A man I love once told me that I am what’s wrong with the world.
“You,” he had exclaimed in frustration. “You are the problem!”
I was in my early 30s and working as an Executive Producer in a TV newsroom. My sixth newsroom in four states, which to me symbolizes the sacrifice and hard work I had put in to build a successful career and advance in an industry that I can only describe as a 24/7 pressure-cooker.
I was having dinner with my parents when my dad, clearly exasperated and not intending to hurt my feelings, declared that as a member of the media, I was the problem.
His frustration is forever burned in my memory. And let’s be clear: I know my dad loves me.
Even so, it wasn’t the first time I had felt the disgust behind those words, nor was it the last. Strangers have no problem sharing their hate for the media, often without realizing who they’re saying it to. Family members and friends usually quickly add, “Not you, but you know what I mean.”
Yes, I do know what you mean.
And I also know that you are wrong.
A worldwide pandemic and global lockdown. Protests following the death of George Floyd. The largest wildfires in California’s history. An Impeachment trial and acquittal of President Donald Trump. The tragic death of Kobe Bryant and seven others in a helicopter crash.
The headlines from 2020 have been overwhelming.
I didn’t even mention that we’re in the middle of a polarizing election season. Or that places in Europe are reporting a second wave of COVID-19.
How many of us have taken a break once or twice from the news? Maybe you’ve cut it out entirely at this point, at least from traditional news outlets. Maybe you’ve even hit pause on that endless social media scroll, taking time to shut out the negativity to focus on your mental health.
I support this. No, I super support this, if that’s a thing.
But I also have to gently share something that is sitting both heavily and passionately on my heart. Gently, because it’s been a tough year already — and we still have a full quarter left — yet also passionately, because it hits really close to home for me and it’s not being talked about enough in the right ways.
There is a group of people we depend on to bring us this news and information and they are never able to take a break from the headlines.
I was recently asked to give a short speech focusing on how we can pray for the media.
It was a simple enough request. I was among 100 women in Michigan being honored for their Christian leadership, and several of us were asked to speak during the event. She Leads Michigan is actively leading the way with faith-based solutions for modern-day problems. I am incredibly honored to be included with this group of women who are comprised of politicians, entrepreneurs, healthcare professionals, pastors, and many more.
While it was a simple request, I struggled and prayed for weeks to find the right words. And then God whispered: just tell your story.
Here is the speech I gave to She Leads Michigan 2020:
Let’s start with a little exercise to open our minds and our hearts — we’ve been sitting in these chairs all day, so let’s flex our muscles a bit!
Take a moment, close your eyes, clear your thoughts.
And I want you to visualize the words I say and how they make you feel.
Ooooh. Did you feel that shift?
You can open your eyes now.
Continue to sit with that feeling for a moment.
What is it about the media that makes you start to feel just a bit uncomfortable in your chair?
Is it the people on TV?
The journalists who write for our community newspapers?
Or is it the topics they have to cover?
The topics we need to hear — but would rather not.
Topics like a statewide shutdown due to COVID-19. Protests because Black Lives do Matter. And, let’s not forget, a polarizing election season in the midst of all of it.
How should we cover our media in prayer?
It comes back to how the word itself makes us feel.
Let me explain.
As a little girl, I would walk around in my mom’s high heels and a peacoat, reporting the news at home. I used our VHS recorder to videotape my reports. I had a map of the United States for my weather segment. I gave play-by-play sports highlights. And just for fun, I would even use a notepad to write out my stories for my very own newspaper.
As a fifth-grader, Jane Pauley was my shining star. Let’s be real, I still love Dateline and 60 Minutes. My friends teased me about spending nights at home during my 20s — what, are you going to curl up and watch the news? I mean, maybe?!
In middle school, our church youth group always got to deliver the Easter morning sunrise service. But there was a year that my family was going to be in Florida. So, I pulled out that handy video camera, taped a few look-live segments — you know, interviewing one of the disciples at the Last Supper; and the big highlight, outside the tomb where the stone had been rolled away! The rest of the youth group was in church that Easter, acting out a newscast with their trusted on-the-scene reporter on video.
It was no surprise to anyone who knew that little girl that I grew up to work in TV news. Yes, I have three Emmys and other awards from my time as a producer and executive producer. But like most journalists, I was not motivated by the thought of being in the spotlight. I wanted to tell stories. My heart’s desire was to help people. And I firmly believed that democracy does not exist without freedom of the press. Something, I still believe. I also believe our communities would be less connected.
But the news is all bad, some people say. Sure, covering a house fire was hard. But it helped the family get the donations they needed! A fatal car crash? Or a shooting? We weren’t exploiting the victims’ families; we were part of their healing, sharing their loved ones’ stories.
I covered the bridge collapse in Minneapolis – absolutely horrific event – school bus precariously positioned on the bridge, cars in the water. More than a dozen people killed, hundreds more gravely injured or impacted traumatically in some way —
Our reports brought changes to ALL of our nation’s bridges. Because bridges just shouldn’t fall down in America. Especially not the bridge that I drove over every day to get to work — at the station where we stayed on the air 27 hours straight when the bridge collapsed.
By the time I looked at my phone after our news coverage, I had dozens of missed calls.
Remember, it was my community. My bridge. Think about our firefighters whose homes are burning — it’s like that. Reporters are on hurricane watch while their own homes flood. Our black journalists are covering Black Lives Matter.
So when I say these words: community, connection, storytelling, and freedom, I am talking about the media. I am talking about all of those little girls who grow up to become women who devote their lives to sharing the stories we need to hear to be informed; the stories that provide transparency and accountability; the stories that give us hope and healing; the stories that show us when a system is broken and we need leadership to step forward and rebuild.
When you think about the media, what words first come to your mind?
Community and freedom?
Fake news and spin?
Let me talk directly about fake news for a moment. And know that I’m not talking about the political push behind the phrase. Consider this: where does the news come from? It doesn’t come from the news desk. Where are the press releases and news conferences generated? Elected officials. Business leaders. Healthcare experts. Sources we hope we can trust. Sources we hope mean well. The media tries to discern the difference. So let’s pray for that.
Does society’s bias impact your impression of the media?
Because this… this is my answer… this is where we start our prayers for the media.
We start by asking to have our hearts and minds to be opened.
Our own words and even our thoughts have power. We have influence.
Like all things in this world —
We can choose to use this power and influence for good.
SO — Let’s first thank God for the media, with grateful hearts for the stories they share to help our communities.
Let’s recognize the big job they have to tell big stories with only a little amount of air time or space on a news page.
Let’s remember they’re people too.
And just as they work to hold us accountable — let’s do the same for them in ways that are meaningful, loving, and gracious.
Pray that their hearts be set on God to share the stories He knows we need to see and hear.
That’s how we can pray for our media.