Bishop Nick speaks on working with the media

"Working with the media: playing with fire?" was the title of a Lent talk given by Bishop Nick this week.

Speaking to an audience at Huddersfield Parish Church, he began by recounting what happened immediately after the attack at the Palace of Westminster on 22 March.

Because he was in the House of Lords at the time, Bishop Nick received a flurry of media requests, and gave multiple radio and tv interviews, as well as writing a Thought for the Day for Radio 4 and a 950 word article for the Yorkshire Post.

He said, “The media are a very hungry animal, awake 24 hours a day and needing constant feeding. But we still need to be judicious in what we say.

"The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said, “Just because they put a microphone in front of me doesn’t mean I have to say anything”. And by responding we need to be careful that we’re not just feeding our own egos and that we can make it count by having something to say that shines a different light on the world.

"In this instance, I was able to describe (contrary to many of the headlines) that inside Parliament all was calm and panic-free, and also answer the question (that journalists often ask at times like this) about the impact of tragic events on faith.

“Journalists have said to me that the Church still assumes the media should be broadcasting its message because it’s got something nice to say. But to operate on their turf, we need to fit the medium, to be telling our stories in a way that they can use, because the medium won’t bend itself for our message.

“We talk about the need for religious literacy in the media but we have a responsibility to be media literate too. To understand what news values are, the media’s need for stories and pictures and something with a bit of an edge, as well as the codes of impartiality and deadlines with which they have to operate.

“We can sometimes have a reputation for being too negative, so if you want to send a critical letter to a media outlet make sure you also send a congratulatory one when you see or hear something good.

"And we can sometimes seem a bit humour free – so it’s good to counter their stereotypes from time to time".

“Everything we do is a form of media, or communication - our notice boards, buildings, parish magazines. And for any media to be effective you need to consider who you’re talking to. For example, I see some parish magazines that I’m told are distributed around the parish, but which make no concessions to an outside audience – the language is all internal and makes assumptions about who and what you know.

"And at one church, the notice about services on the external notice board was so complex that I couldn't understand it. And I was the vicar.

“If we’re addressing people who have little to do with the church, we need to work hard at expressing what's familiar to us in clear and different ways".

“When I do Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans show on Radio 2, my job is to stop people going to put the kettle on during the ‘God slot’. It’s a frivolous, high energy programme with 10.3 million listeners (the largest radio audience in Europe) so I need to grab the attention, awaken curiosity, tease the imagination and then give a pay off that enables the programme to continue without an awkward gear change.

“Thought for the Day is very different - it also has to fit in to the programme as smoothly as possible, but this time in the context of a serious news agenda. There’s no conversation with the presenters, it’s a straight monologue that has be topical without being political, and it has to leave the listener with one thought – not several.

“If you write a blog, again, the question to ask is who are you speaking to? Many Christian bloggers tend to write for the church. But if you write for the church hoping the world will be looking in, the reality is they’re probably not. My approach is to write for the world, knowing that the church will also look in. (To date I’ve had nearly 2 million views, although I have little time to write a blog these days).

"It’s not about evangelising, but scratching beneath the surface a bit, asking what does it mean to be someone loved by God, a human being who matters.

"So treat the media with caution, but engage with them and work with them, not over against them - remembering that the medium dictates the way you express yourself.

"You may be worried it’s playing with fire, but fire can warm and shed light, as well as burn. So my advice is take a risk and have a go".


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