I’ve not done much “in-front-of-the-cameras” journalism. I have a tendency to look rather panicked when a lens is trained on me, and possess what is known in the industry as a great face for radio. Still, I can identify closely with Martina Purdy.
She is the veteran BBC political correspondent in Northern Ireland who recently caused some consternation by announcing that she was leaving journalism to join a convent. Swapping the reporter’s notebook for the rosary, as it were. From the newsroom to the nunnery.
There was widespread bafflement over the decision, which she described as pursuing a “completely different way of life.” While wishing her well, I’d beg to differ a bit. As I have observed before, the news world and the world of the Good News need not be at odds. Jesus and journalism can—should—go together.
Though they are all too often adversarial, I would contend that of any groups, journalists and Christians have perhaps the most in common:
- Each sees their life work as a calling.
- Each is pursuing truth.
- Each wants to change the world for the better, in some way.
- Each believes in the power of the word.
In their best version, each is driven by a line from poet Robert Frost that for me captures the essence of a journalist or a Jesus-follower: someone with “a lover’s quarrel with the world.” In other words, a holy dissatisfaction with the way things are.
There’s a downside, though:
- Each can develop a self-righteous, hero-crusader mentality
- Each can hold others to higher public standards than they own privately.
- Each can get cocooned in their little own world of like minds.
- Each can let image, rather than the word, dictate what’s important.
The two groups need to afford each other a little more respect.
Journalists have to recognize that all people of faith are not (necessarily) ignorant, bigoted, and naive. That though they, as a group, may be overwhelmingly non-religious, many of the people they are writing about (and for) are overwhelmingly the opposite.
Jesus-lovers must recognize that reporters are not (necessarily) aggressive atheists out to get them. They may not acknowledge a Higher Truth, but they are committed to getting the facts right—and it’s not their job to be PR agents for God.
Given her years of experience, I was surprised that, in her statement about her decision, Purdy asked “that the media respect my privacy and that of the religious congregation which I am entering as I face up to the new challenges of my life.” That seemed rather naive. Accepting some scrutiny might have helped close the gap some perceive between Martina the interviewer and Martina the intercessor.
For me, she may have chosen a new course, but she’s still headed in the same direction. That’s how I have felt since stepping away from a career in mainstream journalism. What’s changed is the location, not the vocation.