Newspaper headlines shown side on in a stack of daily newspapers

Church needs a Star-ing role

Getting beyond the broadsheets, with journalist James Hastings.

I’ve been called many things, but this was a new, improved title.

The envelope was addressed to James Hastings, Architecture Editor, The Daily Star.

Now, the Star is a red top that certainly promotes heavenly structures, but more in the shape of Naomi Campbell than Norman Foster.

A press officer had called me a few days earlier. She’d obviously been on holiday the day her line manager held a staff seminar on Newspapers To Contact Regarding Post War British Architects.

Back then, I did regular shifts at the Star and, just as regularly, my new friendly PR sent me press releases about modern homogeneous tectonics or advances in Doric entablatures. For a while, I seriously considered a part-time career building man caves, but I’ve never progressed beyond putting up shelves.

At the Star, I received a wide variety of press releases. They came weekly, sometimes monthly, from bodies such as the natural nappy association, a men’s lacrosse team and a greyhound dog rescue charity.  There were others from music managers, local authorities, hotel groups, supermarkets, sports organisations, record companies and clothes designers (well, lingerie designers mostly)

I can’t recall ever receiving a press release from a church, or a Christian ministry. For some people, that’s akin to a socialist workers group sending press releases to the Daily Mail – and expecting to have them published.

Well, as a Christian I believe in the miraculous, couldn’t live without it. As a freelance journalist, I’ve sold positive Christian stories to tabloids including The Daily Star, The Sun, The Sunday Mirror, The Daily Record and – sprinkle yourself with holy water  – The News of The World.

These stories have included testimonies where people talked about how they came to Christ and celebrities talking about their Christian faith. They’ve included projects carried out by Christian ministries, charities and churches.

So, it puzzles me why most Christians simply want nothing to do with the tabloids. Most Christians consider sending press releases to a broadsheet such as the Guardian or Daily Telegraph, as an acceptable media activity. Church media people love the chattering classes. Getting a Christian spokesperson on Radio 4’s Today programme for two minutes is the church media equivalent of healing a leper. Top drawer miracle.

They simply don’t entertain any contact with the tabloids. Yet, these are a fertile grounds for evangelism. Tabloids love a good testimony. They love a strong human interest story and, from my experience, the church is full of both.

I’m not opposed to Christians engaging with the broadsheets. But The Sun still sells more copies every day than all the broadsheets put together. Here is a vast mission ground that Christians are ignoring, while focusing their resources on getting a positive church comment into a Guardian story on fair trade. Shouldn’t we be aiming to do both?

Jesus engaged in the synagogues with the intellectuals, while also going out to the ‘rougher parts of town’ to speak with fishermen, drunkards, prostitutes and other ordinary people. Sadly, most Christian media people don’t want to dirty their hands with the vulgar tabloids, preferring to stay within their clean cloistered office walls.

Perhaps its time for Christians to talk tabloid and get the name of Jesus into the red tops, without it being part of a feature on Ricky Gervais.

After all, its the Son wot won it.

Paul Arnold
  • Naomi Smallwood

    Really interesting read, and some good points made.
    I think where the struggle for me is, that a lot of these papers (not necessarily categorised within broadsheet/tabloid – both have their issues) need to be stood up rather than pitched to. Will they even read our press releases if we’re standing up saying ‘you were wrong to victimise these people/what you’re writing simply isn’t true/you’re behaving irresponsibly’, which I absolutely believe we should be doing – because there’s a lot of people’s who lives are unfairly being thrown upside down by these papers, and we should be standing up for them.
    Maybe it’s about finding a way of reaching the readers, without vindicating the behaviour of an awful lot of our press.

  • Mrs Chubley

    Well said.I quite agree.

  • Interesting- and funny:) Not unrelated to the business of getting faith material onto commercial radio…