Church and Media Conference 2017 – A Look Back

It’s very easy after a conference like ours to indulge in the self-congratulatory back-slapping that often characterises the end of such events. But in this case I think we can unanimously agree – without hyperbole – that this year’s MediaNet conference was a true-blue humdinger.

Like a Barcelona team hyped up to eviscerate their opponents within the first 20 minutes, so we got off to a great start. BBC presenter and journalist Sally Bundock has the twin qualities of being a first class presenter and interviewer but also someone who’s compassion gloriously shined through. Her sincerity and honesty in telling the Faith Under Pressure panel she chaired – and the wider audience – of how she coped after her husband’s death was done with admirable sincerity and honesty. As one member of the audience was held to observe: “She seems to radiate the Holy Spirit.” Sally’s panelists – journalist Helen Coffey and BBC Five Live Producer Darren McKenzie and actor David Gyasi were no less impressive. Helen’s account of how she has survived as a Christian journalist in what at times can be a distinctly un-Christian workplace was as compelling as Darren’s integrity as he outlined the pitfalls of explaining the finer points of human mortality to his young son. David’s account of his encounter with an A-list actor had the audience on the edge of their seats.

For me it was then on to the Romney Room where Zacharias Trust Global Media Director Nancy Gifford capably chaired a lively discussion on How To Brief A Journalist On Theology. A tall order you might think in this secular world but not one which fazes Nancy, who is also a representative of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. A Christian apologist, she reminded us, is not someone who apologises for his or her faith but someone who powerfully defends that faith with cogent and well-researched arguments.

And so on to the third session, When Is Censorship Justified? featuring former Times Religion Editor Ruth Gledhill, Christianity magazine Editor Justin Brierley and Hussein Kesvani from Theos. Again, another fascinating discussion with intriguing snippets from Ruth – who has been a top-flight journalist for a long time – and relative newcomers Hussein and Justin who can perhaps both be described as millennial representatives of the digital generation! The ensuing discussion involving the audience featured an intriguing contribution from a prominent newspaper lawyer who made the point that in the old days our censorship laws were intended to protect God from offence, but now they appear to be designed to protect individuals from being upset.

A delicious lunch and then into the second breakout session which for me was How To Go It Alone As A Freelancer, led by Former PR Week Editor Kate Nicholas. This is another seriously gifted woman. Cancer survivor, journalist, best-selling author, accountant, and parent to name just a few of her skills. To go freelance, she advised, you need to be well organised and above all a self-starter. As Rory Martin tweeted: Tax return. The two most dreaded words in the world of media. But @KateNicholas makes it so sound so easy.

After that I went to hear journalist, broadcaster and priest Giles Fraser give his sage and lively advice on How To Write And Pitch A Successful Op-Ed. “It has to be chaotic, it has to be irresponsible it has to be irreverent,” he advised.

Other Fraser pearls of wisdom:

  • Being wrong isn’t something you should be afraid of. Being boring is worse
  • Sometimes there is no pain-free way of writing an op-ed
  • Go with your instincts and do not get bogged down. A piece that takes 45 minutes to write is often better than something that takes double that time
  • Be passionate

The penultimate session, This Isn’t What I thought I’d Be Doing was a fireside chat featuring Tim Plyming (Content Director at Green Rock) , Chris Landau (CofE priest and former BBC news reporter) and Tobi Olujinmi (founder of WTALK and former lawyer) about the unpredictable nature of the media industry and how careers evolve to take you where you would never end up. The days of a job forever are a thing of the past, Tim observed, but with increased employment uncertainty comes opportunities that were not previously available. The careers of Tobi and Chris – both eloquently described by them on stage – definitely seem to reflect this rule.

And finally an intriguing discussion – which seemed to end too early – of the approach of Millennials & The Media chaired by chaired by Kiera Phyo (Lambeth Palace, broadcaster on Radio 2 Pause for Thought) and involving Emma Green (The Atlantic) and Ruth Awogbade (Magnify magazine). The future may well be digital, but rumours of the death of print may be over-exaggerated. Both Emma and Ruth are trailblazers in their careers and both work for or run printed publications!

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