The morning of 9/11, I sent a working memo to faith-based broadcasters around the country encouraging them to breakthrough the regular schedule of programming and deal directly with the spiritual issues surrounding the tragedy in New York. Religious radio and television networks and stations have often become so dependent on regular daily and weekly programming income, that historically, incredible disasters have happened in America, and yet they've been virtually ignored in the religious media because broadcasters refused to break into regularly scheduled programming.
But on 9/11 everything changed. Faith-based radio and television stations and media ministries responded to the memo, changing programming, and reporting stories of help and hope, that made a significant difference for millions of people.
Today, I'm asking the religious media community to do the same. The situation in the New Orleans area is far greater than anyone could have imagined. Stories of shooting, looting, deaths due to lack of medicine and food, children in desperate situations, and more, compel us to act now.
The mainstream media are covering the facts. It's up to Christian broadcasters to fill in the blanks by offering stories of hope, spiritual encouragement, fundraising, and more. As you have your production and creative meetings this week, here are some ideas to consider:
- Don't duplicate the mainstream media. They have the funding and resources to do a far better job of reporting the current situation. They're bringing the facts, and doing it well. Consider that covered. Instead, look for the types of stories and reports that a faith-based broadcaster can do well because of your unique expertise.
- Make immediate contact with churches, religious groups, and relief organizations that you already have a relationship with in the area. When you know people, you can cut through red tape and make things happen much more quickly.
- Find out the real needs. Don't guess. Major groups like Feed the Children and The Salvation Army are experts in these situations. Use their advice, and broadcast that advice to your audience. Also, urge your audience to give to legitimate ministry and relief organizations. Avoid impulse giving to questionable charities, and focus the support where it can do the most good. If you raise money through your media organization, take the time to send it to the most effective ministries and relief groups.
- If you know people in the area, get first hand reports "from the front." Hearing from people who have experienced the crisis is always more compelling on radio and television. Establish phone contact if possible, and do live interviews on the air if you can.
- The mainstream media will do plenty of negative stories, and criticism of the local and national government response. You should focus on stories of hope. Who survived? Where are the miraculous stories? Let's try to inspire our audience to pray, to give, and to believe for a resolution to the crisis. If you're a media outlet in the area, focus on inspiring your audience to rise above this terrible situation.
- The Christian Emergency Network is an excellent source for information. Check them out at: www.christianemergencynetwork.com.
- The TV Committee of the National Religious Broadcasters organization has created a TV News Forum, designed to help share footage and other information to faith-based broadcasters (for this and other issues). You can subscribe by sending a blank email (from your preferred email address) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Stan Jeter of CBN News is the moderator of the forum and can be reached at Stan.email@example.com. I would encourage you to check out that resource and get Stan's advice.
- Remember that raising money is important, but getting the correct information out, inspiring others to hope and pray for a successful outcome, and teaching what the Bible says about rising above our circumstances is just as critical. As I said before, don't duplicate what others are doing. Offer your audience something that you, as a faith-based broadcaster, can uniquely bring to the table.
- If you know of local media outlets (radio, TV, or internet) that were damaged or destroyed by the storm or it's aftermath, contact them and help get them back on the air. Having a faith-based media presence at the heart of the disaster would be fantastic, and if we can send them equipment, resources, or money to help them get back up and running, it would be a great help to the local viewing and listening audience.
- Finally, make your audience realize this is a long term situation. It will be months before things are even close to being back to normal. So please don't make a big deal on your programs now, and then drop it in a week. Stay with the story. Keep encouraging, inspiring, and making a difference until people's lives are substantially back to normal.
This is a unique moment in history, and how we as media professionals react will have a significant impact on how the people respond. Pray and seek God for what you can do that will make a difference, and please, think in new and innovative ways that will break through the cultural clutter and make a difference for millions of people.
president / creative director