A Journalist’s Perspective


student conference meeting notebooks and writing

Rocky Supinger

I’m struggling like crazy to get a reporter to come to my church’s overnight homelessness awareness youth retreat at the end of this month. She wrote a story in January about a homeless encampment that a city government was ordering evacuated. With a court order. The article was detailed, nuanced, and direct. It’s exactly the kind of discourse I want my students to grapple with.

I emailed her last week, but she hasn’t responded yet. Fingers crossed.

It seems to me that our 30 Hour Famines, our mission trips–our service projects of all kinds– could benefit from the sensitivities of journalists. A newspaper reporter is bound to describe what she sees without drama, and yet she’s not immune from the dramatic effects of the thing she’s reporting on. I think that posture helps our Christian witness to things like hunger and homelessness.

The journalist is not an advocate. He doesn’t know the truth of the story before he writes it. He listens and asks questions. He wants to hear from people on the other side, so he can write a story that contains all the angles.

The journalist isn’t a statistician, either. Or a pollster. She isn’t reporting facts and figures to publish as a testament to impartial reality. She seeks interpretations of the numbers. She wants the story she prints to be a human one, with human faces on numbers that refer to humans.

In terms of hunger and homelessness, a journalist will tell us what’s really going on. In my own community it’s this:

Upland received a court order on Jan. 9, allowing city officials to give a 72-hour notice to remove the [homeless] group and their belongings from the private property in the 2100 block of 11th Street. City officials said the camp has grown to more than 100 people. 

She quotes some of those people:  “It’s like they are trying to make it illegal for us to be homeless, they want us out of the streets.”

She provides perspective: “Complaints from the public ranged from loitering to illegal bonfires.”

Understanding the complexity of hunger on a global scale (just like the complexity of homelessness in my own backyard) equips us to address it systematically. That means relying on objective description as much as the gut wrenching video with the moving music. It means allowing the people we wish to help their own voice.

My favorite current specimen of this kind of explanation is Soul Pancake’s “Stories from The Street” series on YouTube. There’s production value to these short films (including the moving music), but the human value comes through loud and clear.

Here’s hoping the reporter calls me back. If not, I’ll share her story and do my best to teach and accompany my students with an eye toward compassionate and complex understanding.