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Reminders of the importance to verify

It goes against our nature now. At one time the news appeared sporadically, with one installment around six in the evening or via the morning paper. Today, consumption never stops and every now and then were given examples of the potholes that can come because of it.

In the hours after the news broke of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown. Conn., I heard several reports that ended up being false. The shooters parents were both murdered. His mother was a teacher at the school and it was her classroom he targeted. Ryan, not Adam, Lanza was the gunman. A following intentional string of hoaxes spread via social media became such a problem that police said charges could follow.

I even had a personal episode related to the story of not verifying concretely. Like many of you, I was trying desperately to find high-resolution photos for a Sandy Hook story to appear in The Christian Index. Florida Baptist Witness managing editor and BCA officer Joni Hannigan (follow her on Twitter and Facebook) came to the rescue with an email recounting her exchange with Erik Ogren, senior public relations specialist with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The BGEA had a team of chaplains in Newtown and Erik was kind enough to make their photos available for publication.

After getting permission from Erik, Joni forwarded a Dropbox link of more than 50 photos to various members of Baptist media. I emailed Joni and asked if it was okay to post the link to the BCA Facebook page. Joni said that was fine with source information because it would be a good tool for BCA members.

What I forgot was that BCA Facebook posts automatically go to the BCA Twitter as well. So instead of the link being available just to friends of the Facebook page, I inadvertently put it out there to anyone doing a Twitter search for Sandy Hook. Oopsie.

After realizing my mistake I panicked and deleted both posts, but have since added it back to the BCA Facebook page.

Most recently, I posted on my personal Facebook page this morning a question asking if people were going to delete their Instagram accounts over the new Terms of Service slated to take effect in January. Basically, the ToS released Monday left the door wide open for photos on Instagram, and by extension Facebook, to be used by advertisers with no compensation to the owner. At the time I was asking the question, Instagram had already backed down from the new conditions. However, to further show the speed at which news moves Flickr was already promoting a way to entice Instagram users not happy with the announcement.

To my surprise, many people were unaware of the furor or hadnt taken a closer look, which resulted in a pretty good online discussion over personal copyrights and alternatives to photosharing. Many had already deleted their Instagram accounts entirely, which may prove to have been a little premature.

Baptist deadlines don't run as around-the-clock as CNN's, so there was a grace period of sorts for facts to sort themselves out. It can actually be an advantage given the extra time for misreporting to work itself out. When your organization is built about Christian principles, though, it becomes a weightier motivation to make sure what you report is truth, not rumor.

POSTED: Dec 19, 2012 | Scott Barkley, Production Editor, The Christian Index - sbarkley@christianindex.org

Four Tools I Use To Cover My Area

The fields covered through Baptist communications are as varied as the tools at your disposal. In the almost-nine years since I began working at The Christian Index, a number of online avenues have developed to keep up with our readers, which in turn give us a clue as to concentrating story coverage.

Rather than an exhaustive list of these tools, here are four you need to establish or begin building today.

  1. Blog lists  There are several ways to do this, such as RSS feeds, following particular blogs the way I do on Wordpress, or simply setting up a folder and storing links there. On Google Reader I've established two subscription lists pertinent to The Index's coverage area: Georgia Baptist Convention ministers and GBC laypeople.

    Since feeling its impact at the 2006 Southern Baptist annual meeting in Greensboro, SBC leadership has had a tenuous relationship with the blogosphere. Today, it's becoming more the exception for pastors to not have a blog. Don't just keep up with what's on their minds, but considering those blogs as possible sources for your next story.

  2. Hootsuite  I used the free version for awhile, but finally sprung for the $6 a month upgrade and it's been a great investment. Through this program I can post to various social media outlets at the same time, but the biggest benefit is scheduling a post through those resources  Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn, etc..

    Each morning, one of the first things I do is go through my Reader and check out GBC pastor blog posts. I then take those posts and schedule them at various times through the lunch hour when people are more prone to check Twitter and Facebook. Should lunchtime get crowded I'll schedule posts toward the end of the workday and, depending on the topic, even on Sunday morning when many pastors are posting to Twitter.

  3. Twitter lists  Everyone knows about Twitter, but an underused feature is Lists. Want to know what your target readership is Tweeting but not dig through a hundred posts to get there? Create a list. I have my GBC list as well as SBC media and SBC. In writing this post I realized I didnt have one for BCA, so you'll see from my Twitter account (@scottbarkley) that it's in the initial stages. Lists can be public or private, and in looking through them you can choose who out of that list to follow or with one click follow them all.

    A couple of weeks ago the reporting of Baptist Press and Tim Ellsworth prompted me to create an Olympics list so I could keep up with the athletes they profiled. I ended up adding more athletes from the Games, which gave me a look into how a persons strict diet goes to pot when you get a break after years of strict training. So whether work-related or just for an interest (football season is upon us), lists are great for chopping up your Twitter timeline.

  4. Google Maps.  A few months ago I created a map using this free tool for showing where Georgia Baptist churches were going on missions. For me, the information was fairly easy to attain through either the aforementioned Google Reader or old-school paper church newsletters that still come to The Index offices. Im also in the process of creating a map showing where Index writers have reported from this year.

With the exception of the Hootsuite upgrade, all of these tools are free and can add not only to your story-gathering, but story-telling capabilities.

POSTED: Aug 21, 2012 | Scott Barkley, Production Editor, The Christian Index - sbarkley@christianindex.org

Is Google+ something you should look into?

Whenever The Next Big Thing in social media comes along the techie squeals of joy are almost drowned out by the groans of practically everyone else. What is another great option for staying connected and finding story resources is also seen as yet another password to remember and site post to update.

It's not hard to find online sources chronicling the growth of G+ (apparently that's the hipster shorthand). The latest social media effort by search giant Google reached 10 million users in 16 days, quite a feat when you consider the time it took Facebook (852 days) and Twitter (780) to reach that mark.

I was given an invite to G+ and have been using it a couple of weeks now. What does it offer you?

