interview

Church & Media Conference: minority voices, diversity and June Sarpong

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“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” These wise words from my favourite author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie show us the importance of diversity in providing a true and full picture of how things are.

As media professionals, who tell stories for a living – whether in print, online, through photography or film - it’s important for us to be intentional about drawing in the voices of those who are not like us.

The theme of Minority Voices will underpin the content for what’s set to be another excellent day. How do we ensure that those whose stories we tell represent the full spectrum of society – whether race, class, gender or physical ability?

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We, the conference planning team, are delighted to announce that June Sarpong MBE will join us for the day as our mainstage interviewee. As I was growing up as an ethnic minority in Britain, seeing Sarpong as one of the few black women presenting top TV shows was inspiring. She started her media career on Kiss 100 before becoming a presenter on MTV and then fronting Channel 4’s daytime TV strand T4, including interviewing Tony Blair in a special episode – When Tony met June – in 2005. Sarpong is a regular panellist on shows including Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Have I Got News for You, Loose Women, 8 Out of 10 Cats and Question Time. She is currently a panellist on Sky News programme The Pledge.

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Her latest book Diversify: Six Degrees of Integration argues the case for the social, moral and economic benefits of diversity while also looking at how limited we are by social division and inspiring us to make change.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says of her book: “I am so glad June Sarpong is working on this matter of diversity. We don’t seem to know how to handle differences. When will we learn that we share one common humanity, as Shakespeare’s Shylock declared so eloquently?”

Sarpong joins a line-up for the Church & Media Conference, which includes Rev Kate Bottley, ITV newsreader Julie Etchingham, Mark Warburton, producer director at Songs of Praise, Professor Tina Beattie and comedian Paul Kerensa.

The conference, which takes place on Thursday, 18 October, at St Mary’s Bryanston Square in London, will also feature sessions on women in the media, pitching, and a live recording of podcast The Sacred, presented by Elizabeth Oldfield, director of Theos.

Written by Chine McDonald, Head of PR for Christian Aid, author, speaker and trustee of The MediaNet

If you haven't booked your ticket yet and would like a copy of June's book, we have added a special ticket which includes a discounted rate, and you can collect your copy from us at the conference!

MediaNet Meets: Tobi Olujinmi

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We're thrilled to welcome a new trustee to the MediaNet this month, former lawyer now founder of entertainment and faith network The W Talk. We asked her a few questions to introduce herself to our wonderful community of fellow Christians in media!

Tobi, tell us about when you first became a Christian.

My Nan was a huge part of my life growing up. When I was 16 , she had a massive health scare and I challenged the God, I always heard my mum praying to. I asked him to miraculously heal my Nan and let me know it was him. Despite the close call, my Nan survived and I knew in my heart that it was a loving God who was ultimately responsible for her healing – he had kept his promise. Since then, I have never looked back and I have discovered that, everything I need is in him.

You qualified as an attorney in New York, what was that like and why there?

Yes, I qualified as an Attorney at Law in 2013, which was an adventure to say the least. I have always had an interest in media and entertainment and thought that the US would be where I would launch the commercial side of that career.

You worked for a London-based legal firm for three years, then you gave it all up. Tell us about that!

Apart from working in the legal field, I speak publicly, typically at Christian Conferences – I love it, and am humbled to be used by God in this way. There tends to be a moment of such joy and peace at Conferences, but I found myself asking – what’s happens next? Who occupies their minds next? Who has a major say in the climate of culture? Who controls trends? For me, the answer was media. I knew the time had come for me to attempt to use all that I had learnt commercially and learnt on the Christian and merge the two together. I am passionate about the stories of faith being in the global mainstream space.

How difficult was it to leave the law and begin something so very different?

It has been a steep learning curve, but it has been an exciting adventure and I look forward to what’s next.

Has your legal background helped you to set up this new venture?

It has assisted me with the commercial aspect connect to Intellectual Property. I have also been able to stay in contact with colleagues who have been a blessing to our Start Up and development of the app.

You speak at conferences across the world, who would you say is your primary audience?

At the moment, my primary audience tends to be women and reminded them of the power of their faith and God. It really is one of my favourite things to do, once I get passed the nerves.

What does the future hold for Tobi Olujinmi?

