Wisdom Wanted

brain-picking-lars-hallstromCan I pick your brains?

I’ve been approached by a features writer for some UK women’s magazines. (Works like this: you know those ‘true life stories’ you read in magazines in the doctor’s waiting room? – well, often someone from an external news agency sources and writes them, and then they take part of the fee and part of it goes to the person whose story it is). Anyway, they’re interested in covering my eating disorder/recovery stuff and then I guess, pitching it out.

My gut instinct is ‘no’ – but I might be wrong – so I thought I’d get your wisdom.

As I see it, here’s the arguments for:

1.  (possible) opportunity to share gospel with lots of non-Christians

2. national media (publicity for book, blog etc).  It’s  difficult to break  into secular market when you’re writing from an explicitly Christian perspective, (I’ve tried and it hasn’t worked).

3. fee would be nice (tho I don’t think it’s very much!)

And here’s my concerns:

1. I could be wrong (and no reflection on writer) but I’ve rarely seen this sort of thing handled sensitively in ‘real-life story’ magazines.  In fact, though they draw attention to the issues (and places that help), they can be triggering and unhelpful too (dwelling on how the person lost weight/how thin they were/accompanied by unhelpful photos).  After all, they’re trying to sell a story and want to grab the reader’s attention.

2. fair enough to tell my story but not when other people (friends and family) get drawn in and not when it’s written by someone else (at least if I write it I know what’s going in)

3. biggest one: it’s a Christian testimony and I don’t think they’ll show this. Of course no-one wants to be bashed by fundamentalists, but take away Jesus and there’s nothing left to say. I’m also worried that Christ would be sidelined or that in such a short space it would turn into ‘God zapped me and I was fine’: when it is a long process and there’s backwards steps as well as forwards.

4. (Vain but true) my story is precious to me and I don’t want it to be misrepresented.

Anyway, I know this makes no difference in the grand scheme of things, but it does raise the question of how Christians engage with secular media so I’ll wing it out there under that heading.  What do you reckon?

15 thoughts on “Wisdom Wanted

  1. I think it’s a good opportunity but you’re right to be cautious and protective.

    I’d suggest asking for approval on edits, headlines, bylines etc. so that you can be sure that they won’t distort your story. Be polite and reasonable about it – you understand that they will probably need to edit the piece for their style and readership, but you want the right to refuse anything that would misrepresent your story and experience. You’ll at least be able to talk to them about your concerns.

  2. Ohh. That’s a toughie. Honestly, I’m not convinced. I guess it would depend on the style of the writer (have you got access to any of their previous work that you could judge it for yourself?) but I too fear that your testimony and Gods story could be turned into gossip and then fish and chip paper when its so much more valuable. I’m sorry – that sounds harsh – its my gut instinct. I really think check out the writer and what magazines have previously published their work, and use that to help you decide.

  3. Sincerely, I agree with all your points, although it could be a great opportunity to show how powerful Jesus is, secular media usually (at least here in Brazil) is more interested in making a fuss and making money, and most of the time manipulating the story and disregarding the person. But, on the other hand, if you can make a deal with them, that you check the “final draft” of the story, and make sure they publish only if you agree, I think that’s great! More important of all, pray and He will give you the wisdom you need to decide!

  4. Agree with first comment. But if you don’t try how will you know. Just sayin! :-)

  5. A friend of mine went abroad as a medical missionary. A local newspaper picked up the story and there was absolutely nothing about her faith, even though that was the driver. Not the same, but I agree they may just be out for their story/to sell their newspaper.

  6. Hey Emma, this is tricky. My hunch – with v little experience! – would be to push the door.

    Pray for a good journalist – they exist – who in the Lord’s common grace is kind and listens. Before agreeing to it, ask if you could meet them for a coffee – that you’ll travel and even buy it but you’d prefer to sit down with someone before agreeing to it. Explain that your story is a precious thing to you and you are glad to share it and help others but naturally want to ask a few questions. If they agree, then pray some more and go, and say what you’ve said in this blog post to them. You’re up for it but have concerns. And show them how including Jesus makes it a better story. Without being flippant, they’ve had “I suffered with anorexia” on their pages before. But if you can show that Jesus makes your story, they’ll be all over it because they won’t have had that angle before. “I was done with church. I was messy. I’m still messy – but Jesus is loving me through the darkness” – my friends would read that. They wouldn’t read the normal “I was 1 stone 4 pounds but now look at me” and they definitely wouldn’t read “God zapped me and I’m fine”. Pray for a gentle journalist who agrees.

    Or don’t do it :-) And that’s okay – cause you’ve nothing to prove and we love and He loves you.