  • Synchronization with other Google services. Of course, this is what the folks at Google are counting on. When on G+ the regular toolbar on your browser is replaced with a black one containing your Google services such as Gmail and Reader. I'd like to see an option where a story or blog post in my Reader can be shared easily on G+. The service is still in development. This goes back to the handing out of invites as opposed to a Wal-Mart-on-Black-Market-Friday opening. Google technicians wanted to fix snags as they showed rather than deal with an instant crush of users.
  • Sharing on Facebook and Twitter. These are extensions you have to find (I always go to Mashable.), but they are out there.
  • Sparks. These are news feeds out of Google News. Featured interests are available (movies, recipes, gardening) but can also search for ones more applicable to you (Southern Baptist Convention, Bible Study, Jacksonville State football).
  • The Circles. We've all probably shared something on Facebook that applies to some groups more than others. Facebook has the capability to separate your friends into lists, but I'm just too far into my Facebook existence to divvy those names up. That's a lazy answer, but with the new start in G+ I've already created Circles for the Georgia Baptist Convention (where I work), Friends, Professional sources, and yes, BCA. I really like the ability to pinpoint my message. There's a Public option for posting if you want your message out for everyone.
  • Hangouts This has a lot of potential. Hangouts are video chats that can host up to nine people at one time. There's a YouTube option where the chat can be recorded for later as well. I sponsored a Christian Index Hangout this week and had the cyber walls busting with... 1 attendee. Okay, but a youth minister in a rural church who also had planned on participating was foiled by a group trip to the movies. Even with a small showing, I spent a few minutes talking to the pastor on about stories coming out in the current issue of The Index and what we were working on for the next edition. At the end I asked him for feedback on story ideas he'd like to see, where he provided a couple I've now started to follow up on. I plan on holding another Hangout in a couple of weeks. Hopefully a few more pastors and even laypeople will join in.

The narrative has been G+ is seeking to take over Facebook. I don't see it that way. I'm still on Facebook and do quite a bit of work on there and Twitter because right now that's where the people are. There are several functions of G+ that are particularly useful for journalists. With its options, Google+ could definitely be a tool worth investigating.

POSTED: Aug 12, 2011 | Scott Barkley, Production Editor, The Christian Index - sbarkley@christianindex.org

Finding focus amid disaster

Adrenaline combined with lots of prayer for stamina is the only explanation I have for The Alabama Baptist's production of three 20- to 24-page newspapers in two weeks time, the first one in less than three days.

When the April 27 tornadoes ripped through our state, three of the four editorial staff members were in or headed to Atlanta for the BCA workshop. Our editor was at home but we couldn't communicate with him for hours because of widespread power outages.

However, before midnight we had a plan in place and coverage began early the next morning. I headed back to Birmingham, the staff writer already there headed to one of the disaster locations and the other staff members began working on coverage from Atlanta. The communications team from the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM) volunteered immediately to help us with coverage, as did Baptist Press and the Florida Baptist Witness. We also pulled in several correspondents.

We gave each person a specific assignment to cover and complete before handing him or her another assignment. We also asked each one to provide photos and video clips if possible. It was truly a team effort and took everyone working hard and staying focused.

Before midnight on April 29, we had stories and photos from across the state. And on April 30, we put together an entire 20-page paper in about 10 hours.

I'm not sure I remember May 1 (we supposedly took that day off to rest), but the team was back to work early on May 2 and pulled off another complex set of stories for the next issue. The third issue has much less coverage but still kept us busy chasing more detailed information.

The coverage has been an honor to be a part of and help direct. It has meant several all-nighters at the office and little sleep the other nights. I've only seen my husband a few hours since the day before the storms hit. But it has been worth it.

We've been able to get the news out quickly not only in the print edition but with added multimedia presentations in our online edition and with breaking news stories on our website. We've also tried to keep Facebook and Twitter moving with updates. The electronic and social media coverage side of this only worked because we predetermined they would be a priority even though the print deadline was breathing down our throats.

The SBOM staff also has had unprecedented coverage during this disaster through its social media and website. The amount of information flowing, as well as the video coverage, about disaster relief efforts and needs has allowed us to partner together to thoroughly keep the story fresh and alive.

Some things that helped us move into crisis coverage mode quickly:

  • Having experienced crisis coverage situations before.
  • Having listened to and learned from others who have had to deal with crisis situations.
  • Having experienced and dedicated reporters across the state on call for last-minute assignments.
  • Having equipment needed readily accessible.
  • Having a disaster relief badge because you have already been trained in disaster relief. Also having a working knowledge of disaster relief so you are not worrying the officials in the heat of the crisis with basic questions you should already be able to answer yourself.

Some things I learned that would have improved our efficiency:

  • Keep all essential personnel's contact information in your phone.
  • Keep disaster relief-appropriate clothing and shoes in your vehicle.
  • Keep your priorities in line.

I did well pushing away anything and everything that was not disaster relief related. I'm not even sure what all got ignored. I was definitely focused on the coverage.

Where I failed was acknowledging that the destruction in my hometown impacted me more than I realized. I should have made my way home to check on my family early in the process and worked my way back into coverage from there.

Instead I waited two days to go and only when I took over the coverage of that area of the state.

My family was safe, but the town was devastated. My home church was destroyed, and friends and neighbors lost their lives. It tore at my heart, but because I didn't go there first, my focus was not as sharp as it could have been.

Still, we were all able to pull our own weight and produce immediate coverage detailing Baptists' response to the third most destructive disaster on U.S. soil in modern times. It has truly been inspiring to experience the teamwork among Baptist communicators to share this tragic yet hopeful story.

POSTED: May 16, 2011 | Jennifer Rash, Executive Editor, The Alabama Baptist - jrash@thealabamabaptist.org

Collect and gather resources through Storify

With so many Southern Baptists taking to social media, it's natural for their comments to range from not just anecdotal but into the realm of denominational polity. As dialogue grows, a tool to gather quotes and context through sites such a YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, and personal blogs is Storify.

I first came across Storify late last year and was intrigued by it's possibilities in covering Southern Baptist news. It's no secret that online SBC-related discussions pick up steam as the annual meeting in June approaches, culminating in a flurry of feedback during the gathering. Many of those online users are sticking with the medium, though. This leads to a pretty consistent stream of thoughts from Southern Baptists nationally, and specifically, in your state or focus of coverage.

Still getting used to it myself, I used the service last week to Storify comments on Twitter from SBC pastors and leaders in chronicling the reaction to Osama bin Laden's death. One bit of coaching I'd give is if you don't have a Twitter list set up for Southern Baptists and/or those from your state, do that now. If I didn't have those two in place I'd have lost a great amount of time looking through tweets and digging out those I needed.

