‘The medium and me’: Remembering a Christian in the newspaper industry
Former New Zealand Herald journalist Garth George was a ‘Christian in the media’.
When he officially retired from full time secular journalism, he edited non-denominational newspaper Challenge Weekly for two years and continued writing his weekly column for the New Zealand Herald. He was fired from the New Zealand Herald in 2011 citing that the newspaper was heading in a new direction.
He continued with a weekly column in a local newspaper, but was diagnosed with terminal cancer, which ended his life in 2015.
When I was working on an article in 2000, I contacted Garth about his views on Christians in the media. My premise was to see how evangelism and the Christian point of view translated to a field I am interested in—the media—and I asked people in the field about my premise.
Here is what Garth had to say about Christians in secular media, by email, copied in full.
Here, for what they are worth, are my answers to your questions.
I am at present [in March, 2000] a sub-editor on the New Zealand Herald, a member of the editor’s staff and responsible for editing the editorial pages, those upon which appear leaders, letters and comment pieces.
I have been a newspaper journalist for more than 40 years in Invercargill, Christchurch, Rotorua, Auckland, Sydney and in Rockhampton and Townsville in Queensland. From 1980-1984 I was news editor of Challenge Weekly under John Massam’s editorship.
I became a journalist all those years ago because I and my family couldn’t afford university where I would have studied law. I’m glad now, because I took to newspaper journalism like a duck to water and have had four very good decades at it.
I don’t really remember what attracted me. I guess I had always had an inquiring mind and a facility with words, so it sort of came naturally. My Christianity didn’t enter into the decision.
At that time I was, though saved, merely a churchgoer and it never entered my head that secular journalism was any different from secular lawyering or accounting or public service. I didn’t become a journalist because I was a Christian, albeit pretty lapsed, but because I wanted to be one.
And if any young Christian in aiming to enter secular journalism today because of a misguided belief that they might be able to make a difference, forget it. The secular media are the secular media and they ain’t going to change because some gung-ho Christian gets a job in one of them. It is much more likely that the young Christian will become secularized.
My purpose in being involved in a secular medium is and always has been to make a career of it, to do it well and to make money. Only the last two of those apply today. I do it well and I do it for money.
And I suggest to you that being a Christian in a secular medium has the potential for serving the purposes of God much more than does involvement in the Christian media, in which you’re always writing for the converted.
No matter where we are or what we do, God will ensure, if we surrender our lives and our wills without qualification to him, that his purposes are served through us.
I have never set out to serve ‘the purposes of God’ as a journalist and nor will I ever, but in his mercy he has allowed me the privilege of doing a few small things for his kingdom on Earth. And for these I have never volunteered or put myself forward.
My appointment to Challenge Weekly, soon after I returned to the Cross, was as a result of a request by a church elder for me to meet the editor, John Massam, who was at that time on the verge of closing the paper down. Between us, and with the help of others, God allowed us to turn it around.
I am responsible for providing Text for Today that appears every day in the Herald because the woman who did it for years retired. I overheard the Features Editor of the day bitching because he now had just one more thing to think about. I told him I’d do it and have been doing it now for nearly ten years.
I was sitting in my office one day when out of the blue the then editor strode in and asked me if I would write an Easter editorial. The man who had been doing that had submitted a piece which the editor considered was unsuitable because it was too wishy-washy. So, since 1991 I have been writing the Herald’s Easter and Christmas editorials, which gives me the chance to get the Christian message across in the nation’s largest daily.
Three years or so ago, again out of the blue, the present editor-in-chief insisted that I should write a weekly column for the Herald.
“What about?” I asked.
“Whatever you like,” he said.
“Why me?” I asked.
“Because you see things differently from most people,” said he (and I suppressed a smile).
Since then, from time to time, my columns unmistakably reflect my Christian commitment and philosophy. I don’t push the Christian thing, because to do so would turn people off. But when the occasion arises I am able to put the Christian point of view very strongly on some issue of the day.
[The column] is, according to our surveys, the most-read column in the paper. I take no credit for that; it is God’s doing. The column is his; I just write the words.
There are never enough Christians in the secular media. We are a rare breed.
There are not enough Christians in the Christian media, either.
But one should enter the secular media because one wants to make a career of one of them, not because one is a Christian (unless God has obviously pointed us in that direction).
Why would the paucity of Christians in the secular media be a problem? As long as Christians continue to decide what they want to do for God, rather than asking God what he wants them to do, it will ever be so that Christians are underrepresented in the difficult professions.
If a Christian enters a secular medium with the aim of conveying the Christian message (in any way other than by personal conduct) they’re on the wrong track. If such opportunity arises, it will come from God, as mine have.
I’m in a secular medium because I’m an experienced, thoroughly professional journalist. And because I’m that the newspaper industry has treated me very well. It has always, and will continue to, do its best to ignore my Christianity. I am looked upon, generally kindly I must say, as a bit of an eccentric.
As for ‘shaking and moving’, I have no idea. I just do what I’m paid to do and leave all that to others.
I do know, though, that the media are becoming more secular, more worldly, more sensational, more down market, and, therefore, more unchristian then ever—and that can only get worse.
I hope this is of some help to you.
garth george [no capitals is Garth’s writing]
[Written by Garth George in email to Peter Veugelaers, March 29, 2000, subject line: ‘the medium and me’]