Right now, it is growing W TALK, the start-up that I run, our app launches soon and willcomprise of shows, podcasts, devotionals, and community discussion. I am really excited about how this will contribute to changing the global perspective on faith-based entertainment. I am also happy to now be a trustee at The MediaNet and getting stuck in there.

You can follow what Tobi's up to over on Twitter, and find out more about The W Talk on their website!

CIM Meets: Natalie Williams

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This week, we’re chatting with author and former journalist Natalie Williams,  who heads up community engagement, social action, and communication at King’s Church 1066 across all their four venues. Natalie is also co-author of The Myth of the Undeserving Poor (2014) and A Church for the Poor (2017).

You have had a fascinating career, including spending a year in China working for a state-owned newspaper. What was that like?

It was really fascinating in many ways – I was there when China joined the WTO and won the bid to host the Olympics in Beijing, but also when September 11 happened, the war in Afghanistan started, and tensions were high between the USA and China because of an incident with an American spy plane earlier that year. It was interesting to see how these events were reported by the Chinese State run press: there were certain things we weren’t allowed to report or were instructed to emphasise or water down. So trying to maintain your journalistic integrity while also doing as you were told was difficult. That made it hard. Also my Chinese colleagues weren’t well trained, so some of the basics were missing. Another thing that made it hard was that ‘foreign experts’, as we were called, were paid at least five times more than our Chinese colleagues, who often worked harder and longer hours.

How did you juggle your faith with working for a state-owned Chinese newspaper?

I had been struggling with my faith before I went to China. I was ‘backslidden’ and really wrestling. I actually came back to God and my faith was rekindled while I was in Beijing, which surprised me.

What took you to China?

For some reason I’d been interested in China since I was a small child. When I was studying postgrad journalism at City Uni in London, they mentioned internships with the China Daily Newspaper Group. I applied (initially for a three-month role) and said to God, “I want to come back to you, and that doesn’t seem likely to happen in China, but if I get this job I’m going so I’ll leave it to you as to what happens!”

You also worked in the political sector here in the UK for a while. What did you do and how different was it?

Before I get into the politics, I’d like to mention that when I returned to the UK and worked as a journalist, I realised that our ‘press’ isn’t really free either. It’s owned by such a small number of people, and what appears in it is dictated by that small number, not to mention the way things that do appear are framed. This came home to me particularly through studying for my Masters degree in Political Communication a few years ago. In terms of politics, after my MA I worked for an outstanding Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC), writing blogs, press releases, speeches and leading on hustings prep. As a Christian, it was a privilege to get to work so closely with the PPC and have some influence in terms of discussing both character and policies.

Today, you work for the church, responsible for social action and community engagement. What does that involve?

Today the comms part of my job involves everything overseeing the website and app to drafting Sunday notices and tweeting. I’m responsible for all media, too. My social action role involves working on the strategy for care for the poor in the church – we run eight projects, and our building is run as a social enterprise, but we’re still working on getting a heart for the most vulnerable into the DNA of the church, with all members growing in mercy, compassion, kindness and generosity. I also work for a national Christian charity called Jubilee+, which helps churches across the country to more effectively support the poorest in their communities. Again I’m responsible for all media and communications, and I get to speak and write on poverty and justice issues, which is a great privilege.

How does your journalistic and communication skills help with this role?

In some very obvious ways, such as writing press releases and understanding the importance of effect communication about vision and events, as well as ‘spotting a story’ and being able to see where something might have wider reach than our local community. (For example, I’ve written recently for the New Statesman and Huffington Postwebsites about the massive increase in foodbank referrals we’ve seen.) But also in less obvious ways, such as having a particular passion for churches to find out what’s going on in their communities, what local decision-makers are concerned about, etc., and taking stats, anecdotes and perceptions from others to help them see the role they can most meaningfully play in their communities.

Would you see this as a calling?

Absolutely. I’m very aware of how God has used and continues to use me, my background, my skills, my experience. I see his hand at work in it all, shaping me, teaching me things, that I now get to equip others with some of what comes naturally to me.

And, what of the future?

I think that journalism needs more Christians and churches need more journalists. Despite the overwhelming amount of information we can get our hands on, it’s harder than ever to get to the truth. We need people working in the media who are full of integrity and committed to truthfulness. But we also need journalists who will teach church leaders, foodbank leaders, debt centre leaders, etc., etc., how to build positive relationships with the press and how to deal with difficult questions.

You can reach out to Natalie on Twitter and listen to her talks from King’s Church over on their website.