(By the way, we're looking for BCA members on Twitter. If you're up and tweeting let us know. I'll be putting you here.)

To see more of the tools put to use, look at this Storify of Newsday's report when President Obama visited Ground Zero last week. I can see church groups - especially smart-phone savvy youth - Twitpicking and videoing their own contributions on mission trips that can later be pieced together for installation onto a church website or minister's blog. Storify pieces can be embedded into self-hosted Wordpress blogs, Tumblr, and Posterous.

As more people use social media to offer their insights they become contributors, even if unknowingly. Storify appears to be a great tool in collecting that feedback and packaging it.

POSTED: May 9, 2011 | Scott Barkley, Production Editor, The Christian Index - sbarkley@christianindex.org

Social media a double-edged sword for international missionaries

Perhaps the loudest cheers for social media are how it opens up the conversation not only in number of voices, but speed. A few weeks ago, Twitter officially exploded onto the SBC scene with pastors (yes) young and (but wait a minute) older signing up to post their thoughts during sessions at the SBC annual meeting. President Johnny Hunt's blessing on Twitter the day after the SBC ended (@johnnymhunt) practically made it an institution of pastoral communications.

But what if that same openness can lead to danger? In an effort to head off trouble caused by well-intentioned messages via outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, the International Mission Board added a new element to missionary training recently - how to use social media wisely.

"It is a concern," said Wendy Norvelle, spokesperson for the IMB. "Right now we have 54 percent of missionaries working in areas where they need to be cautious in how they communicate. In April we talked to missionaries about adjusting their privacy settings and being sure who they consider a 'friend.' On their profile, we encouraged them to use the 'limited' profile and disable some options that could inhibit their ministry."

The mirage of a smaller-than-actual audience is the biggest threat. College-age missionaries serving overseas may have to fight against their own culture of sharing almost-all online.

Warren Skinner, consultant for Collegiate Ministries of the Georgia Baptist Convention, said so far there have been no instances of student missionaries from his state placing themselves in harm's way via tweet or status update.

"We've addressed it for several years now [in training] and make them aware of what's appropriate to share and what's not. They know to be careful about posting personal information on the missionaries they're serving with and anything that might compromise that ministry," he said.

Journalists may be tempted to contact missionaries through social media when their part of the world is in the news, such as with the recent unrest in Honduras. Norvelle asks media to help in protecting their status.

"One of the things we tell our personnel is to not pass judgement on governmental actions," she said. "Taking political stances is simply not helpful. We tell them to be very careful about what they say [online] about such events.

"We also ask that any stories written about them are ministry-related and not political. If a missionary says something that can be seen as politically-charged, I wouldn't mind if journalists even chided them a little for it."

POSTED: Jul 13, 2009 | Scott Barkley, Production Editor, The Christian Index - sbarkley@christianindex.org

Viewing with alarm no more

When I was associate editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger 1984-87, editor Dick McCartney would wander into my office occasionally trolling for an editorial idea. He would ask, What should I view with alarm this week?

It was always funny because as every talk show shock jock, headline writer and book hawker knows, the clanging jangle of alarm sells. Nobody reads a story that says the mail was delivered without event, or that 15,000 flights took off and landed safely, or that 25 million children attended school, ate peanut butter sandwiches and learned their ABCs without incident today.

His question also nodded to the unfounded accusation that he or the newspaper was alarmist.

We covered tough stories there, too: the former Baptist college student and church volunteer on death row after being convicted of multiple murders in Geronimo; the association throwing out a church for calling a man as pastor who had been divorced; one of our pastors on the national stage who declared what prayers God did or did not hear.

Dick was glad for me to write the stories and he handled the calls that came in afterward. The controversies of the SBC were leaking into the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and, contrary to popular belief, editors do not thrive on controversy. One day he called me into his office to tell me he always had a personal commitment to continue in a job only as long as it was still fun.

The joy was gone and he was returning to Texas to the Radio and Television Commission  an old SBC agency created when an optimistic denomination thought it had the money and will to offer a positive influence on programming on that most powerful and pervasive communications tool.

Weve since given up on both the agency and the idea.

He told me to warn me that he wouldnt be there to buffer the calls anymore, so be careful, he said. We had a nice party for him, and for me a few months later.

Dick retired to Gentry, Ark., the area where he grew up and served on the board of John Brown University. We talked a few times but never enough because I was always so encouraged in our conversations and whatever happy chemicals are released from laughter were always boosted by our talk.

An email March 9 with his name in the subject line was immediately foreboding. Dick was gone, in the twinkling of an eye. Dick, 81, had risen from bed and gone to shower. When he didnt come to breakfast in a timely manner, his wife Barbara found him on the bathroom floor, already gone.

Already gone. Like the two decades since we worked together. Like the last chance to tell him how much I appreciated when he showed up at my office door completely out of the blue when I was a seminary student and asked me to join his staff.

My wife was pregnant with our third child. Income and outgo passed in the night but seemed otherwise unrelated. And he showed up from 200 miles away and asked me to lunch. I was clueless, but my boss knew immediately what Dick was after.

His invitation came as if from the lips of an angel. There is no as if for Dick now. The songs he raises, he lifts with the angels.

POSTED: Mar 20, 2009 | Norman Jameson, , - normanjameson@gmail.com

Phoenix: A bargain destination in the works

If you're thinking Phoenix is just a little too much of a stretch for your travel budget this year, you're selling yourself short. Airlines have sales every day of the year to destinations where load factors are low or where another airline is treading on their turf.

The answer? A sporadic fare war that could be over shortly after it has begun. And that means within hours.

I remember when my wife and I flew from Atlanta to Albuquerque for a rock bottom $68 roundtrip. Three months ago I flew from Atlanta to Seattle for $150 roundtrip. How? By positioning myself to be ready for a sale and when it was announced, I pounced. As the saying goes, if you snooze you lose.

If you want to go to Phoenix, get permission today from your supervisor and then be ready to purchase that ticket. If you wait for the sale to get your permission, the sale will most likely be gone before you get approval. Today the fare between Atlanta and Phoenix is $325; last week for one afternoon it was $199. If I don't want to pay $325 but plan to get a rental car for the trip anyway, the site even tells me that I can fly into Tucson 127 miles south and get the fare for $154 and have a beautiful drive for free.