  7. I’ve read somewhere before that when someone was asked by a magazine for their story she refused to provide before and after photos and the magazine lost interest as they just wanted to sensationalise. It’s those kind of stories I find triggering but am obsessively drawn to read which is not healthy. Your story is so much more real and honest but as others have said, you really need to be sure what it is they want and will print.
    Looking at your “gut instincts” above your concerns far outweigh the plus points. Do you know where/how they heard about you and your story?
    As others have said, proceed with caution, or don’t do it and that’s okay too.
    Keep us posted, be interested to hear what you decide.

  8. I have never commented before so want to start by saying thank you for all of your blog posts, for your honesty and the truth which shines out through every word. I was thinking and praying about this last night and came up with very similar to Rich P. Why not go back to the journalist and say that your story does not exist without your faith so it is up to them as to whether they want the whole story or none of it. There are so many negative reasons for why not to do the story but I was reminded of my best friend. She died in a car accident a few years ago but her husband said that if her death, and consequent talk about her life, had brought one person to Christ then she would happily have given her life. If one person looks at your website or picks up your book as a result of the article and receives help, comfort or a realisation of who God actually is then would it be worth it even if bits were left out or distorted? I know this is a very simplistic view and it think it would take as much courage to say no as to say yes but thought I would share it. Praying wisdom and peace as you make a decision.

  9. Normally I would be like YEAH. WHAT’S THE WORST THAT CAN HAPPEN. But I just don’t think they’ll give the space and credence for you to explain how God worked and still is working through this trial. It just feels too not clean-cut enough for those sorts of stories which are all about the before and after. Would it be possible to have a conversation- an actual, off-the-record one- with your commissioning editor about what drew them to you and how respectful they would be of ‘the Jesus bits’? If they could be, then I feel you would do an amazing job at tackling the other concerns by actually making them explicit- like explaining that when you read similar stories, you often get the impression that recovery is a once-and-forever thing etc.
    I share my conversion through eating disorder testimony most often with non-Christians, and they invariably respond with something along the lines of ‘whatever works for you, but I’ll stick with positive thinking’. And word counts- rather than conversations- are possibly not conducive to really guiding people into how you think.
    But, if you do decide to, I for one will be SO PROUD- not that I am not already albeit- and will buy multiple copies and write praises to the editor about you.

  10. You have so many wonderful responses, already, but my thoughts are pretty much:

    When I’ve read stories in the hairdressers’ it’s always been very sensationalised “I weighed just this amount and look at these photos of me at that point” and whilst it could encourage some people that recovery is possible, I’ve always found it to be more triggering?

    I think your positives & drawbacks are very well thought through- could you contact those who’ve approached you with your concerns, telling them you’re not keen on providing, for example, information which is triggering (I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in finding that such articles have given me ‘tips’ before?), you have concerned about others’ involvement, your story is a Christian testimony and you’re not happy for them to share a partial story?
    Is there a lot of harm in enquiring more- what information do you need to persuade you one way or the other, or what would be your requirements? Not including stuff, or including stuff, or you approving it, or…?

    Ultimately I think it’s your decision, and you have to do the wisest thing- you have a book out, which I’m sure is a blessing to so many. I think it’s acceptable to want to make this decision with you & your story in mind as well as others & theirs.

  11. Hi Emma,
    Absolutely love your blog – so honest and wise and encouraging!
    I had a similar opportunity to share my story about having breast cancer at 23 for a feature on breast cancer in our local newspaper. I had the same dilemma – would they edit out all mention of Christ (and like you said, without Him there’s nothing to say!) and would it still be my story? So I asked to be able to read and edit the article and have final veto etc, and that worked really well. From my own experience I would encourage you to go for it, but first negotiate editing/ veto rights :-)

  12. Thank you!!

    So much wisdom in these replies: and I really appreciate you taking the time to give me your thoughts. I’ve written back to the journalist and talked about my concerns: especially that it’s not sensationalised, that I can talk about Jesus and that I can see what they write before they print. We’ll see what they say; but will keep you posted. Thanks again for taking the time to reply: really kind!

  13. Inclined to agree with Rich P about pushing the door gently, carefully and prayerfully. Your story and journey are precious so be prepared to pull back if you feel uncomfortable. Praying for you and for protection.

  14. Hi, Great to see all this , for as Christians it would appear we are prone to over analysis!
    Common sense really; if you want control, and why not, then don’t devolve. Your writing standards are high and you would only be disappointed, surely? And, healthily, too, your ‘story’, however eloquent, and real, is hardly indispensible to Christ, is it? I dont have the quantity of loving support you have at your disposal, but if your mind is not fairly clear, what can us outsiders do? My experience is, that with supportive love of one’s immediates, life would or need not be troublesome and analytical like this. People are only to ready to tell me, and to desist from analysis and that is the foresight of those without acknowledgment of the Christ one.

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