Why not light a candle rather than curse the darkness?

First and foremost a very happy New Year to you all!

To kick off the new year, I bring you this message originally written by the Archbishop of York John Sentamu for the i newspaper:

This new year, why not light a candle rather than curse the darkness?

You may not have heard of Lou Xiaoying.  One of the poorest of Chinese poor, she eked out a living by recycling rubbish.  Among the garbage she raked over, it was commonplace to find babies, often deserted as a result of the government’s one-child-per-family policy.  Xiaoying rescued 30 of them, nurturing them in her own home until they were well enough to be cared for by family and friends.  She and her husband raised four themselves.  

She said, “The whole thing started when I found the first baby, a little girl back in 1972, when I was out collecting rubbish. She was just lying amongst the junk on the street, abandoned. She would have died had we not rescued her and taken her in. Watching her grow and become stronger gave us such happiness and I realised I had a real love of caring for children. These children need love and care. They are all precious human lives. I do not understand how people can leave such a vulnerable baby on the streets.”

Xiaoying’s story eventually became public via the internet; an exemplar of how one unknown and seemingly powerless individual can work wonders.

As Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” 

Another little known heroine from the past was Octavia Hill, whose work in the Victorian era helped shape Britain today.  Shaken by London’s poverty, she pioneered social housing, campaigned for the preservation of green spaces and co-founded the National Trust, among many other projects. Numerous individuals have made a difference against the odds.  In the face of fierce opposition, William Wilberforce campaigned to end slavery, among many other causes.  Marie Curie was a lone Polish scientist who developed the practical use of X-rays, despite the prejudice in her day against women scientists. A man who used his entrepreneurial ability to benefit humanity was Nicholas Winton. On the eve of World War II he organised the rescue of 669 mainly Jewish children from Czechoslovakia, finding them homes here and organising Kinder transport for their journey.  It took 50 years for his work to become widely known. 

Nelson Mandela endured 27 years in jail for his opposition to apartheid, then forgave his enemies when he was released, avoiding a bloodbath.  Then there’s my mentor, Janani Luwum, whose statue stands on the West wall of Westminster Abbey.  As Archbishop of Uganda, he protested against President Amin’s violent rule and was murdered.  He had said, “I am prepared to die in the army of Jesus”.  

Many of these did what they did, not because they expected fame or even success, but because they believed it to be right, little knowing the impact they were going to have then, and on subsequent generations.

When things are dire, remember the proverb, “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”.

Standing above the rest of humanity is another figure, about whom these words were written,

“He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant. He grew up in another village, where he worked in a carpenter shop until he was 30. Then, for three years, he was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He didn't go to college. He never lived in a big city. He never travelled 200 miles from the place where he was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

He was only 33 when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied him. He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his garments, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave, through the pity of a friend.

Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race. I am well within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned--put together--have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one, solitary life.” 

(Attributed to James Allan Francis)

The astounding Christian story began with God pitching his fleshly-tent in the world we thought was ours, via a baby dependent for his very survival on others. Later he called for allegiance from the entire human race.  His claims were paramount, life-changing and are now as urgent as ever.  So take courage my friend, and light that candle.  You can do it. 

Why We Should Look at Isaiah the Prophet this Christmas


In the run up to Christmas we Christians traditionally lament the triumph of materialism over the triumphant entry of our Saviour into this world.

The Bible as we all know has a lot to say about Christ’s birth - perhaps some of the most famous appearing in the Old Testament book of Isaiah.

The book, written by Isaiah son of Amoz (1:1) should be especially loved by those work in the media because of the sheer beauty of its language and its stirring predictions – 700 years before Christ’s birth – of His entry into the world.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory. (6:3)

Therefore the Lord himself will give you[a] a sign: The virgin[b] will conceive and give birth to a son, and[c] will call him Immanuel. (7:14)

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. ((9:6)

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. (53;6)

Like most prophets, Isaiah announced the bad news of punishment for sin. But he also described a coming Messiah who would be “wounded for our transgressions… bruised for our iniquities… and with his stripes we are healed (53:5)

Called to the ministry through a stunning vision of God in heaven, Isaiah wrote a book that some have called the “fifth gospel” for its predictions of the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ some 700 years later.

