"From Ministry to Muckraking": Marshall Allen on Faith in Journalism
Investigative reporter Marshall Allen spoke about his journey from ministry worker with Young Life in Kenya to journalist with ProPublica and cited both as important work as he delivered the third annual John McCandlish Phillip’s lecture on March 14 in the City Room. After spending years in full-time ministry and graduating from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., Allen decided to pursue his passion for journalism. He worked his way up through small magazines and mid-size newspapers to ProPublica, a high profile, non-profit newsroom based in New York City.
Allen is currently working on a reporting project called Scorecard. He compiles the complication rates of doctors, surgeons, and nurses and posts the data on Scorecard for the public eye. Between 2,000 and 4,000 people die from medical errors each year. Allen wants to diminish that number by providing better information about medical professionals and holding doctors accountable for their mistakes.
“What makes you think that a Christian could be a good journalist?” is the question Allen sought to answer Monday evening. He claimed that “what we do as journalists is very consistent with what we do as believers.”
Journalism requires a search for the truth, a trustworthy reputation, and the ability to speak boldly in front of opposition. In the same way, Christians are Biblically-mandated to uphold the truth, to have Christ-like character and integrity, and to uphold God’s Word in the face of a fallen world.
“Journalists question authority,” Allen said. “They don’t back down … it makes people uncomfortable.”
Regardless of the controversy surrounding his investigative work, Allen continues to be a “muckraker” in media to fairly and accurately expose misconduct. Although many would assume muckraking to be a negative term, Allen says that it can be a noble term and it embodies much of his aim in journalism.
To muckrake, as defined by Merriam Webster, is to “to search out and publicly expose real or apparent misconduct of a prominent individual or business.” Christians too are called to be muckrakers in society, boldly proclaiming the gospel and denouncing sin no matter how uncomfortable it may seem to others.
“I stick up to bullies,” Allen said. He believes that he can help “the little guy win and have his voice heard.” Allen is finding the truth, exposing injustice, and doing so while being open about his faith, even claiming that in many ways his “faith makes [him] a better reporter.”
“We need more truth-telling in our churches and more bold young people telling stories,” says Allen.
Christians are equipped with the boldness and truthfulness necessary for journalism, and should embrace, not run from, media. Allen’s lecture on journalism highlights the growing importance of journalism at The King’s College.
Paul Glader, an associate professor of Journalism at The King’s College, launched The McCandlish Phillips Journalism Institute three years ago. Glader had previously been a reporter at The Wall Street Journal.
Professor Glader has worked hard to make the MPJI into an important part of The King’s College with significant events, programs, research and funding.
One growing project of MPJI is the New York City Semester in Journalism (NYCJ) program. NYCJ welcomes students from roughly 20 partner schools around the country and internationally. These students spend a semester in New York, working in news media internships and taking classes at King’s.
“We were delighted to have Marshall Allen serve as our speaker this year,” Glader said. “He met John Phillips and understands, as Phillip’s did, how important it is to encourage young people to pursue journalism work, including investigative reporting. It is fundamental to our nation and society of free people.”