All cities do not have similar sales, but thats where the power of the Internet comes into play. To be sure you get the lowest fare, go to a site such as Travelocity and sign up for the free FareWatcher service. It's incredibly simple; just list the city pair you are interested in, the price point you would like to pay -- make it reasonable -- and once it hits that point (no guarantee) you will be notified by e.mail. Then you can either purchase the ticket from that or go to the airline's own web site and nail down the fare before it evaporates. There is no obligation on your part to do anything.

Try it. And I'll see you in Phoenix, April 16-20!

POSTED: Mar 19, 2008 | Joe Westbury, Managing Editor, The Christian Index - jwestbury@christianindex.org

What's in your professional and financial future? Advancement or stalemate?

I recently heard an older successful businesswoman on National Public Radio discussing younger, more attractive counterparts who were subtly vying for her position within the company. She said that while the younger "competition" certainly had a better professional appearance due to a more youthful advantage, the "upstarts" lacked one thing: experience that came with 35 years in the profession.

In short, she summed up her situation by saying that while she could trim down, work hard to regain that flatter stomach (her words, not mine) and purchase a new wardrobe, they could never match her on one thing: experience. Try as they might to read business manuals and smooze with the "big boys" to gain a competitive edge, they would never be able to know where the landmines were laid in order to successfully bring the troops across the battlefield.

Intuition, she stated, doesn't come from a book but from the school of hard knocks. Then she drove her point home with exceptional clarity: at the end of the day, experience always wins over beauty.

It's funny how relevant that observation becomes as one piles on the years. While never a beauty myself, the years have begun to take their toll as the salt-and-pepper hair begins to win out over the solid brown coloring. I simply refuse to use Grecian Formula to roll back the decades.

When you're young it's difficult to see over the hills and valleys on the road you are traveling; as you age you can look back over that same road and know exactly where the hairpin curves are in order to slow down, and where the flat and wide open spaces will appear so you can rev up your engine and make up some lost time.

As outgoing BCA president in 2006 I made a few remarks in my president's address that ended up being better received than I ever dreamed. I have shared those comments with several others on their request in the past 24 months and decided it was time to post them on our website.

I decided to break them down into three or four installments to give equal treatment to each topic. They will follow a variety of professional advancement techniques that have worked for me and I have seen work in the lives of others, as well. I wish I had had someone to mentor me in some of these areas as I navigated life's career and financial decisions.

The point of my comments of two years ago was this: as hard as it may be, don't waste your early years piling up debt that quickly becomes handcuffs that prevent you from reaching your spiritual and professional goals. However, those comments were not just about financial freedom; they were very much entwined in other life decisions such as sensing your career path and finding a way to reach that goal.

Let me begin with a basic understanding so I don't need to keep repeating myself. I will be making these comments based on the assumption that the reader is seeking God's will for his/her life and factors that into basic career decision-making. These observations are not meant for the cold-blooded professional who is wanting to climb as high on the career ladder as quickly as possible, though such individuals could benefit from these observations.

These are just common-sense lessons that are easily accepted but difficult to apply. Unfortunately, very few individuals will follow these because peer pressure is just too strong, especially in American society with its materialistic emphasis. Been there, done that because I'm looking in the mirror as I pen these lines. Some of these guidelines I followed and did very well; others were learned after I decided to cut my losses and make a badly needed course correction. But let's give it a shot, nonetheless.

The installments will generally cover three areas and will be directed at the younger members in BCA: how to advance in your career, the importance of saving early for retirement, and an argument for delaying a house purchase before the age of 30. These are written from the perspective of a longtime denominational employee, a saver (certainly wish I had done more there, and earlier), and both a homeowner and a landlord. I will try to keep each installation to around 600 words (following the lead of other bloggers on this site) to make them easily digestible and not try to overwhelm you with too much information, too quickly.

Well, I've already reached my limit and exceeded it by 150 words. I hope I have piqued your interest enough with what is to come and that you will check back soon for the next installment. Most likely that will be as early as next week.

Until then, remember to go ahead and send in your registration for the BCA workshop in Phoenix. The team putting this years meeting together has done an exceptional job and it could easily be the most profitable trip of your year. It's not too early to make your room reservation, either, at the phenomenal rate of $115. Try to find a room at a Phoenix resort in high season for that pittance.

Trust me, you won't.

By Joe Westbury, managing editor of The Christian Index. The Index, which is now published by the Georgia Baptist Convention, is the nation's oldest continuously published Christian newspaper.

POSTED: Jan 9, 2008 | Joe Westbury, Managing Editor, The Christian Index - jwestbury@christianindex.org

Says vs. Said

Did you hear the one about the guy who walks into a psychiatrist office and starts screaming, "I'm a wigwam, I'm a teepee, I'm a wigwam, I'm a teepee!!!" The psychiatrist takes one look at him and says, "You need to relax, you're two tents!!"

I relay that joke because as a writer I often find myself getting a little stressed out about which tense is appropriate. I encourage you to read the following column from the Poynter Institute's web page regarding "Says vs. Said" dialogue tags.

Ask Chip: Says vs. Said

POSTED: Aug 28, 2007 | Keith Beene, Administrative Coordinator, Baptist Communicators Association - bca.office@comcast.net

Gooooooo Team!

I took my son to a minor league baseball game the other day. It was his first real baseball experience. When we arrived, he wanted to walk around the stadium and see everything. "Where do we buy the ICEEs?" he asked. "Can we get one of those big, foam fingers?"

We found our seats as the public address announcer read the starting line-ups. "Wow Dad. You can see everything from here!" he said. It didn't take long for the home team to score the first runs of the game. Erik did a celebration dance in his seat. Whenever one of the opposing players struck out, he transformed into a mini-umpire shouting "Yer out!" while jerking his thumb in the air.

I'm a life-long baseball fan, but this game was special. Seeing the game from my son's perspective made it brand new again. We talked about what various abbreviations on the scoreboard meant and he couldn't believe we could put peanut shells on the ground under our seats. "Is this really okay with Mom?" he asked.