The prophecies of redemption offset some of Isaiah’s more depressing promises of God’s discipline against Judah and Jerusalem, which were overrun by Babylonian armies about a century later.

Isaiah’s prophecy ends with a long section (chapters 40-66) describing God’s restoration of Israel, His promised salvation and His eternal kingdom.

Early in His ministry, Jesus said that he fulfilled the prophecies of Isaiah. “The Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (61:1-2)

The purpose of the book of Isaiah is to demonstrate the trustworthiness of the Lord. The first king whom Isaiah serves, Ahaz, did not trust the Lord. He ignored Isaiah’s advice and followed his own schemes.


This led to defeat and servitude at the hands of the Assyrians. Ahaz’s son Hezekiah, in contrast, trusted the Lord and Jerusalem was delivered from Sennacherib and the Assyrians. In the second half of the book the exiles were also encouraged to trust the Lord to bring deliverance and to respond like Hezekiah, not like Ahaz.

A significant theme is the hope in a future ideal Davidic king. The book provides a template for Messianic expectation as it develops a profile of God’s plan, including the exaltation of Jerusalem (see Isa 2), the coming child who is to reign (see Isa 9), peace and stability of the reign of the Davidic heir (see Isa 11), and how the ideal Servant of the Lord will carry out God’s mission (see Isa 42–53).

That much is fairly well known about Isaiah, but there are other less well known – but no less interesting things – about him:

  • He had two children with strange prophetic names. Shear-jashub (7:3) means “a remnant shall return” and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (8:3) means “haste to the spoil”.

  • Shear-jashub’s name carried God’s promise that Jews would one-day return home.

  • Maher-shalal-hash-baz’s name assured the king of Judah that his country’s enemies would be dealt with by Assyrian armies.

This Christmas, as we relax with our families, it’s worth thinking about Isaiah and his prophecies as an antidote to the materialism of the age.

Alastair Tancred, Editor for Christians in Media

Church and Media Conference 2018: A Reflection

Our Editor Alastair Tancred describes his day at the Christians in Media annual conference.

The wonderfully well-lit and spacious venue of St Mary’s in London – a church which justifiably prides itself in being free of religion but not Christianity– was the space for this year’s conference.

It was an eventful day from the outset. Arriving guests and delegates received a comprehensive welcome pack which included news that we have been re-Christened with a new and much more appropriate name – Christians in Media.

No sooner had we digested this – along with the delicious biscuits that accompanied our morning coffee – than our ultra-capable Mistress of Ceremonies brought proceedings to a start. Author Vicky Walker kept us on track and on time throughout the day.

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Interview by Chine McDonald with June Sarpong MBE:

Theme: Broadcaster and author June cogently discussed this year’s conference theme – change, diversity and minority voices.

Memorable quotes: [Discussing famous people she had interviewed during her career, including George Clooney and Tony Blair]: “My favourite has to be Will Smith. He’s everything you expect him to be.”

[Speaking of her quandary as to whether she would pursue a career in journalism]: “My mind said follow your dreams.”

[Speaking of getting an MBE]: “It really mattered when I got the MBE. There is not enough representation in a positive light of black people in the media.”

[Speaking about social media]: “Now you can find your audience even if you do not know anyone.”

[Talking about overcoming discrimination in the workplace]: “In the US you cannot be a big company without having a person of colour in a senior position, which explains why a lot of people have moved there. British business and industry is beginning to catch up… Brexit gives us an opportunity to tap into unused talent.”

[Speaking about her Christianity]: “Faith is a big part of my life – I pray every day… I was hit by a car when I was 14 and only got through it by prayer and meditation. It was the beginning of my relationship with God.”

“Christians are seen as weirdos in Britain – we have got to rebrand our faith and make sure we are more open and welcoming… there are so many people in this country who need Christianity.”

Alastair’s comments: June had a wonderfully gentle way of expressing herself. She described her struggle to break into broadcast journalism with no self-pity even though she had to overcome seemingly insuperable obstacles to break into what was then – and some would argue still is – an overwhelmingly male and pale industry. She also movingly described how she overcame her own doubts – and those of her family – about her career choice. She said those reservations were so strong she even had a name for them – “impostor syndrome”.

