Christian Index Demonstrates Lack of Journalistic Ethics

Below, you will find a letter to the editor that I recently sent to the Christian Index, the official paper of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.

Dr. Harris,

I am an alumnus of Cartersville High School and a member of a Georgia Baptist Church. I couldn’t be prouder of our local football team and its coach for their back-to-back state championships. I was, of course, interested to read the article BACK-TO-BACK STATE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS, BUT THERE’S SOMETHING BIGGER written by Scott Barkley and published in the Christian Index on December 13, 2106. The article highlighted the Christian Faith of our high school football coach, Joey King. As you know, King is a member of First Baptist Cartersville. So is Scott Barkley. Yet, nowhere in his article does Barkley mention that he is writing about a fellow church member and, by extension, his own church. Barkley demonstrates a serious lack of journalistic standards by not offering the general reading audience full disclosure of his relationship with First Baptist Cartersville. As the editor of the Christian Index, and the former interim pastor of First Baptist Cartersville, you demonstrate the same lack of standards.

The ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalists states that “Journalists should avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived, disclose unavoidable conflicts and deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage. As a Christian publication, the Christian Index should demonstrate a level of journalistic ethics at or above those espoused by secular news organizations. It does not.

Scott Barkley’s lack of disclosure in the Joey King article is not an exception or his “first offense”. He often writes favorable of his own church without disclosing his membership interest. He covered his own pastor’s social media activity in a March 21, 2016 article entitled TWITTER’S 10TH BIRTHDAY, SOME BAPTIST FIRST TWEETS. He reported on his own church’s building campaign in an August 26, 2016 article entitled CARTERSVILLE FIRST BAPTIST PRESENTS FUTURE PLANS ON VISION SUNDAY. In years past he reported on a fellow-church member’s UGA football career and the missions venture of the former pastor of First Baptist Cartersville, Randall Williams. In each story, he did not disclose his relationship with First Baptist. You, yourself, wrote a feature piece of about FBC Pastor Jeremy Morton on May 20, 2016 entitled HOW A YOUNG PASTOR DEALS WITH STRESS.

I was formerly a member of a small Southern Baptist congregation in Cartersville. The pastor of this congregation struggled to meet his personal bills and the church struggled to meet its budget. That church lost two families to First Baptist because (by their own account) FBC had a more attractive youth group. Smaller Churches in Bartow County, many of whom support the parent entity of the Christian Index (the Georgia Baptist Mission Board) seem to be paying for free advertising for First Baptist Church of Cartersville, which has far better facilities and amenities than they. First Baptist already pays money to advertise on the Jumbotron at Cartersville High home games, surely it doesn’t additionally need free advertising “puff pieces” in the Christian Index.

A lack of journalistic standards could cast unnecessary dispersion upon the good work being done at First Baptist Cartersville. Many of my friends and neighbors are members at First Baptist. I know them to be people who love the Lord. I am a personal acquaintance of your friend, Pastor Jeremy Morton, and, from what I know of him, he is an upstanding man of God. I hope your paper will do its readership and Georgia Baptist Churches (including FBC Cartersville) the service of demonstrating basic journalistic ethical standards when writing future pieces about churches or their pastors.

Best,

Seth Dunn

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

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