During the game, I noticed a few people who weren't there for baseball. A man two rows in front of us talked on his cell phone through several innings. A woman nearby kept her nose buried in a crossword puzzle.

Sometimes as communicators we forget what the game is all about and telling the story just isn't fun anymore. Dont turn into someone who just sits through the game. Become an active participant in the Baptist communications community by interacting with other communications professionals like yourself and by sharing your expertise.

If you're new to BCA, it's ok to look around the "stadium." There's plenty to see here. One of the biggest benefits you'll enjoy is learning from others. Like my son, be willing to ask questions. One of our officers or myself is happy to help you understand those tricky BCA "abbreviations."

If you're a BCA veteran, you can add much to our organization. Remember, the "history" of the game is just as important as the current superstar. Maybe you'd like to mentor some of our rookies. We're always looking for links to add to the resources page. Or maybe you can write a "how-to" article that we can place on the site?

Whatever your position on our team, BCA is here to help you knock the ball out of the park. Play Ball!

POSTED: Jul 26, 2007 | Keith Beene, Administrative Coordinator, Baptist Communicators Association - bca.office@comcast.net

Walking The Red Carpet

It's a relief when you receive that "Congratulations! You're a winner..." e-mail from Keith Beene the end of March. You don't know what you won, but you know you will get to walk up in front of everyone and accept that certificate. Pretty cool.

Even better -- you get to tell your boss that you won. I don't know how it is where you work, but in our department having something that shows your work has been recognized by an outside entity means something.

Once you know you're a winner, it's time to start subtly asking around your office to see who else got the coveted e-mail from Keith. That is, unless you work in our office, where we shamelessly yell, "I won something!" to the whole department!

So, those who get to go to BCA pack something nice to wear for the awards banquet and hope for the best. Granted, we don't do the red carpet thing, but I bet most of us check out what everyone is wearing. You practice your gushing & Jesse, great tie! Lisa, your pedicure is perfect! Sue Ellen, your wrap is stunning! Great shoes, Brooke!

This year, it was extra exciting for us at LifeWay. Everyone in our office who submitted an entry won something. That makes the celebration even better ... not to mention so much less awkward! Kelly, Kent and I hardly let our awards cool off before we were up in my room calling our co-workers to tell them the great news.

When Stacey Hamby asked me to write a short piece on winning, I thought, "Is there any way to do that without sounding arrogantly self-promoting?" Well, no! So, here goes... deep breath... I love winning!

I do. I love to win.

I completely understand that with human judges there is a certain level of arbitrariness. In fact, what I thought was my best work was awarded - how do I put this - nothing. But, someone does receive the best scores in each category, and honestly, I'm glad it was I in mine! Yeah, there it is, my friends. I'm thrilled that I won a Burkhalter Award.

POSTED: May 8, 2007 | Polly House, Freelance Writer/Editor, - polly.house.bca@gmail.com

Finding Hope in Hopelessness

What a great BCA conference!

What a reality check!

Both Shawn Elledge and I got back from Mobile and got right into the swing of things on Monday morning, April 16th. All the SBCV missionaries came in from around the state that day for a meeting so it was a very upbeat mood in the office. But that changed in an instant.

The words flashing on the screen and coming out of our friend's mouth didn't seem real - a gunman loose on the Virginia Tech campus, dozens of students shot, the death count going up. After the initial disbelief and shock wore off (there would be more disbelief and shock to come), we decided that we needed to be there as soon as possible. For this moment and on this week - this was ground zero for the world and it was right in our backyard!

The team dispatched our Disaster Relief feeding unit, started recruiting volunteers and the area missionaries from the Blacksburg area hit the road. The media team soon followed and showed up to an unreal scene. Hundreds of reporters, videographers, photographers, producers, satellite trucks from all over the world already were swarming the campus... All trying to get that gripping picture or interview and to relay news from this unthinkable tragedy. Our job was to not only report on the scene and the mood - everybody was doing that - but to show and tell the world how Southern Baptists were also on the ground, already serving and sharing. Everywhere you looked, there was a gripping scene.

The tears and emotion flowed freely around campus. It was amazing to see how open and honest the VA Tech students and faculty were with how they felt and what they thought. And it was equally surprising to see how open they were to talk about God, eternity and where to find hope at a time like this. I was able to conduct many necessary interviews and then immediately start sharing the hope that can be found in Jesus Christ. It almost seemed like the interview wasn't totally finished until I shared Christ with them. As I looked around, I saw this being replayed over and over again. Disaster Relief volunteers handing out meals and drinks and then sharing hope. Strangers talking about eternity and heaven and Jesus with other total strangers. Musicians playing and singing praise choruses with a crowd around the war memorial on the drill field. I know these stories aren't reported by the "major media", but it happened and is still going on. Yes, this campus did pull together in a dramatic way, as seen in the Tuesday (April 17th) convocation ceremony and the extremely moving candlelight vigil that night. It is still trying to heal, but true healing won't come without the Lord. Praise HIim that we are starting to see some of that "heavenly healing" happen right now.

I know every story has a shelf-life... this story is already moving off the front page and to the second block of the newscast. But we need to remember that this campus is still wide open for those majestic ministry moments. And when those happen, the best stories of all come through - the stories of devastated lives that found hope in the midst of utter hopelessness! Hopefully, we'll get the opportunity to continue reporting those stories.

POSTED: Apr 27, 2007 | Brandon Pickett, Vice President, Innovative Faith Resources - brandon@innovativefaith.org

4 Things We Need From You

If you attended BCA's annual workshop in Mobile, there are 4 things this organization and your fellow Baptist communicators need from you:

  1. Talk back. Fill out the evaluation form for the Mobile workshop. Tell us what you liked most from the program Doug Rogers and his Alabama team put together. Let Elizabeth Young and her team in Arizona know what you want to see next year. Every year, workshop organizers try to develop the right mix of inspiration and education. If you're really ambitious, give us at least one idea for workshop topics on the technical skills as well as the broader issues we face as communicators.
  2. Stalk someone. Chances are, you made some new friends in Mobile. But if you don't talk to them until the next workshop, what good did it do you? Every month, for the next year, why not call or e-mail someone you met through BCA? Talk about life. Talk about work. Talk about projects. Ask for ideas or for a peer review of a piece you're working on. Expand your circle of influence, and it will benefit your work and your psyche.
  3. Get published. Not in a publication, but on this BCA Web site. Cam Tracy at Union University had done a great job of building a site that's designed to help BCA be a professional development organization throughout the year. But it won't reach its full potential if you don't share what you know.
  4. Pull a pre-emptive strike. If you have return to work from Mobile and have never shared what you learned, your boss has no idea that your membership in BCA is worthwhile. Please, before the day is done, write a one-page memo outlining two or three things you learned at the Mobile workshop that will improve your performance at your current job. Then, when the Phoenix workshop comes around next year, you already will have laid the groundwork for getting approval to go.