Breakout Sessions: Ministry of Comms Workshop with Vineyard Director of Communications Mark Crosby

Theme: There are thousands of people in our cities who are unaware that God has a better plan for them. We can make sure they are better informed by using the tools at our disposal more effectively to communicate with them.

Memorable quotes: “Prayerful planning prevents poor performance.”

“Every time you communicate, you are asking people to take one more step into an adventure of God’s making.”

“Millennials are seeking authenticity – someone who can articulate ‘this is who we are’.”

“Always try to use language so as to make quite clear what you mean – make sure your sentences could not mean anything else.”

[When using social media as a means of communication]: What is the message you are trying to convey? Who does it need to reach? Where can you find them? When is it best to say it?

“People forget data information but stories stay with us for a long time.”

Alastair’s comments: Mark is a master of his trade who obviously has a heart to reach out to the poor and dispossessed. In Jesus’ time we were encouraged to proclaim our message from the rooftops, but today we have to think how the same objective can be achieved through well-devised media strategies and social media.  

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Panel Discussion: What Does God Look Like On TV?

Theme: With the BBC announcing a “Year of Beliefs” in 2019 comprising specialist programming and documentaries about faith and religion, the panel discussed how this would affect the representation of faith in the mainstream media. Participants in the debate chaired by the Rev Kate Bottley included Songs of Praise Producer Mark Warburton, ‘More Tea Vicar? Author the Rev Bryony Taylor and BBC Project Director Mark Friend.

Memorable quotes: Mark Friend stressed that broadcasters must strive to appeal to a wider group of people when it comes to faith issues “a broader audience” was needed to be attracted by “new creativity”.

Bryony Taylor argued that it was good that faith issues were cropping up more in everyday TV – including numerous dramas that had featured vicars in various guises – because there was a level of public indifference and ignorance about Christianity.  She described wearing a dog collar in a supermarket queue and being asked by the checkout woman how long she had been a nun.

Mark Warburton said that some people watch Songs of Praise – which often has a bigger audience than the total number of people who go to church – on Sundays before they themselves going to church. “But I prefer people who do not go to church [to watch the programme] than those who do.” He said that social media and digital are playing a key role – if you can do social media well, you can experiment with new kinds of content.

Alastair’s comments: The three expert panelists were in a way all singing from the same hymn sheet. Faith broadcasting is a challenge in the 21st century and no one should be under any illusions as to how hard it is to retain and attract new audiences. The fate of the BBC’s Something Understood programme is testament to that.

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Panel Discussion: Future-proof

Theme: Our panel of experts explored what next year will bring for new technology in the media in a discussion chaired by Christians in Media’s James Poulter. Those on the stage were the Church of England’s digital supremo Adrian Harris, the Rev Liz Clutterbuck and the BBC’s head of Voice Mukul Dewichand.

Memorable quotes: Adrian Harris pointed out that the Church of England has now gone truly digital, and new technology was the bedrock of its evangelism, discipleship and common good campaigns.  He said a key objective now is to reach out to irregular church goers through new technology, pointing out that 40 percent of households in the UK next year will own a smart speaker. He said there now tremendous opportunities “to use digital [technology] to bring people into a relationship with God”.

Liz Clutterbuck said that a key decision recently was the decision by the Church of England to launch a Common Prayer daily worship app. She said this was so significant because it makes accessible something that previously “was only available in a lonely church”. Now anyone who wants to can have access to daily prayer, with the Alexa speaker even on hand to say The Lord’s Prayer or Grace ahead of meals.  But she cautioned that “Alexa cannot administer Holy Communion, because the sacraments cannot be downloaded to a device”.

Mukul Devichand said that the BBC was testing a number of different types of new technology, especially in relation to smart speakers and the kind of ways they can respond to the queries of children. He said that the future lies in algorithmic and personalised content. He said that we in the media are now entering an era where things are getting much more sophisticated. But we are still awaiting what he described as as “a killer app in voice” that will dominate the market.

