Dordt’s connection to World

Zac VanderLey—Staff Writer

Photo credit: Daniel Ketchelos

On Nov. 21, Marvin Olasky resigned as editor of World, a Christian news media outlet. His resignation came just eight months before he had planned to retire from the organization. In a Nov. 14 article, The New York Times attributed Olasky’s leave to the launching of World Opinions—an offshoot of World featuring primarily conservative, evangelical viewpoints on current, cultural issues. Olasky claimed World began World Opinions without fully consulting him and others on the editorial staff..

“I’m concerned because, to me, World is going towards a smaller political tent that I’m not interested in,” Katie Futch, a 2021 graduate of World Journalism Institute said.

Kevin Martin, World’s CEO, said the media organization was not retreating from Biblically objective journalistm–Olasky’s “journalistic philosophy, according to the Times. 

This fall, a number of senior reporters resigned from World, but Olasky did qualify on his Twitter account that World still had “wonderful” reporters.

“World now is a mix…The resignations of three wonderful writers—Mindy, Sophia, and Angel—leave big holes, but excellent reporters remain and others can emerge from among the 500+ World Journalism Institute graduates,” Olasky tweeted on Nov. 17.

Dordt University’s connection to World, besides its similar Christian worldview, exists through the news outlet’s World Journalism Institute program (WJI). This two-week course teaches journalism skills from a Christian perspective to college and recently graduated students. For the past five years, with exception to 2020, Dordt has hosted WJI on its campus in the summer. Also, Lee Pitts, Dordt’s journalism professor, is the associate dean of WJI.

When a young girl, Futch danced at the mailbox when she received her monthly issue of World’s magazine. Her father introduced her to World, and from a young age, Futch connected with World’s biblical objectivity. So, when she had a self-proclaimed “identity crisis,” her dad suggested applying to WJI. She followed his advice but forgot about her application until she received a congratulatory email from Pitts accepting her into the institute.

Futch attends Georgia College and State University where she serves as lead editor of the Colonade, the school’s student newspaper. She also produces for the school’s news station (GC 316) and edits videos for the school’s marketing department. In the summer of 2021, she attended WJI on Dordt’s campus.

“[WJI] made me want to transfer to Dordt,” Futch said. “I cried a lot but laughed a lot. The hardest but best two weeks of my life.”

WJI, of which Olasky serves as dean, emphasizes on-the-ground reporting. Every summer, Pitts takes the student journalists to the Tulip Festival in Orange City and, giving them a reporter’s notebook and their beat assignment, tells them to find a story. 

“I learned more in those two weeks at WJI than I had during my entire college career,” Futch said. 

At this year’s festival, amidst the klompen, tulips, and stroopwafles, the journalists roamed the streets in business casual, asking questions and observing sensory detail. On another day, Futch and her new friends wandered Sioux Center’s Main Street, mustering up the courage to ask strangers about their thoughts on the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 or marijuana laws.

From 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on the weekdays, the journalists took classes from Dordt professors including Mark Volkers and World employees like Nick Eicher and Susan Olasky. They learned tips on broadcasting, feature writing, and obituary writing, completing assignments like many would for a college course. This course, however, crammed its 120-plus hours of material into two and a half weeks. Also, during those weeks, Marvin Olasky discussed the main ideas of his book, Reforming Journalism, explicating his theory of biblical objectivity.

“Biblical objectivity means that we report accurately only when we realize this is the world the Lord has made, and only he understands it fully. Objectivity is the God’s-eye view. We acknowledge our inability to be fully objective since we are sinners with fallen wills, and very limited understanding. Nevertheless, we do not give up,” Olasky wrote in Reforming Journalism.

In addition, Olasky’s biblical objectivity emphasized specific, sensory details— “reporting low on the ladder of abstraction,” he called it. 

Pitts, a former writer for World as well, includes lessons on biblical objectivity as part of his Introduction to Journalism course at Dordt.

Martin, the CEO of World, wrote in a recent column that World will continue to practice biblically objective journalism: “It’s in our mission (printed in red, tight at the top of the masthead0,” he said. “When we do our job properly, the reality of the Bible infuses our reporting, our analysis, our opinions, our interviews, and our reviews.”

When Dordt hired Pitts as a professor and advisor of The Diamond, an expanded partnership with World presented itself to the university. Pitts brought the program onto Dordt’s campus. He, along with Volkers, teach at the two and a half week-long summer mini-internship experience. 

Volkers teaches all the courses on ENG (Electronic News Gathering). He joined the faculty staff once Dordt started hosting WJI. Volkers loves when he sees students’ “fear turn to fun.”

“It’s really fun to take them through and work out all those jitters, eliminate that scariness and help them come to the point where they say, ‘I can do this,’” Volkers said.

At first, some WJI students approached the camera with nervousness, shortness of breath, and even tears in their eyes, but through the Volkers’ instruction, they exhibited another part of Olasky’s biblical objectivity: determination quotient.

“These are highly motivated students,” Volkers said. “That’s a teacher’s dreamland.”

Futch found a passion after WJI, not for journalism, but for law. She plans on attending law school after graduating college. Her interest in law occurred when WJI created a mock press conference involving a past real case, Chike Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski

Here, WJI students asked questions to mock lawyers from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), and members of the WJI staff recorded the press conference. Later, the students used footage from the press conference, additional b-roll, and a standup shot to create a one-minute video highlighting the case, similar to a clip one might see on an episode of World Watch, World’s version of CNN10. Futch covered the story, learning about law in the process.

“In many ways, if our journalism program exists to send out reformed Christian journalists, [hosting WJI] is one way that we can bring students in,” Brandon Huisman, Vice President of Enrollment & Marketing, said.  “We can equip them, and in that way live out our mission.”

On The World and Everything in it, a World podcast, Dordt receives advertising.

Dordt and World meet once a year about their partnership to discuss their contract and to make sure the finances are fair, both ways. The two parties have not yet met for this annual yearly discussion.

While WJI is for college-aged students or older, Dordt is considering the possibility of hosting and creating a high school journalism opportunity similar to that of WJI. Currently, Dordt is gauging interest within their communications faculty and within potential high school students.

“If we are known as Christians for what we are against, it limits our impact and our ability to reach people,” Huisman said. “And when we infuse organizations with the good news of the gospel simply by how we go about our work, that provides a more natural opportunity for us to show the love of Christ more tangibly.”

Dordt intends to continue to host WJI for the upcoming summer.

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