I’ve long said that we need more Christians in journalism, and more journalism in Christians. That is, more faith in the world of hard questions, and more hard questions in the world of faith.
This conviction raises eyebrows with some people, but I’m not breaking new ground, actually—just poking at some that’s not been tended for some time. Consider these words written in 1896:
The end aim of a daily paper conducted by Jesus would be to do the will of God. That is, His main purpose in carrying on a newspaper would not be to make money, or gain political influence, but His first and ruling purpose would be so to conduct His paper that it should be evident to all His subscribers that He was trying to seek first the Kingdom of God by means of His paper.
This purpose would be as distinct and unquestioned as the purpose of a minister, or a missionary, or any other unselfish martyr in Christian work anywhere…
Whatever the details of the paper might demand as the paper developed along its definite plan, the main principle that guided it would always be the establishment of the Kingdom of God in the world.
This manifesto was set out by Edward Norman, the editor of The (Raymond) News. Some may recognize him as one of the main characters in Charles Sheldon’s classic novel, In His Steps, of which I have a treasured first edition. A century before it became a fashion accessory and a fad, the challenge “What Would Jesus Do?” was profoundly influencing the way Christians lived.
What fascinates me beyond the immediate discipleship implications of living with WWJD as a weather vane is that when he wrote the book, Sheldon considered the news media to be of such pivotal importance to God’s presence in society that it featured centrally in his book.
As I’ve observed before, many Christians today just ignore the mainstream media, failing to recognize that while they focus only on their sanitized, happy-clappy “good news” (which conveniently omits the messy), the world’s 24/7 news machine goes on discipling their non-believing neighbors in a different direction.
I don’t agree with all of Norman’s plan. For instance, he said he wouldn’t publish a Sunday edition, so employers could observe the Sabbath, but that seems simplistic: some would have had to work then to prepare for the next day’s edition. Similarly, he determined that he would not publish “brutal prize fights, long accounts of crimes, scandals in private families, or any other events which in any way…could be called bad or coarse or impure in any way.” While I support what I believe to be the spirit of his intent, the application he advocated would seem to edit out huge chunks of the Bible, too.
One guiding principle is surely applicable, though:
He would probably conduct the political part of the paper from the standpoint of non-partisan patriotism, always looking upon all political questions in the light of their relations to the welfare of the people, always on the basis of, “What is right?” never from the basis of, “What is for the best interests of this or that party?”
Sheldon had the opportunity to apply Norman’s charter in real life. In March 1900, The Topeka Daily Capital invited Sheldon to edit the newspaper for a week in accordance with his WWJD principles. In his interesting book, The Jesus Newspaper, journalism professor Michael Smith examines how effectively, or otherwise, Sheldon translated his vision into practice.
Almost a century and a quarter on, the question is still important: WWJeD? What Would Jesus eDit?