Alastair’s comments: Adrian Harris could not have put it more eloquently. Christianity is never more relevant than it is today and if we are to proclaim our faith successfully we must use devices like Alexa and other forms of Artificial Intelligence to bring people into our community.

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Breakout Session: The basics of Filmmaking with Susie Atwood

Theme: In an hour Susie went through a beginners’ guide to taking better video – either with an iPhone or with a more sophisticated camera.

Memorable quotes: “Think about whether you’re going to film in landscape or portrait. Are you going to use a tripod? Remember that sound is almost as important as the video and not to leave too much headroom as you frame your picture. Simple is best.”

Alastair’s comments: It’s no easy task teaching people the basics of film-making in an hour – the BBC take several days to do it. But Suzie made an exceptional effort, skilfully reminding her audience that before they even start they must figure out what is the purpose of their film, who is it for, how long should it be, what is the desired outcome and best approach?  

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Panel Discussion: Glass Ceilings And Pay Gaps - What Changed And What Still Needs To Change For Women In Media?

Theme: An assessment into what challenges women in the media have faced and what obstacles still confront them in 2019. The panel was chaired by WTalk founder Tobi Olujinmi and comprised the Rev Sally Hitchiner, The Telegraph’s Lucy Denyer, Prof Tina Beattie and journalist Tobi Credein.  

Memorable quotes: Sally Hitchiner [Talking about the success of Love Island]: “We love to see beautiful people and deconstruct them to our own lives to see if it could fit. We are people scratchers… Celebrities sell products that have a longer shelf life than they do.”

Tobi Oredein pointed out that we live in a “Kardashian era” where traditional ideas of married people being loyal, romantic and intimate with another are fast becoming outdated. She called for positive discrimination to assist people of colour in the workplace.

Lucy Denyer – a mother of three - pointed out that a key reason for the gender pay gap related to women who lose out because of child bearing. But she said things were changing, and that in 10 years’ time young mothers would find the work place to be more accommodating than it is now.

Tina Beattie: “The gender and pay gap is unjust, but more unjust is the sight of obscenely rich and overpaid people on our streets and the huge economic injustices that exist in our society.”

Alastair’s comments: It was sobering for me as a middle aged, middle class white man to hear of the struggles these admirable women have overcome to get to where they are today. We men have not made it particularly easy for women of any background or class to work in the media, yet at no point did this formidably talented panel remind us that we should repent for past misdeeds.

Special Screening of The Wait By Susie Atwood

Theme: Susie’s documentary The Wait follows the lives of Syrian Christians who escaped oppression in their homeland to take refuge in Lebanon.

Alastair’s comments: Susie’s film superbly captures the tension among the refugees as they nervously wait to find out if their visa applications to seek a new life abroad have been accepted.

We loved seeing you at this year’s conference, and we’d love to hear your thoughts on our sessions in the comments below!

Don’t forget the call to arms this Sunday!

This Sunday (04 November) has been especially designated by churches and Christians across the UK as a time to pray for all those who work in the media. 

The Day of Prayer for the Media has been supported by Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, and Nicky Gumbel, Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, London, and pioneer of The Alpha Course.

We at Christians in the Media urge you not to forget or ignore this day.

Why? Because Journalists and those who work in the media play a crucial role in society. That is the case today more than ever as Brexit-facing Britain grapples with important decisions that will have long term consequences.

Information is power and it is our job if we are to glorify God to disseminate it impartially, fairly, independently and with balance.

If we fail to fulfil our responsibilities in this area, the consequences can be catastrophic. I write this to you from Bangladesh - a country where journalists who express dissenting views against the government face severely unpleasant consequences. The fate of world renowned photographer Shahidul Alam - arrested and allegedly tortured in August after posting live videos on Facebook that criticised the government - are testament to that.

So let’s not take for granted the relative freedom our media enjoys in Britain. Our Lord told us to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, and for many of us in the media that call begins at home. That means we must not be afraid to reflect Christ’s values in the awesome role we bear as messengers to the British people.

Add your prayers on social media this Sunday using the tag #pray4media.

Alastair Tancred, Christians in Media Editor

Are robot editors just "a matter of time"?

The recently appointed New Scientist Editor Emily Wilson recently said that while she was pleased to be the first woman to edit the publication, it’s “only a question of time” before a robot does the job.

