Lorna Dueck is CEO of Crossroads Christian Communications Inc., home of the popular daytime TV show 100 Huntley Street. She’s also CEO of the YES TV network, and a frequent contributor on faith and public life in The Globe and Mail. She spoke to Faith Today about Christian media today in Canada and the challenge to us all.
FT: You’re known for exploring the intersection of journalism and Christianity. Tell us what that intersection is and why it matters.
LD: The intersection is how do the ancient truths that we’ve embraced in our holy Scriptures affect what is going on today? So, every issue, the shootings in Las Vegas, the Rohingya, the devastation in Puerto Rico, the fact that one in four Canadians are in a mental health crisis – surely the Christian hope belongs in those stories.
Journalism asks the right questions. It asks different questions than clergy ask, but it links together with what the people of God know. You approach the stories differently because you are asking how and why. Your innate fuel is love of the Golden Rule and love for neighbour, and that is what shapes the questions and the answers you’re looking for.
FT: It seems almost every month we hear of a Christian publication shutting down, or slowing down. Are you concerned about the state of Christian journalism in Canada?
LD: I’m very concerned. I know firsthand how time consuming good journalism is. We’ve seen this shuttering happen [for example] with the Presbyterian Record and the moving of material to online only and dropping print at places like Christian Week. It’s dangerous when these voices fall silent.
If you don’t keep a light in journalism, a Christian light in journalism, things are really challenged.
One of my favourite examples is, I’ve written for The Globe and Mail for 13 years. I’ve watched the effect of secularism grow over that time. Last Christmas I thought I had a column on the Christmas story in the bag, and they told me they wanted to hear from an atheist instead on the story of Christmas.
It’s very hard. I pitch [ideas for possible columns] a couple of times a month and I’m lucky if I can get an article in, and this is speaking as a regular columnist.
So we are making alternate things online and people are finding them, but this is the biggest danger – as we make our online portals, we are speaking only to the choir.
This is why Christian journalism has to be so good that we capture the audience that is outside of our loop. That is why The Globe and Mail has been so important to me over the years.
FT: It seems the secular press doesn’t pay much attention to faith-based stories generally, although we certainly saw attention to the Rev. Lim story, the imprisoned pastor released from North Korea.
LD: Rev. Lim was an unprecedented story, coming home at a time when North Korea was frightening the globe with its missile tests, where there had just been that other death of the American student [Otto Warmbier] who came home and died quickly after.
However, look carefully at how deep the coverage went. The Globe and Mail turned me down for writing about it because they wanted an objective outsider to write that story. What you saw were the news cameras. What you are getting at is light hit-and-run on Christianity. When you can be a major headline, you get lots of coverage, and only if you can do it in two minutes or less.
FT: Are you seeing a general decline in the influence of Christians in the public sphere?
LD: Absolutely. Our impact in secular public media is decreasing because of two things – speed and staffing. Everything has to be quick, fast and light. Second, the newsroom staffing has to have relationships with the Christian community and vice versa. So, for example, when Rev. Mainse died, we could call Lloyd Robertson, someone his age, and we had national coverage.
In another national news room, where everybody was young, they didn’t know the history of Mainse, yet still he was the most-searched phrase in Canada when he died. There was a huge public interest in him, but the people manning the front desk, if they are highly secular, won’t know what goes on in the Christian world and the meaning of it.
FT: How do you encourage Christians to build those relationships?
LD: Like any relationship, through personal encounter. The other way is, which is here to stay, you must make alternate media that you cannot ignore. It is why Faith Today sends its magazine to every newsroom in the country. Secular people see and pick it up and go, “Oh, that’s an interesting story.” It’s not that they have an animosity toward faith, so much as it is sheer ignorance.
That’s why alternative media like Faith Today and Crossroads exist. We can go and get a new audience because we have enough content to create a new thing. We have this whole change that is going on, but Canadians are still consuming media at a massive rate.
At Crossroads, of course we are thinking digitally on all things. It’s always a consumer-versed model. We have a media audience that wants convenience and choice. Christian media has to be positioned to go into all those options.
We’ve been able to create a digital platform where we can lead in the faith sphere. I think we’re poised better than ever to do that, but it happens because you have this historic, long base of Christians in Canada that says, “We will fund Christian media. Now get out there!”
FT: Is there still a place in today’s Canada for a daily Christian television show?
LD: What pulled me to the job and wakes me up every morning is the fact that over 1,200 people call our prayer line every day. We actually lose 20 per cent of our calls because we can’t handle them all. We have an audience of over a million a week, and on YouTube a million a month. This is all being driven by content, and the content comes from daily TV.
TV is far more popular than people think. We’ve seen our audience grow. Our TV audience numbers are increasing every year. Our YesTV audience went up 300 per cent when we added game shows to the channel. We are one of the top five watched stations in the largest markets of Canada because of the game shows, and we follow it with the gospel.
I sat on the prayer lines and you get everybody, all ages and stages, people who have no understanding of the Christian faith, lonely Christians. They are drawn to hope.
We faced quite a frightening negotiation with Corus, the largest broadcaster in Canada, to keep our historic time slot [for broadcasting 100 Huntley Street]. We’ve been on daily since 1977, but because content laws changed so drastically, we could have lost our place on Global TV. We fought hard to keep it. It was when they saw those help lines, they knew we were doing a public good. That’s what got us our renewal.
Christianity should not back away from television. It’s still a huge audience. Yes, people are still watching that same content digitally, but it is content that is king, creating a daily witness. Plato said the mind doesn’t think without pictures. You need to show people what Christianity is like. We are Canada’s oldest television show, and 100 Huntley Street is not backing away.
We have a new show for millennial women called See Hear Love. We have a kids’ Sunday school show in development, and others.
We have huge discussions of how we can fuel the whole idea of new media. Those titles we’ve made go into PureFlix, which is our streaming model. We also have discussions with Netflix.
We are really positioned well. This is the advantage of being a 50-year-old ministry. We are much more than the daily show, but the daily show is the heavy lifter for income, and that comes from people’s devotion.
FT: How important is mentoring the next generation of leaders and journalists?
LD: I am typical of a leader that was mentored well over decades by Christian men and women. These are my words to the Christian community – media witness is not a short investment. It’s not a one-off investment. Just like we’ve built leadership for our churches, we need to build up leadership for media. You have scores of young people going off to study journalism. We need places for them to serve. Faithful Christians subsidize Christian media in Canada. It’s like the tax subsidies that other media receive. No one should feel badly that Christian media is subsidized by donations. All media in Canada is subsidized.
Do it and raise up the leadership like I’ve been raised up. If I stand now as a gatekeeper for Crossroads, I am also deeply aware that I need to put young people in the pipeline like I was years ago.
FT: Thank you, Lorna.