Saving the Chronicle, 40 years later
OKLAHOMA CITY — “We must keep the Chronicle alive!” John…
OKLAHOMA CITY — The old brick building on the edge of Oklahoma Christian University’s campus is easy to overlook. The corner houses a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop. A small sign above one of the doors lists the offices inside: “Heritage Village: Campus Police, Mail Center, Counseling Center, University Services, The Christian Chronicle.”
Behind the humble office’s door, eight employees produce the Chronicle, a monthly, international newspaper for Churches of Christ with a circulation of 133,000. Awards line the office walls. The staff, all employees of Oklahoma Christian and all members of Churches of Christ, describe their work as a mission, ministry and calling.
“My initial thought was, ‘What if I want to get back into real journalism? Will they even let me back in?’”
Yet Erik Tryggestad had reservations when he applied for a reporting position with the newspaper in 2001.
“My initial thought was, ‘What if I want to get back into real journalism? Will they even let me back in?’” Tryggestad said. He was covering cops and crime for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia and interviewed with the Chronicle in hopes of getting an offer he could leverage for a raise. Just after he got off the plane in Oklahoma City, he met the Chronicle’s then-editor, Bailey McBride.
“I said, ‘OK, never mind, new plan. I want this job,’” Tryggestad recalled.
He began traveling the globe, reporting on Churches of Christ in Latin America, Africa and Europe. Working alongside McBride and fellow staffers Lindy Adams and Scott LaMascus, he watched as the daily newspaper industry shrank.
“That’s when I started to realize this really is a job that I think God brought me to,” said Tryggestad, now the Chronicle’s president and CEO. “This is a ministry that I can participate in using skills that I have to do something that I love.”
Bobby Ross Jr., editor-in-chief, also was drawn to the opportunity of ministry work. He had worked as a religion editor for The Oklahoman and as a reporter for The Associated Press before Lynn McMillon, former president of the Chronicle, approached him in 2005 about working for the newspaper. Ross accepted a pay cut to join the nonprofit.
Tonya Patton, advertising manager, and Lynda Sheehan, administrative assistant, both heard about job openings at the Chronicle from friends at church. Patton said she was unsure what she had to offer the Chronicle. Previously a stay-at-home mom for 14 years with a background in accounting, Patton said she learned that each staff member brings different skills to the ministry.
“We all fit in a way that I think glorifies God,” Patton said. “I am not an editor. I’m not a writer. I am simply someone who can handle a job.”
Related: Saving the Chronicle, 40 years later
Launched in 1943, the Chronicle was founded to tell the stories of Churches of Christ, to “stir up missionary zeal and activity among members of the church everywhere,” founder Olan Hicks wrote in the paper’s first issue, “and to give all a broad vision of the opportunities and responsibilities of the church today.”
That means reporting the good and the bad, Tryggestad said. And that reporting isn’t always appreciated by the Chronicle’s audience, which now spans print, internet and social media. Coverage of racial tension and its impact on churches, plus news of ministers arrested for indecent acts, sometimes results in angry letters, emails and phone calls.
But hiding or ignoring such incidents isn’t the correct way to address such issues, Ross said, adding that he’s not worried about negative publicity. “I think Jesus can handle his own PR,” Ross said.
Tryggestad added, “The foundation of being a follower of Christ demands the kind of objectivity, the kind of accuracy, that journalists should aspire to.”
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