So how long will be before machine-writing software really starts to take a hold in newsrooms?


What is exactly automated journalism? According to Matt Carlson, author of “The Robotic Reporter”,  it is the algorithmic process that converts data into narrative news texts with limited to no human intervention beyond the initial programming.

A recent article  on medium.com explained that the emergence of  big data and algorithmic technology means that it is now possible to convert data from reports into news stories.

Some news organisations are already doing this.  The Associated Press news agency has since 2014 used the services of Automated Insights for the production of certain kinds of data-driven stories.

The system uses a programme called Wordsmith to convert complicated data into a plain-language narrative.

Wordsmith transforms earnings data from Zacks Investment Research into a publishable AP story in a fraction of a second. In fact, the Wordsmith team specifically configured the natural language generation engine to write in AP style.

As a result, AP now produces 4,400 quarterly earnings stories – a 12-fold increase over its manual efforts.

The news agency insists that the stories “retain the same quality and accuracy that readers expect from any of AP’s human-written articles”.

Aside from an explanatory note at the bottom of the story, there is no evidence they were written by an algorithm.

After AP announced its “leap forward in quarterly earnings stories”, media outlets like The New York TimesSlate, and Mashable started writing about its innovative approach.

New York Magazine’s Roose called automated reporting “the best thing to happen to journalists in a long time”.

Automation has not so far displaced any reporters, but AP says it has freed up the equivalent of three full-time employees across the organisation.

As The Verge noted, “computers are not taking journalists’ jobs — not yet, at any rate. Instead, they’re freeing up writers to think more critically about the bigger picture”.

Likewise The LA Times now employs a robot that collects information on every homicide committed in the city of Los Angeles.

The “Homicide Report” uses a robot-reporter capable of including detailed data such as the victim’s gender and race, cause of death, officer involvement, neighbourhood and year of death.

Meanwhile The Guardian, The Washington Post and Forbes.com have also experimented with automated news generators provided by Narrative Science, a start-up headquartered in Chicago.

The company’s co-founder Kristian Hammond, once said that within 15 years more than 90% percent of news would be written by a computer. 

The Washington Post for its part reported last year that its own AI bot, known as Heliograf, published 850 stories entirely autonomously, primarily reporting on sports and the outcomes of regional political races.

Heliograf, the company's bot, first debuted at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It automatically put together stories by interpreting sports data and structuring it narratively based on patterns it learned from analyzing historical Washington Post articles.


“The use of the system allowed continuous reporting and accurate medal counts even for contests that were thinly covered by reporting staff,” Searchenterprise recently reported.

“Much of the content generated by AI and machine learning relates to information and news that is of public interest, but doesn't require a large number of paid human staff to cover,” the website reported.

“AI is being put to good use generating weather reports, financial industry summarizations, coverage of highly regional or local news and events, sporting event summaries, and other information that involves numerical information.

“AI systems can quantify that information and turn it into natural language text that's human readable.

“AI systems are also being used to generate breaking news content to bridge the gap until human reporters are able to get to the scene. Reuters, for example, is using AI to scour twitter feeds to find breaking news before it becomes headlines. In this way, valuable information is transmitted as soon as it's available.”

Not to be outdone, The New York Times is using an augmented intelligence approach leveraging an AI-based technology known as Editor that sits alongside journalists and identifies key phrases, headlines and text details.

The system can provide on-the-spot research, content suggestions, links, fact-checking, and supporting quotes or facts to help improve the overall quality of the piece.

“This helps to significantly reduce the research workload of reporters and enables them to turn out better quality content faster.” Searchenterprise said.

So see you all at the Church and Media conference – providing I’m not replaced by a computer.

Alastair Tancred, MediaNet editor

CAP to be featured in BBC2 debt documentary

There’s a particular sense of nervous excitement in the offices of Christians Against Poverty this week.


An hour-long documentary called The Debt Saviours is to be screened on BBC2 on Friday, October 5 at 9pm and while we’ve enjoyed national publicity many times before, this one’s very different.

Our bosses and our clients have frequently spoken about the effects of personal debt, council tax arrears, high cost credit, low income and the rest and we’re in constant contact with most of the personal finance journos.

