Johanne Robertson is co-founder, co-owner and editor of Maranatha News, a Christian online newspaper based in Toronto. Her resilience, whether it be in her professional life (she recently changed the format of her newspaper) or her personal life (she is a stroke survivor) is always evident.
At Write! Canada 2012, Johanne will be part of the panel for the workshop “Faith and Fact: How Modern Technology Is Remaking Journalism.”
When did you first attend Write! Canada and what keeps you coming back?
I first attended Write! Canada in 2003. I felt lost and I wasn’t sure if the event was for me or for the writers that wrote for Maranatha News. But it didn’t take a full day before I realized it was a special gathering; a unique occasion when people got together and cared for one another. They took time to encourage one another and spur each other on.
I met quite a few faculty members, spoke with new writers and discovered a lot of talent at the conference. Such great experiences have certainly had me returning each year.
You are on the panel of a workshop called “Faith and Fact: How Modern Technology Is Remaking Journalism.” What have journalists gained from technology?
Journalists have the opportunity to use the latest technology to connect with sources, search for information, and to disseminate news stories out to potential readers faster than through traditional means. While some monthly avenues remain reliable, social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn allow writers to get news to readers in real time. For Maranatha News, journalists have gained the opportunity to reach the world with their words through the click of a mouse.
What have they lost because of technology?
There are literally hundreds of thousands of citizen journalists out there. Not having to go through a traditional editor and publisher has reduced the high quality, reliability, and credibility of the news sources. In the past, journalists cared for their sources and were very sure to report the story accurately. Now, in the race to be first to report the news, accuracy is often compromised.
It was 16 years ago that God called my business partner, Monica Leis, and me with the thought of bringing the Canadian Christian community together across geographic boundaries, denominations and races. Through our efforts—and God’s grace—we’ve seen that become a reality. With the recent changes to our format we are well on our way to furthering that dream.
What has been your all-time favourite article in Maranatha News?
After 16 years, I have many favorite articles written by amazingly gifted writers. In 2006 Maranatha News had a special Bill Gaither, 16-page, feature with a two-page interview with Bill Gaither by Wendy Nelles. That 16-page feature—12,000 copies—was distributed at the Air Canada Centre to Bill Gaither Homecoming Concert fans. That was amazing. In that special edition Maranatha News featured Canadian recording artists and Canadian authors.
We’ve had many memorable articles by Patricia Paddey: “Save the Mothers” (2005), “Billy Graham Library” (June 2007), “Painter of Lights” (2004), and an interview with Artist John Tesh (2004). Just recently (May 2012) we ran an interview with David Mainse, founder of Crossroads Christian Communications Inc.
Deborah Gyapong has always brought important information on national and political news: “World Vision Requests Prayer for Tsunami Victims,” “Same Sex Issue: Tip of the Iceburg Warns Theology Professor” (April 2005), “Abortionist Morgentaler Invested with Order of Canada”—and the list goes on with great writing in Maranatha News.
We have been very fortunate to host some of Canada’s best Christian writers through the years.
When I met you last year at the conference and I presented you with my children’s book idea, you suggested that I get some experience writing articles first. Why do journalists make good authors (e.g. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Sons; former crime reporter Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ)?
I think all authors should have an array of outlets they write for, to let readers know the kind of author they are and the kinds of writing they do: whether it be fiction, non-fiction, children’s or adult novels, etc. To have a waiting market is a lot better than starting from zero or from only friends and family members, unless that was the original target market for the book.
You are the co-founder of “Read for Life,” an organization that helps raise the level of reading and education among Canadians. Tell us about it.
Read for Life is an organization of people who care about books, in which we strive to promote award-winning, life-changing books to readers all across Canada. Our goal is to showcase award-winning authors—and through our promotional venues, make them bestsellers.
If writers are passionate about their work, they will always be talking to people and reading. Finding the scoop is not the most important thing. I find that my best writers are resilient. They watch and read the news, and they know how to uncover more about stories. Research, reading, a good memory (and a good notepad) are essentials.
What advice do you give to an editor trying to start his or her own Christian newspaper?
I think any editor or publisher wanting to start his or her own Christian newspaper needs to be called into it. It isn’t a very lucrative industry or a place for anyone thinking they want to become famous. The newspaper business takes a certain kind of person—not only to publish a paper but to keep it afloat and effective for many years. Knowing that you are called to serve this area of the community is what matters. The rest (credibility, connections, advertisers) will certainly come with time.
I certainly saw God’s faithfulness to me and to Maranatha News when I had the stroke 10 years ago. Shortly afterwards, God led me to call The Word Guild and inquire about writers to help tell those all important stories for Maranatha News readers.
I felt the newspaper, my readers and I as an editor/publisher grew when Maranatha News took on more writers. Many of those same writers have gone on to become award-winning writers, which I thank God for and attribute to His faithfulness and leading.
We’ve taken many chances through the years. We are proud to still be taking chances, and God is proving Himself faithful to us every step of the way.
You’ve recently changed the format of Maranatha News. Please explain.
Maranatha News has transitioned from a monthly Christian newspaper to an online Canadian news source. We are aiming to publish the news on a daily rotation. News happens everyday. Why not report it in real time?
Contact Johanne Robertson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Connect on Facebook: Maranatha News, or Twitter: @MaranathaNews
Johanne was interviewed by Linda Jonasson of the Write! Canada PR team.