POSTED: Apr 26, 2007 | David Winfrey, Proposal Writer, SHPS - dmmwinfrey@gmail.com

Learning to say 'No,' part 3

Do you ever find yourself taking on more than you can handle?

Do you feel sometimes like you're saying 'yes' to other people's requests but not leaving time for your own interests?

Have you agreed to a project, only to find yourself immersed in it later, saying to yourself, "What am I doing here? I don't even like basket weaving."

My wife and I joke that I have "the responsibility gene." Somebody asks me to do something, and my first impulse is to jump up, agree to take part and help be responsible for whatever is needed.

Responsibility isn't bad. One guy says that's what keeps the planes in the air. But unchecked, and the tug of responsibility can lead to basket weaving and other unfulfilling pursuits. That's why I really resonated with Mark 1 when a speaker pointed out an important truth.

Jesus was at the beginning of his public ministry. He had performed some of his first healing miracles in Capernaum. He'd also driven out some demons and was really beginning to draw a crowd.

But right after all this attention, Mark 1:35-37 reads:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: "Everyone is looking for you!" (Today's New International Version)

Now if Simon came looking most of us and shouted, "Hey, everybody's looking for you!" our first impulse would be to say, "Oh, sorry, I'll be right there."

But not Jesus. Verses 38 and 39 read:

Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else - to the nearby villages - so I can preach there also. That is why I have come." So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

With everybody looking to find Jesus so He can heal them and teach them and drive out their demons, Jesus basically responds, "That's OK, let's go someplace else."

See, Jesus knew something very important that we need to realize as well: The need is not the same thing as the call. Often Christians equate a request with God's calling. Maybe it is, but if it doesn't match the gifts God has given you, or a very specific direction God is sending you, maybe it isn't.

Jesus spent enough time with God in prayer to understand God's distinct call on His life. And as a result, amid the pressing needs of others, Jesus was still able to stay focused on that call and act in response to that call, even if it meant disappointing others.

Understanding God's call on your life requires two distinct knowledges.

First, how has God gifted and equipped you for service? Often your call can match those gifts.

Second, what is God saying to you? Jesus got away so he could hear God's voice. When we do the same, we might get the sense that God is asking us to do something very specific. If not, then spending time with God can help us evaluate our current direction and remind us that God loves us just as we are, not because of anything we do.

I wish I could tell you that if you spend some time in prayer and Bible reading each morning that your life will slow down and your schedule will be bliss. But it probably won't.

What time with God can do is give you a sense of what God expects of you. And given that knowledge, maybe it will be easier to say no the next time youre asked to help with basket weaving.

POSTED: Mar 20, 2007 | David Winfrey, Proposal Writer, SHPS - dmmwinfrey@gmail.com

New Glasses, Same World

For people who need them, eye glasses are the most constant, consistent identifying article they wear.

I've worn glasses since sixth grade and keep them bed side at night because I cannot find the floor without them.

Unlike a shirt you change every week, jeans you wash every month, or styles you change each season, you wear your glasses every day. Same glasses. They go with everything. With every shirt, coat, tie, speedo, or oxfords, you wear the same glasses.

Finding the right glasses hurts more than watching a fat girl in a bikini shop. You look for a frame to match your personality, to set you apart - but not too far. And they're expensive, especially the progressive trifocals some of...um...ya'll must wear.

Then, you don the glasses, walk proudly into the world expecting to turn every head with admiring glances and&no one notices.

You think you've changed your entire presentation and personality. You're chic instead of dowdy. You're hip, not hopeless. You're cool, with it, trendy, higher on the speed dial. And no one notices.

Not that this happened to me. When I got new glasses recently, three people out of the first couple hundred who know me intimately noticed almost right away. At least the quizzical look on their faces indicated they thought something was different. Haircut? Clean shirt?

Meanwhile, from my side of the glasses, you all look the same.

You're aging. My grass still needs to be cut. The neighbor is still a stranger. My desk is still cluttered. Your dog still pauses too long in my yard.

I guess the world doesn't change because we look through a different lens. It's just there, deteriorating patiently, hoping Christians like me one day become less concerned for the lenses through which we see the world, and more concerned for the world we see.

POSTED: Mar 15, 2007 | Norman Jameson, , - normanjameson@gmail.com

Learning to say 'No,' part 2: Determine what's important

I was in grad school for maybe five months when I was relating something from class to my wife, Mary Marcia.

I don't recall what I was saying, but I won't soon forget her turning to me and asking, "Why do you seem to have time for everything except me?"

That night, thankfully, the conversation took a different turn. With 40 hours of work, two nights of class, endless studying and a few other projects, I had been taking Mary Marcia for granted, and it needed to stop.

M&M wasn't asking me to quit grad school and she didn't expect me to resign my job at the Western Recorder newspaper. What she did expect me to do was to show her (not just tell her) that she was as important as those other two commitments.

What about you?

Are you finding too few hours in your day for everything you are asked to do? Maybe the pressure is internal, not external. Does your own professional drive leave you little time for leisure, church, or relationships?

You're not alone. Today's busy culture provides endless time-eating opportunities that can leave you tired, burned out and frustrated, if you let them.

Some refer to it as sacrificing the important on the altar of the urgent.

One of the best things you can do is decide what handful of things are most important to you and guard them tenaciously against anything else seeking your attention.

That means you're going to have to politely tell some folks no.

But first you should sit alone or with your spouse and decide what are the most important pursuits in your life and which ones to trim away.

Jesus gave us a terrific example of this, one we'll look at in a future blog entry. But first back to my story.