Due to our face-to-face, long term help for people and lots of happy willing clients, we’ve become the go-to organisation for debt case studies.

However, the documentary doesn’t just introduce us to the people CAP helps (which it does brilliantly, by the way) it predictably questions our Christian motivation.


We are called Christians Against Poverty, and if anyone doubted, they will soon know we really are what it says on the tin. We pray, we sing – the works.

Well, truth to tell, we are deliberately distinct in the debt advice sector.

We work through a network of hundreds of churches and it means the extra-mile type of care comes as standard.

You’re struggling to afford hospital visits to your loved one because of your low income? The church can help.

You are without any income waiting for your universal credit payments? The church can help.

More often than not: You’re isolated, rarely leaving your home and suffering from acute loneliness and depression. The church can provide community and a reason to leave the house and find caring friends.

Here’s what the film maker didn’t include: hundreds of qualified debt counsellors negotiating with creditors and filling in the forms that will bring order to people’s finances, see people go debt free and keep their homes.

I guess that bit wasn’t too sexy… we get that.


Sadly, also cut: a wonderfully encouraging one-off visit to our Bradford head office from Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis and an award from the Archbishop of Canterbury for CAP Founder John Kirkby CBE.

In a beautiful bit of God’s timing, an independent report, calculating the wider benefits to society from CAP’s work, landed yesterday (Oct 2). The London School of Economics Housing and Communities (as well as the BBC) has also been scrutinising our work. The LSE interviewed more than 100 people, went through three year’s worth of records and describes CAP as “invaluable”.

Here’s a snippet of some of the gold therein:

  • People in need trust the church to help

  • A third of our debt coaches had previously worked in finance or healthcare

  • Their main motivation is to help the poorest

  • CAP’s benefit to wider society is almost £32m a year

We know there’s a huge team on the front line, in every community, caring for the most hurting and needy and it’s called The Church.

According to Ofcom, almost half the number of those working in TV describe themselves as ‘religious’ compared with the rest of the UK population. Naturally the benefits the church bring to society are, for them, a largely undiscovered truth.

So this is the story we have to keep telling despite the prejudices. We mustn’t become less salty or hide our light. The church is absolutely astonishing – it’s saving lives every day, bringing hope where there is none and – as you’ll see in the documentary – introducing people to the immeasurable and transforming love of God.

Marianne Clough National PR Manager at Christians Against Poverty.

Catch The Debt Saviours on BBC2 this Friday, October 5 at 9pm. Read about the behind the scenes info over on their blog.

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


“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.

Diversify june sarpong

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!

Balancing Work and Life as a Freelancer

It’s the best of times and the worst of time for people wanting to break into journalism. The best of times because cutbacks by news organisations around the world means there are arguably more openings than ever for freelancers.

But the worst of times because while nearly every major news organisation in the world has openings for journalists, in many cases they are only available to those willing to work weekends and late at night.  

Likewise staff jobs for journalists, with pensions and paid holidays, seem to be fewer and further between.

So how can budding freelancers find the right work/life balance and earn enough to keep their head above water? This month we talk to award winning freelance photographer Patrick Brown,  who recently won a World Press award and has worked for many leading publications as well as the UN in danger zones. 


Patrick Brown, how did you break through into freelance photojournalism?

I began my career as a theatre set builder in Perth, Australia, while at the same time studying art at night school.

I was also working at a multi-storey carpark at the time and remember reading an article about an Australian surgeon, Robert Weedon, who was working in Malawi. At the time, he was the only trained surgeon of two-and a-half million people.

Robert’s life was especially of interest to me because three years earlier he treated me for an internal hernia – basically I had ruptured my bowel and was being poisoned by my bile. He diagnosed my illness, operated on me and saved my life.

I sold my car and my surfboard so that I could fly out to Malawi in 1994 and take photos of Dr Weedon’s  out there. I used 24 rolls of black and white films and 26 rolls of colour.

I was able to use the photos to document his work as well as Malawi’s transition from a dictatorship to a democracy.

I had an exhibition which was a great success in Perth and the same time I had the images published in The West Australian Magazine, which raised money for Dr Weedon’s work and the people of Malawi.

