at security never materialized. I've flown several times since then and, except for a little more careful checking at security, not much has changed.

Days later, just after one reporter told us that hotel occupancy in Las Vegas was actually up, not down, I heard another commentator refer to the fear of travel "experienced by most Americans." I began to wonder what these media people were smoking. Were they projecting their dreams on us as facts? Further, these reports made me aware of the power of modern media, for good or bad.

It always surprises me when I receive a comment on something I've written and I realize that my words have genuinely affected someone else's life. Generally the feedback comes as though out-of-the-blue, unexpected, though welcome. (Isn't that why I do what I do?) And that leads me to consider the influence that the total output of the evangelical press has on its audience.

In journalism school, many years ago, my professors were not shy about using the phrase "the power of the printed page" and reminding us that once we put it in print, it's difficult to take it back. Today that sounds like an obvious and outworn mantra, a cliche that no self-respecting journalism prof. would get caught dead using. Well, perhaps, like patriotism and the flag, which we've taken down from the shelf and dusted off, we need to reclaim this idea and give it some prominence, or, at least, discuss it among ourselves.

The aggregate circulation of EPA publications is somewhere near 19 million. Even accounting for those who receive more than one publication, that's a lot of hits. And if the old adage is true, then as a body of publications, we have a considerable influence on the church and on our society.

Keeping in mind that our readers believe and take to heart what we write, I'd like to make a few suggestions:

  1. Find a group of colleagues who will yield honest feed back to your writing, before you publish.
  2. Keep an open mind to criticism and a humble spirit. If you ask for comments on your writing, you'll probably get it. The strongest drive in human nature, is not sex or hunger, it's the drive to tamper with someone else's copy. I confess, I often send my copy out for review, and sometimes I find the comments hard to take. That's pure pride, of course.
  3. Keep your focus on your readers. Ask, "how can I scratch where they itch.?"
  4. Step up to the challenge of the issues of the day, which are many. Within the parameters of the mission of your publishing organization, remember the influence you may have and use it.

Ron Wilson is a former executive director of EPA.