After talking with Mary Marcia, we decided that one way I could show her my commitment while in grad school was to have a date every week. Sometimes it was as simple as eating dinner out before getting back to studies. But that weekly ritual reminded me what was truly important and showed her that she wasn't being overlooked amid the other host of activities.

Today, I can count on one hand the time commitments Im saying "yes" to. They are (in no particular order): family, work, church, BCA and the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate.

What's on your list?

POSTED: Mar 6, 2007 | David Winfrey, Proposal Writer, SHPS - dmmwinfrey@gmail.com

A Message from Wilmer C. Fields

It is an honor, always an eye-opener, and a great pleasure for me to continue a long 48-year treasured connection with BPRA/BCA through the annual awards competition. My partnership in the group began in 1959, when BPRA was five years old. I resonated with this bunch from the start. I was completely in the dark, and blindsided at the 1986 meeting in the mountains at Glorieta, NM, when Stan Hastey made the announcement that the group had secretly voted to name the awards program after me. I think I swallowed my bubble gum!

It is a delight to sense the creativity and professionalism revealed in the entries every year. What an excellent way for members to mark your own growth, by being judged among the best of the best. And so very many, striving for superior workmanship! My connection with this skillful, productive new generation of dedicated people makes me feel like a lion in a den of Daniels. I hope 2007 is your best year! For one and all.

POSTED: Jan 24, 2007 | Wilmer C. Fields, Retired, SBC Executive Committee - wilcfields@comcast.net

Learning to say "NO"

This week, I joined the "CRACKBERRYS" of the world by purchasing a PDA.

My handy-dandy personal digital assistant can ...

  • Send e-mails about BCA business to Keith Beene in Nashville.
  • Hold digital photos of Jake after trying to feed him rice cereal and mashed sweet potatoes.
  • Store all my friends - and contacts - phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
  • Keep my personal and office calendars from scheduling me in two places at the same time.
  • Remember my wife's birthday (while reminding me not to mention how many).
  • Transport documents between work and home.
  • List of all the tasks I have at work and all the chores I have at home.
  • Call my wife to tell her I've missed the bus because I was too distracted playing with my PDA.

Whether I become an addict is yet to be determined. What already is evident is that my faithful paper-based "organizer" is no match for the multitude of meetings I have to keep up with.

Time management specialists will tell you to keep only one calendar with all your appointments. That explains why I was losing the battle trying to keep straight a paper-based organizer and the Microsoft Outlook calendar on my work computer. I never remembered to combine the things I'd said "Yes" to at work with the other things I'd said "Yes" to at home and elsewhere.

Now every day my PDA will "synchronize" my appointments from work, home, church, BCA, a non-profit board and the commitments I make to friends and others, assuming I don't misplace it.

One thing it won't do, however, is tell me when to say enough is enough.

I have to decide to quit trying to pack more into my day and instead remember to leave time for Mary Marcia and Jake, as well as the time to recharge my batteries with rest, reading and casual pursuits.

I was in my first year of grad school when a professor gave me some of the best advice of the whole program: "You need to decide now what you're going to say "No" to, because you can't do it all."

She was right, and it helped me set boundaries for my two years of study, focusing almost exclusively on work, school and family.

Now I'm finding that I need to rediscover that ability to say "No."

Maybe you're finding yourself in the same boat. If so, join me for my next few blogs, as I'm going explore a few ideas on how to get ones schedule under control.

POSTED: Jan 23, 2007 | David Winfrey, Proposal Writer, SHPS - dmmwinfrey@gmail.com

We're Playing on WC's Court

When I received W.C. Fields' Christmas letter this year I remarked again what a great writer he's become since he retired!

Or, maybe it's just the life experiences he's accumulating since he laid down the 9 to 5 and picked up a credit card for frequent traveler miles. It's hard to write poorly about exciting experiences!

How about you? Are you excited about the work/life/experiences you accumulated in 2006? It is time to put them together and enter them in the W.C. Fields Awards Competition.

I'm looking to reviewing them and seeing the winners on display in Mobile.

Funny thing about life experiences though. Even if your recounting of them doesn't win an award from your peers, every one is a treasure. Send in your stuff. Make it the stuff of dreams.

We're in a rare and wonderful position of participating in an awards competition named for a giant in our field who lives among us still.

When my oldest son was playing college basketball only two coaches in the country were coaching teams in facilities named for them: Dean Smith (whose school you all know) and John Kress at the College of Charleston.

We're playing on WC's court. And it's a privilege I hope to enjoy for a long time.

POSTED: Jan 22, 2007 | Norman Jameson, , - normanjameson@gmail.com

Attention BCA'ers: It's time to play ball!!

The 2007 Wilmer C. Fields Awards Competition is now underway. You can download the Call for Entries here. The theme for the competition this year is "Field of Dreams." With apologies to Kevin Costner, we are hoping that if we hold a competition, you will come! This year there are some new categories for podcasting, adjustments within existing categories, as well as some enhancements in how to prepare and submit news writing, feature writing, and photography entries. The entry fee is the same as last year: $40 per entry. The deadline for postmarking your entries is January 31. We are setting up the judging to be complete by the second week in March. Send me an email or give me a call if you have any questions about the competition. I look forward to seeing everyone at the BCA conference in beautiful Mobile, Ala., April 11-14!

POSTED: Jan 5, 2007 | Brent Thompson, Associate Director of Communications, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary - bthompson@swbts.edu

Words by Palmer Hartsough & James H. Fillmore, Sr. 1896

One of my favorite things about Christmas is the music. Sure, when stores start playing Christmas songs before Halloween, you can get a little tired of Rudolph before December 25. But still, Christmas wouldn't be the same without the familiar songs and carols we've come to know and love. They give us a sense of tradition, familiarity and comfort.

But then January hits and they all go away. But never fear, because there is a hymn that is just perfect for starting January. Perhaps you might even think of it as your own New Year's carol. That's what the hymn, "I Am Resolved" has become for me. I'm not much for making New Year's resolutions, but consider the challenge set forth by the hymn's writer, Palmer Hartsough: "I am resolved no longer to linger, charmed by the world's delight; things that are higher, things that are nobler, these have allured my sight."

Sounds like the Apostle Paul could have written that hymn, doesn't it? Remember his challenge to the church at Philippi? "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things" (Phil. 4:8, NAS). Its a good reminder, as we start the new year, of how easy it is to be distracted by the things of this world, and how important it is to set our minds on the things of God.

