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The Church Can Learn from Longhurst
The first line of the introduction to John Longhurst's book on effective media relations should be an invitation to every church communications director to pick up a copy immediately.


It was not surprising this past May when Winnipeg faith writer John Longhurst received the National Religious Communications Award from the Association of Roman Catholic Communicators of Canada for his "Distinguished contribution to religious communications in Canada." Currently director of communications and marketing for Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Longhurst has been involved in church-related communications since 1981, mostly in the field of international development. He has worked as the associate editor of the Mennonite Brethren Herald, as director of communications for Mennonite Central Committee Canada, as founder and editor of a peace and justice community newspaper in Dallas, Texas, and as director of communications for Mennonite Economic Development Associates.

Making the News: An Essential Guide for Effective Media Relations

The first line of the introduction to John Longhurst's Making the News: An Essential Guide forEffective Media Relations should be an invitation to every church communication director, media co-ordinator, television and radio evangelizer and blogger to pick up a copy of the book immediately. It reads: "Those of us who work for non-profit organizations are faced with a never-ending challenge: how to tell the largest number of people about our events, programs and issues for the least amount of money."

In more biblical language, how on earth do we move the light from under the bushel and onto the lamp stand so everyone in the house may see it? How do we learn the difference between old news and the new news—with a real story worth telling to the world?

Longhurst's 177-page, easy-to-read updated version of this earlier book has a sole purpose: to help people work with the media. The titles of the chapters deal with everything—"The Media," "Making News," "The News Release," "The Interview," "News Conferences," "Religion and the Media," "Crisis Communications" and a very good collection of miscellaneous topics including famine, pornography, audience, research, gimmicks, and the Internet. Each chapter contains practical information.

Through a wide-range of ideas, helpful strategies and practical examples—topped off with lots of recommendations, do's and don't for your organization—Longhurst teaches us how to make the news good. The author knows why so many people in small, faith-based organizations have quite a time working with the media. The media are often so sceptical, while non-governmental organizations and church organizations are convinced of the goodness and truth of their cause. The author patiently shows how media, NGOs and church organizations can avoid miscommunications and media messes, and succeed at getting an accurate message out. The book is a must for those in the media world and the organizations trying to get their messages announced from the rooftops.

Two chapters are noteworthy. Chapter two deals with "Making News." It contains the best advice I have read about "pitching stories," and all of the different angles involved in this process. Many times in the church, our stories are non-stories because key elements are missing. It is as though Longhurst is telling us in this book: "Build them a story—and they will come!"

Chapter eight is an excellent treatment of the whole area of crisis communications. If our churches set up communication teams when times are good, they can spend some time in brainstorming sessions about how to handle the media when times are bad. An open and honest strategy is best. I know of many institutions and situations that could have benefited from this book over the past few years.

Finally, it serves no purpose for church officials and leaders to vilify those in the media, to stonewall and not respond to the constant phone calls of this reporter, that producer, some editor. That's the nature of the beast. They don't call it breaking news for nothing. Nor does it serve any purpose for those in the media to ignore or marginalize the church and religious issues, treating them as trivial matters that don't merit serious reflection. We have to learn from each other, and we have much good work to do together to serve the cause of truth and decency in a world that is becoming more devoid of value, virtue and meaning.

I suggest this book be read hand in hand with Pope John Paul II's last major formal document …

Having worked closely with the media for the past eight years, I found myself in total agreement with almost every point mentioned in the book. I was particularly grateful for Longhurst's honesty in speaking about some of the great risks involved in working closely with the media.

I suggest this book be read hand in hand with Pope John Paul II's last major formal document—an apostolic letter entitled, The Rapid Development, released January 24, 2005. It was addressed "To those responsible for communications" and contains an important message to every media mogul, copy editor, reporter, writer, broadcaster, web master and blogger, whether Roman Catholic or not.

The most interesting aspect of "Rapid Development" may be his comments on communication within and by the church. After citing a number of other statements and documents on public opinion in the church, the letter states: "Communication both within the church community and between the church and the world at large requires openness and new approach toward facing questions regarding the world of media. This communication must tend toward a constructive dialogue, so as to promote a correctly informed and discerning public opinion within the Christian community."

Pope John Paul II would have been very happy to know about Longhurst's book. It took "Rapid Development" very seriously.

Fr. Thomas Rosica is the chief executive officer of the Salt and Light Catholic Media foundation and Television Network in Canada.

Originally published in the Catholic Register, October 8, 2006.

 

 
 
 
 

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