I realised at the point that photographs can change people’s lives.

From then onwards I began working for the magazine and started venturing out to Asia to cover stories. In 1997,  I went to Hong Kong to over the British handover to the Chinese.

In the same year I went to the Perpignan Photo Festival, where I met like-minded photographers. I decided after that I would move to Asia, and did so in 1999.

From there I worked on a variety of photo projects, but specifically I was introduced to the forests, jungles and people of the Thai-Burma border.

My long-going love affair with Asia had begun, and I have now worked in most of the countries of the region for a variety of well-known publications including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the UN.


What have been the highlights of your career?

I am pleased to say that during the course of my career I have had a multitude of high points.

I have also been lucky enough to work with some incredibly talented and generous people who in the earlier part of my career were kind and patient enough to show me the ropes.

Apart for the Robert Wheedon project, other high points include a project I worked on which chronicled the trafficking of endangered animal species in South-East Asia.

It was 10-year multi-award winning photo-documentary which culminated in a book I produced in 2014 – in partnership with journalist Ben Davies – entitled Trading to Extinction.

Another story I will never forget is the mass exodus of 750,00 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh from August and September 2017 onwards.

The images were nominated for the World Press Photo award and won first prize in the Single Image news category.

My images of the Rohingya exodus featured in the August 2018 edition of Rolling Stone magazine, while in 2011 images that I took which showed the aftermath of the Sri Lankan war appeared in


And the low points?

In 2012 the company behind a Crowdfunding campaign that I had launched to finance the launch of Trading to Extinction went bankrupt, which meant that I lost nearly $30,000 of my own money.

The whole experience left me disheartened and even left me losing all my motivation for photography.

But then I realised that it was not photography I disliked but some of the business interests behind it, where everybody is out for themselves.

I understood then that I needed to reignite my love affair with photography, and it took some time to find it again.

Another downer about being an around-the-world photojournalist is this: You have to endure countless bouts of upset stomachs, not to mention illnesses of all description.

What’s your advice to freelancers eager to start in news photography?

Never take no for an answer and keep developing your own narrative.

Trust your inner voice and never stop growing or learning.  

Above all, look after your back – taking photos when it’s painful is a nightmare.


How do you juggle the work/life tussle?


Few news photographers have to endure the horrors of the daily commute and even fewer freelance news photographers do.

For most international news journalists and photographers, the 9-5 job doesn’t come into it. You are on the road all the time. It’s quite a lonely existence.

I’m afraid to say that it’s not nearly as romantic as all the Hollywood movies make it out to be.

Be prepared to put in a lot of time away from your family to pursue your career. It can take years.  

When I am in the field I try to stay motivated by finding new things – and if necessary new ways – of new ways of photographing stuff.

If you can travel with a colleague or a friend do so. It can be unpleasant when you have no-one to bounce ideas off and all you have is your own echo chamber.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of being freelance?

You have the freedom to pursue your own narrative even if it fails.

The most creative people I have met are freelancers.

The reason I feel this is because it is an uncomfortable existence financially and that discomfort has challenged me to push myself into creative areas that sometimes do not work.

But if you want a comfortable and financially secure existence, I’m not sure I would recommend a freelance career to anybody.

On an average year I am earning only about 30,000 GBP gross and on top of that I have to buy a lot of equipment in addition to covering my travelling expenses and sundry other payments.

But on the plus side I have more freedom to make decisions in relation to my job. I am the janitor and the CEO of my business. I have to do everything.

How do you cope with the trauma of some of the events that you have witnessed?

When I witness bloodshed or suffering I remember that I am only a visitor to the scene that I am bearing witness to.

I cope with it by thinking that this is not my reality – my reality is far away.

Bearing witness is in no way the same as personally experiencing the injustices or suffering that I am photographing.

You have to stay detached, otherwise you cannot record an event from an objective perspective.

But I must emphasise that this doesn’t mean to say I’m not affected by what I have witnessed.

I get affected afterwards when I’m going through my edit – the trauma in effect has been delayed.

I would find it much harder to cope with out my biggest support – my wife Camilla – and my family and friends.

Find out more about Patrick and his work over on his website