Saturday, June 30, 2012

Mixing journalism and religion

For the past two years I've been the clerk of our Quaker congregation or "meeting."

For those unfamiliar with "Quakerish," our often quaint and mysterious Quaker language, you need to know that being clerk, to the extent possible in a profoundly egalitarian group of 150, means I've been more or less responsible for the Meeting.

My training and skills are in journalism. Curiously, and surprisingly, a journalist has many skills needed to lead a Quaker Meeting. Only a few notable journalistic traits seem disconnected from and even at odds with clerking.

First, here are desirable shared qualities in both:
Listening — carefully — clarifying and making sure you understand in a way that you can communicate accurately to others.

Putting aside one’s own opinions. Easier said than done. We all suffer from subjectivity. When we simply can’t be objective, clerks and journalists need to step aside.

Respecting and accepting the will of others. In the case of journalists, the others are editors; in the case of clerks the others are the Meeting.

Seeking and continually asking what’s most important. Quakers call this discerning, journalists call it distilling the story.

Stating the essence clearly, concisely and accurately.

Being mindful of what others don’t know...but what they will want to know, what they MUST know. Asking and being able to answer why and how

Protecting people’s privacy and reputations. Being fair. Knowing what NOT to say or write.

If possible and appropriate, entertain.

Clerks (and Quakers) and journalists seek the Truth, although Quakers capitalize it and consider it divinely/spiritually inspired. When both have find it, they seek to express it forcefully.

Foremost, together we seek to create a better world.


So how do the two differ?

Journalists live by deadlines; Quakers and clerks, well, not so much

Clerks and Quakers often find Truth in silence, in putting words aside; journalists, not at all. For journalists, the answer is more words...another interview, reading more documents

Quaker meetings and their clerks are led by the Spirit; journalists are led by editors, publishers and, alas, the whims of the public.


My conclusion:  Forty-five years in journalism enriched my two years as clerk. Who would have thought?

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