That's good advice for all of us spiritually, but it's also good advice for BCA members as we look ahead to the 2007 workshop. In just a little over a month, you'll have the opportunity to begin registering for the Mobile workshop April 11-14. I encourage you not to "linger" but to "hasten" to get your registration in early when the time comes. Watch for more information on the Web site and by email and snail mail during January about the workshop program and the registration process. (There might even be some incentives for those who register right away!).

In the mean time, happy new year!

POSTED: Jan 2, 2007 | Doug Rogers, Communications Coordinator, Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions - drogers@alsbom.org

Calling all church communicators

When I started working in Baptist journalism a decade ago, it never even entered my mind that I'd end up in church communications. In fact, 10 years ago, I'm not even sure the words church and communications were put together in the same sentence. But, today, it's a different story. Churches are waking up to the fact they need people with expertise in writing, graphics, websites and printing, and I know there are church communicators out there, but we're rarely connected with each other. So, I'm interested to know where they are. Will you take a moment and answer these questions for me?

  1. Does your church have a communications staff person(s)?
  2. If yes, paid or volunteer?
  3. What is your church's average worship attendance?

But I'd like to take it a step farther than just statistics. In BCA, we've got a gem of a resource to offer church communicators - resources, training and, most importantly, the opportunity to connect with others like us. Serving on the church level often can lend itself to being something of a "lone ranger." So, this year, we want to invite more church communicators to participate in the workshop. There are a few of us already, but we know there are others out there. I know they are just waiting to find out how they can get help for their ministry. (I know because I am one.) I was blessed to be a part of BCA already when I began serving on a church staff. But there are many others who are just waiting for someone to call and say, "Here is something great for you."

Why don't you be that person? Think about why you like BCA and then think about the person at your church who handles communications. Wouldn't he or she benefit from the same fellowship and training you receive during the workshop? You bet! In fact, I feel so strongly that BCA will benefit church communicators, too, that if you'll send me the name of the communications person at your church and the phone number, I will call him/her and offer a personal invitation. I'm happy to do it. I love to talk with others who serve in the same position... we "get" each other. You can email me at stacey@pleasantvalley.org. Or, you can give him/her my contact information.

If it wasn't for BCA and the connections I have been able to make locally with other church communicators, it would have been much more difficult for me to navigate my three years in church communications. So help us reach out to other church communicators... they deserve the same opportunity.

Stacey Hamby - BCA Communications VP
Director of Communications
Pleasant Valley Baptist Church
Liberty, Missouri

POSTED: Dec 11, 2006 | Stacey Hamby, Director of Communications, Pleasant Valley Baptist Church - shamby@pleasantvalley.org

In Defense of Creativity

"Don’t ask what the world needs. Rather ask – what makes you come alive? Then go and do it! Because what the world needs is people who have come alive" — Howard Thurman

Did you get into communications so you could edit news briefs, proofread your boss’ column or review B-roll video until your eyes bled?

Of course not.

But wherever you are and whatever your job description, you’re probably spending lots of time at work today on stuff that isn’t the real reason you got into this business.

That’s not necessarily bad. Every job has “chores” that must be done. Baseball players do fundamentals drills to get ready for games. Chefs still have to make stock before they can open the restaurant. The key is making sure you don’t spend so much time on those chores that you look up in 10 years and realize you’ve mastered the tiresome details of a job that no longer lets you do what you love.

Whether your title is staff writer, Web designer, editor, videographer, photographer or marketing director, you probably got into communications because it gave you a chance to be creative.

We like to be told, “Cool cover,” “Fun read” or “Wicked Web app.”

But too often, we find ourselves buried under the day-to-day details of our jobs, especially in small offices where we don’t get to concentrate on the creative side of what we do. If you’re feeling burned out, bummed out or ready for a change it’s likely because you aren’t getting to be creative in your current role or because your attempts at creativity aren’t being affirmed by the coworkers around you.

The flip side is that the less creative you are at work, the more your audience suffers, or simply tunes out.

So what are YOU going to do about it? Truth be told, most of our bosses aren’t going to push us to spend more time being creative, especially if there are lots of deadlines in our work. No, you have to decide that it’s important enough to carve out time being creative.

If you’re there, here are some ideas:

  1. Study creative people. Who are the most innovative writers, performers or comics you know? Take an analytical eye to dissect what they do and try to discover what makes them effective.
  2. Finish early and revisit. Working on deadline might get your adrenaline flowing, but it doesn’t always result in the most creative work. After you’ve done something, set it aside for at least 24 hours so that when you come back to it your eyes don’t glaze.
  3. Focus on the beginning and the end. Maybe you don’t have the time to inject creativity into all of a project because the deadline is just too tight. If so, spend what creative time you can on the front page, the lead of the story, the first 30 seconds of the video, and (when possible) the last portion of the project. At least the reader might get engaged in the subject because of an interesting opening. And a good closing gives the audience a final punch.
  4. Learn tips and tricks. If you’re a graphic designer, find a magazine, book or Web site that helps you keep up to date on the latest features for your software. Try to learn one trick each week to put into your skill set. The more technical skills you have, the more your creative juices will flow.

Now get out there and be creative.

David Winfrey is news director for the Western Recorder, the weekly newspaper for Kentucky Baptists. His new son, Jake, is the coolest thing in the whole wide world.

Creativity resources

  • “A Whack to the side of the Head” & “A Kick to the Seat of the Pants,” books on creativity by Roger Von Oech.
  • “The Creative Leader” by Ed Young Jr., the pastor in Texas who once preached from the top of a tank.
  • “The Art of Innovation” and “Ten Faces of Innovation” by Tom Kelley, general manager of IDEO, one of America’s leading design firms: http://theartofinnovation.com/
  • 10 ideas to boost your creativity: http://www.jpb.com/creative/creative.php
  • Society for News Design. www.snd.org. If you work at a newspaper or regularly edit a publication, you should check this group out. For $100 a year, you get magazines and newsletters that review the latest in news design and you get a thick glossy picture book, “The Best of News Design” which can give you inspiration throughout the year.

POSTED: Sep 6, 2006 | David Winfrey, Proposal Writer, SHPS - dmmwinfrey@gmail.com

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