Journalism Notes: Spiritual Growth Through Reading and Writing News

One of the biggest challenges I face as a journalism professor is just getting students to read the news. Even those majoring in journalism often spend little time staying abreast of current events.

Now I’d like at this point to launch off into my high-minded tirade about how they’ll never learn to write the news if they don’t read the news, or how it’s terribly narcissistic of them to expect other people to read their stuff when they don’t read anyone else’s.

But the truth is I can relate. I wasn’t a news junkie when I got started in journalism either. I, like many of my students, just liked to write. I had been sufficiently patted on the back by my precollege English teachers and told I had a decent knack for turning a phrase.

I really didn’t know what journalism was all about. I didn’t know that it required getting information from other people in order to report my stories. I didn’t know that it was about serving my audience more than serving my own craving to express myself.

As I’ve matured in my field, both as a journalist and an academic, I’ve realized that it has been a wonderful lesson in selflessness.

The story isn’t about me; it’s about others. It’s about serving others. If I have any gift or talent to do this job, it’s only because of God’s glory and generosity.

Practicing and teaching journalism has also taught me a lot about discipline. This, I tell my students, is not the pursuit for those wishing to wax poetic when the muse strikes.

It’s about deadlines. It’s about doggedly pursuing your sources to get the interviews and information you need. It’s about writing when you don’t feel like writing.

Get your facts right. Follow the story. Turn in clean copy.

Staying up to speed with the news of the day also teaches selflessness and discipline. Yes, I think as we get older many of us cultivate a more organic interest in the issues of our community or the world more broadly.

But it’s also easy to get wrapped up and consumed in our own daily grind. When you’ve got a million things on your own to-do list, sometimes it can seem like just a bit too much to take time out to listen to what’s going on in other people’s lives.

What I find, and what I try to impart to my students, is that developing a healthy news habit can help us foster empathy in ourselves.

It makes us aware of the challenges facing our neighbors down the street or our fellow man on the other side of the world. It helps us to “rejoice with those who rejoice (and) mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15).

If by the end of the semester I can get one or two to add a news app to their phone and check it once in a while, maybe I’ve done some good.

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Jeff Neely

Jeff Neely is an assistant professor of journalism at The University of Tampa, where he teaches courses in newswriting, feature writing, multimedia journalism and literary journalism. His research has examined the role narrative and literary journalism can play in broadening our understanding of various issues and experiences life brings our way, from identity formation to environmental ethics. He has also studied how youth journalism programs, where young people tell their own stories and those of their peers, can help strengthen local communities. He is currently working with local non-profit outreach organizations to build a youth journalism program called Tampa Youth Voice. Prior to entering academe, Jeff worked as a writer and editor for various publications in and around the Tampa Bay area, as well as a case manager and resource development specialist for the Florida foster care system.

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