by Ronald R Johnson (www.ronaldrjohnson.com)
When he arrived in Washington, DC, to begin his work as pastor of Luther Place Memorial Church in October 1909, Lloyd Douglas made a clever move: he won over the representatives of the DC newspapers by describing himself as a former newspaperman. Although he did spend some time as a reporter for the Springfield Press-Republic in Springfield, Ohio, before attending seminary, he had never put that information to good use before. But now, as he took over the spiritual leadership of a church that had been making headlines for all the wrong reasons, he was able to create a more positive image of the church by hobnobbing with the Press Corps.
The Washington Herald ran this headline on page 1 of their Monday, October 25, 1909 issue:
FORMER REPORTER COMES AS PASTOR
Whoever wrote the article (there were few by-lines in those days) seems to have become a fan. Here is an excerpt:
“From the rattle of typewriters in the city room of a newspaper, from the search of news and the dispassionate probing into the reasons of things, to the pulpit of a house of worship is the story of Rev. Lloyd C. Douglas, who yesterday morning preached his inaugural sermon as the new pastor of Luther Place Memorial Church.
“Immediately after his graduation from college, Mr. Douglas became a reporter on the staff of the Springfield (Ohio) Press-Republic, which has since become the Springfield Daily News. Whatever came up in which the public might be interested, the new reporter was ‘shot out’ on the story. From the rich, in their flesh pots, where freedom from want bred indifference and dried the roots of sympathy, to the poor in their hovels, where poverty had taken crime as its mistress, Douglas made his rounds.”
(See what I mean about going on a bit? But it gets better…)
“His stock in trade consisted of nothing but a soft lead pencil and a bunch of copy paper in an inside pocket; a mind trained to think, and interested in what his fellows did, and a purpose that was destined to bring him, before he was thirty-three years old, to the pulpit of one of the best-known churches of the National Capital, to succeed a man of high caliber, the late Rev. J. G. Butler.
“Mr. Douglas made a good reporter.”
(See what I mean about becoming an instant fan? I wonder if anyone fact-checked that before they printed it…)
“Mr. Douglas made a good reporter. His sympathy gave him an insight into his stories, which won recognition from the city editor. Whether his assignment took him to the chamber of a man who had taken his own life, or to a meeting of prominent citizens in the interests of civic improvement, or to a humble home desolated by sorrow in any one of its many forms, he put ‘human interest’ into the story, and kept his purpose under his hat.
“‘I wanted to get the sort of first-hand experience of life which a newspaper reporter has the best chance to get,’ he said, in explaining his reason for going into the business. ‘I wanted to get at life in the living, to see the seamy side of it, so that I should be better equipped to fight against its unhealthy features later. A newspaper reporter does not have to become calloused and cynical and indifferent, and automatic, unless he wants to; and I did not want to.’
“At the end of a year on the paper, Mr. Douglas made a clean break, and enrolled himself at the Wittenberg Seminary in Springfield, to begin his study of life from the ecclesiastical standpoint…”
This was a clever self-introduction. From that point on, the Press Corps regarded him as one of their own. But it was also an interesting story that surely caught readers’ attention and made them more willing to hear what Douglas had to say. And as I will show in the next blog post, it was an important part of his strategy for overcoming the scandal he had inherited and turning journalists’ thoughts in a more constructive direction.
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