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Following the lead of Carl F.H. Henry

Learning “Journalistic Truth in a Postmodern Age”

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Pursuit of a quality product like the magazine you’re holding in your hand right now involves a good bit more than concentrating on this week’s issue. We’ve got to be thinking as well about what WORLD looks like a year from now, five years from now, and even a decade down the road.

That’s why in early 1999 we took steps to form what we called the World Journalism Institute. Through WJI, we sought to shape the worldview, skills, ambitions, and journalistic habits of a number of men and women.

That summer, about 20 brave folks came to Asheville, N.C., for an intensive course in the worldview and theory of journalistic practice and to work side by side with the WORLD staff in the actual reporting, writing, and designing of the magazine. The robust success of that effort demanded that we mark the completion of the course with a noteworthy “graduation” exercise. We needed to enlist a noteworthy speaker.

Our thoughts turned to Carl F.H. Henry. Henry had been one of the foremost journalists in the history of the United States. He was a radio commentator in Los Angeles, a movie critic, editor of a weekly newspaper, a stringer for The New York Times and the Chicago Daily Tribune, an occasional contributor to the tabloid press, and then for 12 years the editor of Christianity Today magazine.

Henry’s journalistic influence still abides in the work of World News Group.

Would Henry think our fledgling institute important enough to invest the time? At first the answer was no: He cited his age, his ill health, his schedule. But WJI director Bob Case pleaded our cause, and the date and details were set. His all-night travel arrangements from a small town in Wisconsin to a small town in North Carolina may have taken the edge off his hour-long address (“Journalistic Truth in a Postmodern Age”), but this champion of Biblical truth-telling set a standard for speakers at subsequent closing banquets. Soon to follow were names as varied as J. McCandlish Phillips, veteran reporter from The New York Times, and Star Parker, the spark-plug activist and columnist for ­gospel-based causes.

And from those closing dinners have gone out some 500 well-equipped journalists. They have a variety of gifts exercised all over the world. You’ve seen their bylines, both in WORLD and in a host of print and digital media.

On that August 1999 night of WJI’s Carl Henry dinner, every student and guest received from Henry a brief flier suggesting a handful of questions, beyond the traditional five W’s, every Christian journalist should be asking along the way:

1) Are you telling the truth?

2) Are there witnesses?

3) Is this the proper time and place to tell the story?

4) Has the offending party been treated as one would wish to be treated and given opportunity to reply (as in a letter to the editor or a news story)?

5) Can I identify the offender’s right intentions and note a better way of fulfilling them?

6) Am I the best-informed source to make the matter public, and can I reiterate the journalistic principles that are at stake?

7) Can the Christian source locate a relevant Bible verse or passage and show how it illumines or reinforces the right decision and action?

8) Does Christian hope shine through in anticipation of the final triumph of righteousness?

9) Does Christian commitment to global mission, as antedating the League of Nations and United Nations, remain more comprehensive, Messianic, and enduring?

10) Does good news survive the worst of all tragedies?

Henry’s speech to the WJI students in 1999 was one of his last public presentations. He died in 2003 at 90 years of age, but his journalistic influence still abides in the work of WORLD News Group.

Joel Belz

Joel is WORLD’s founder. He contributes regular commentary for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Radio. Joel has served as editor, publisher, and CEO over three decades at WORLD and is the author of Consider These Things. Joel resides with his wife, Carol, near Asheville, N.C.


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