Re:View: Nurtured to communicate

Thirteen people have sat in the driver’s seat at the MB Herald. Each person brought a unique perspective and a distinct voice to a particular time in the life of the magazine and the Canadian MB Conference. To celebrate our 50th year in print, “Re:View” welcomes each of the men and women back for another spin as they reflect on their experience in the editor’s chair.—Eds

In spring 1978, Harold Jantz, then editor of the Mennonite Brethren Herald, received an unexpected visitor.

The visitor was a young student at Mennonite Brethren Bible College who, showing more confidence in his writing abilities than was truly warranted, stopped by unannounced to ask for a summer job as a writer.

Did the student have any experience in writing? No. Had he ever written a news article before? Again, no. But he had played a journalist in a college play, and it looked like a fun kind of job.

Maybe Harold was feeling especially gracious that day – maybe that’s why he didn’t summarily dismiss the request. Or maybe he thought it might be amusing to hire the over-confident young man and then watch him get a well-deserved comeuppance. Or maybe he saw some potential in the young student.

Whatever the motivation, Harold hired him. And the rest, for good or ill, is history.

I was that young student. Harold was my first mentor in journalism, and the Herald was the first place I worked as a writer and reporter. For that, I am deeply grateful.

I still remember how Harold patiently and pastorally walked me through my very first article. In the most kind and gentle way, he let me know that my very first attempt at writing a news report was absolutely, and unreservedly, terrible. Then he helped me make it better.

Three years later, in 1981–82, Harold went away for a year’s sabbatical. He hired me – by now a college and university graduate – to work with his associate editor, Gordon Nickel, while he was gone. Looking back, it seemed like a foolish thing to do; between the two of us, we had very few years of experience in writing and reporting. Despite that, we didn’t destroy the magazine, although there may have been a few dents, scratches, and scrapes on it when Harold came back.

My time at the Herald was everything I could have hoped for. It was a wonderful and creative learning environment. People like Harold, Gordon, and former associate editor Allan Siebert provided guidance, tips, and ideas to help make me a better reporter and writer. Canadian conference staff were encouraging, helpful, and welcoming.

During my time at the Herald, I was given freedom to explore various issues and topics. I received opportunities to travel, and to meet and interview interesting and fascinating people. I was allowed to nurture my curiosity and grow as a writer.

I was also entrusted with preparing one of the most important, and avidly read, sections of the magazine: the obituaries. Little did I realize, at the time, that this was actually one of the most important parts of my education as a writer. Not only did it teach me how to edit, as I boiled hundreds of words down to a few succinct and well-chosen sentences or paragraphs, it also taught me to be careful. This was, after all, not only the last time someone might appear in print – it might be the only time. It was important to get it right; if I didn’t, I was sure to hear about it!

I’m not the only one to have benefited from working and learning at the Herald. Other young, aspiring writers found their first journalism jobs there. Through it, we not only learned to love words – we also learned to respect and care for the people we were writing about, to always tell the truth, and to seek the good of the church. Those lessons have stayed with me over my entire career.

My time at the Herald provided me with a great start for a future in writing, reporting, editing, and communications. And, for that, I owe it a deep debt of gratitude.

John Longhurst was associate editor at the Herald from 1981–82, and interned at the magazine during the summer of 1978. He currently is director of resources and public engagement for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, and a faith page columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. He is a member of River East MB Church, Winnipeg.

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