Who is Russell “Russ” B. Pulliam? He is many things.
A friend and mentor for 27 years, editor, reporter, columnist at Indy Star, World magazine board member, church elder, husband, father, grandfather, regular guest speaker and adjunct instructor at Taylor, and, in May, recipient of an honorary doctorate from TU.
But most of all Russ is a Christ-follower focused allowing God to direct and permeate his family life and his calling as a journalist.
For this Echo column, Russ agreed to let me pick his brain about his faith and his journalism profession. Our conversation appears here.
Blanchard: What Bible verses have assisted you in integrating your dual roles as Christ-follower and journalist for 40 years?
Pulliam: Habakkuk 2:2-3 came from McCandlish Phillips in the 1970s, NASV version. Then Proverbs 25:11 and 25:13 in NIV have been encouraging as a means of prayer for stories.
I often pray for my own stories and other journalists, using all my memory verses on wisdom, understanding and prudence, which I studied in the 1990s. A story can convey wisdom and understanding, yet not directly quoting Scripture.
Blanchard: During your career were you able to find Christians who, like you, were journalists also seeking to serve God in their professional calling? And how did they challenge and/or help you in your own pursuit?
Pulliam: Yes, I would write profiles of others in journalism, sometimes for Eternity magazine, the Chosen People column. That helped me to get to know them and how they applied the Bible and faith to their particular situations. I appreciated that the Lord gave each of them a special calling or way of applying their faith in news reporting.
Richard Ostling, TIME magazine, the best religion reporter of my time.
McCandlish Phillips, of the New York Times, who would trust God for his story assignments.
Cal Thomas, whose syndicated column took off to more than 500 newspapers after he started in the late 1980s. He had been in TV before that, in the 1970s.
Gary Varvel, Indy Star cartoonist
Tim Swarens, Indy Star, now USA Today
Blanchard: Why is it important for student and professional journalists to memorize Bible verses?
Pulliam: Many scriptures imply if not command the practice, Psalm 119:9-11 for example. When I was writing for The Associated Press in the 1970s, in New York City, the deadline pressure was immediate. I was writing 2-5 stories a day, dictating some by phone, to get it on the city wire, which fed the all-news radio stations in NYC. That experience may have made me realize that, in news, you have to have the Bible at your fingertips, in your head. That time pressure may have helped spur me to work on memory verses, no matter whether I felt like it or not.
Blanchard: How long have you been teaching a cadre of home school, high school-aged students in Indianapolis how to write better and strengthen their walk with Christ?
Pulliam: That has been more than 20 years now. I started with (my daughter) Sarah’s friends in 2001.
Blanchard: Why do you give of your time and support journalism scholarships ($125,000 for each of the next two school years) for TU students?
Pulliam: That comes from this prayer request: I would request a new generation of news reporters to bring the wisdom of the Bible to their reporting and analysis. I pray that they can follow some worthy examples:
Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch news commentator and prime minister.
Hannah More, the great British playwright. As she grew in her commitment to Christ, she became a journalist and joined the abolition movement with William Wilberforce.
Hugh Redwood, the London reporter first to tell the whole Salvation Army story.
Or McCandlish Phillips of the New York Times in the 1960s.
My prayer is for many more of them who turn to the Bible as the strongest foundation for truly excellent news reporting.
Blanchard: If a student were to consider a journalism writing career as a possible calling of God, what would you share?
Pulliam: Generally, you won’t make much money. But you have an opportunity to write the stories of the day’s or week’s news. You learn to ask deeper questions, in the spirit of Proverbs 20:5. And you get to meet so many interesting people. It is a calling, perhaps similar to teaching school, and more than a job.
Blanchard: What else would you share with a student who has a heart to serve God and who possesses an interest in writing nonfiction news or human-interest stories?
Pulliam: Read at least 10 biographies a year of worthy role models of faith. I also recommend you write for the school newspaper even if you plan to invent the medicine to cure the common cold. You learn communication skills that are invaluable even in the lab at Eli Lilly.
Blanchard: How have you been able to serve God in your years as a news reporter, opinion writer, newspaper columnist, editor?
Pulliam: I am thankful to be able to tell stories of the Lord’s work especially in Indianapolis and Indiana and how the salt and light influence of many believers has been so important:
Tom Morales and the Morales Group effort to find jobs for the immigrants;
Or the Purposeful Design story of formerly homeless men making furniture after sobering up;
Or the Shepherd Community Center attempts to alleviate poverty by helping the poor boost their assets;
Or the Wheeler Mission’s shelter for the homeless, leading to conversion to Christ, discipleship at Camp Hunt and restoration of some families;
Or the Oaks Academy story of racial reconciliation mixed with classical education and Christian character growth in low-income neighborhoods that are not so low-income anymore.
Blanchard: What else would you like to share about this overall subject of journalism as a godly calling?
Pulliam: I have exceeded my word count!
Echo Adviser Alan Blanchard is associate professor of journalism and executive director of the Pulliam Journalism Center, founded in 2019 at Taylor University.