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During a reporting trip to West Africa in 2009
Inside Story
Erik Tryggestad reports from the African nation of Burkina Faso | Photo by Deon Fair

Fake news vs. journalism that matters

'What is truth?' A trip to my alma mater brings reflections on Pilate's age-old question.

“You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

John 18:37, New International Version

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Twenty-three years ago, walking toward the library at Lipscomb University, I suddenly stopped.

Inside Story | Erik TryggestadMoments earlier — and just after our deadline — I learned that a prominent official on our campus had resigned unexpectedly.
“No, not today,” I said — probably aloud. I dashed back to the basement of Johnson Hall, the newspaper office.

I grabbed the phone and called Franklin Web, our printer. “Is The Babbler on the press yet?” I asked.

(Yes, our student newspaper was The Babbler. It’s scriptural — from Acts 17:18.)

They hadn’t printed it.

“Don’t!” I shouted into the phone. “I’m bringing you a new front page tonight.”

We got the story. The next day, as students picked up the paper after chapel, I heard actual gasps as they read the front-page headline.

Law school — which is why I was headed to the library in the first place — was out the window.

The masthead of The Babbler during my time as editor. 

Seven years later, another moment that changed my life happened at Lipscomb — also in the basement of Johnson Hall. Kim Chaudoin, the university’s communications director — who was a big sister to me during my years at Lipscomb — forwarded me an email from someone named Virginia Ware at The Christian Chronicle. One of their editors, Glover Shipp, was retiring, and they were looking for a reporter who was a faithful member of a Church of Christ. I was working for The Savannah Morning News in coastal Georgia at the time.

“I know you’re not interested,” Kim wrote. But they had asked her to pass the message along to any Christian journalists she knew — and I was basically it.

I wasn’t sure I was interested. The Chronicle isn’t a real newspaper, I told myself. Working there would mean sacrificing my objectivity and doing advocacy writing for my faith.

What if it didn’t work out? Would the people who run the daily newspapers let me back in?

This was probably my favorite piece during my time at The Savannah Morning News in Georgia — a personal column about attending (and nearly getting trampled by a troop of Girl Scouts at) a Weird Al Yankovic concert. I grew up listening to Al’s music and had memorized the lyrics to “Yoda” before I had even heard the song it parodies. My dream is to one day interview him for The Christian Chronicle about his faith. (And yes, that’s me, 17 years younger and without the beard.)

I’ve been thinking about what’s real and what’s fake a lot lately — ever since the folks at my alma mater asked me to speak at this year’s Summer Celebration. In the past 16 years, as I’ve reported on Churches of Christ around the world, I’ve watched the industry I love crack and crumble. Talented people, who seek only to tell the stories of their communities, have lost their jobs as advertising revenues and circulation dwindle.

Too many of us, meanwhile, have turned away from the words of fact-checkers and reliable sources and have latched onto the ramblings of Internet trolls, conspiracy theorists and spewers of utter garbage.

Many of us have decried this as “fake news” (a term we should despise — it’s not news if it’s fake) only to have that phrase coopted and thrown back at any media giving voice to views with which we disagree. The vitriol I sense in Facebook comments from my brothers and sisters in Christ as they lash out at “the media” frightens me.

“What is truth?” Pilate flippantly asked as he confronted Jesus with the fake news of his day — that our Savior had committed an offense worthy of death. That attitude, I fear, increasingly characterizes our society. Have we abandoned the search for truth in favor of the “facts” that support what we want to believe?

When I was a student at Lipscomb, we talked about living in a Christian bubble as we prepared to go out and get jobs in the real world.

I think we got that wrong. If Jesus testifies to the truth, then Christianity isn’t an alternate reality. God is reality, and the world that attempts to deny God is the bubble — the deception pulled over our eyes that tells us to believe whatever we want, to embrace the fake.

Christian journalism shouldn’t be a subset of “real” journalism. It should be the best journalism — honest, fact-supported, relevant. It should be the mission of Christian journalists to redeem our profession by adhering to sound principles of information gathering. If not us, then who?

In 2009, Christian Chronicle board chairman Deon Fair and I traveled to the West African nation of Burkina Faso. There, we witnessed 40-plus baptisms in a small pond. (PHOTO BY DEON FAIR)

I tried to communicate that to my audience at Summer Celebration. I received so much positive feedback for our ministry here at the Chronicle, and I praise God for all of you who take the time to let us know that what we do matters.

I pray that future generations of Christian students will experience life-defining moments — like the one I had in front of the library 23 years ago.
Our world is fallen, but salvation has come.

That’s the real news. It matters.

[email protected]

Jovan Barrington, senior minister for the Littleton Church of Christ in Centennial, Colo., speaks on God’s righteousness (Romans 3:21-26) at Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. (PHOTO BY ERIK TRYGGESTAD)

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