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07 May 2013

Ed Thornton, journalist

Ed Thornton, journalist

Ed Thornton is a journalist with the Church Times. He used to work for a political magazine in Westminster and as a business journalist. He lives in London with his wife and new-born son. In his spare time he enjoys listening to podcasts, playing the guitar, and spending more time than is good for him on his iPad.

What gave you an interest in journalism? Was it a childhood dream?

I joined the BBC Newsround Press Pack when I was nine, so it was an early interest. I’ve always been interested in ideas and people, and journalism gives access to both. I spent a lot of time, while at university, in the student newspaper office and decided it was worth having a punt on as a full-time career.

Politics, isn’t it just a load of hot air?

Not when it affects people’s lives. A lot of Westminster speculation about who is in and out of favour is probably hot air, although I enjoy reading about it perhaps more than I should. But political debates about serious matters – such as whether people will have their benefits cut – have real consequences for people.

What news stories make your heart race faster?

High-profile resignations and appointments, knife-edge votes in Synod or Parliament (e.g. women bishops) or Christians who have been imprisoned for their faith being released.

Which make you weep?

Stories about Christians being imprisoned or murdered for their faith are really tough.

What is the most thrilling breaking story you have written?

The Occupy camp at St Paul’s Cathedral was exciting because it was so unexpected and the story moved quickly, at least at first. It also raised a lot of interesting questions about the Church’s relationship to capitalism and the political establishment. Interviewing the Archbishop of Canterbury in the back of a people carrier was also rather memorable.

Which political figure would you like to go for a drink with?

Hugo Young, the late Guardian columnist, would have fascinating stories about the politicians he’d interviewed and great insight into the problems we face today. Armandon Ianucci, the creator of The Thick of It, would also be entertaining company.

How important is it for your Christian audiences to know all the facts – even if it is dirt on a disgraced member of the clergy?

I don’t think it’s the role of religious journalists to withhold facts from readers just because it might embarrass or shame members of the clergy. It’s incredibly damaging to the Church’s reputation and mission when it seeks to cover things up. It’s not pleasant to report, for example, on cases of historic abuse, but important that people know – not least so that action can be taken to prevent it happening in future.

What’s most important when writing?

Writing simply and clearly, and not being afraid of short sentences. There’s nothing worse than journalism that reads like a pretentious undergraduate essay. It’s important not to over-interpret news. The journalist should present what’s happened and allow the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

What would Jesus think of how the Church presents itself?

I think he’d be a bit bemused by some of the pomp and ceremony, and uncomfortable with how close the Church is to political power. He wouldn't like public displays of disunity, or Christians using the media to insult other Christians. But he’d probably care less about PR and more about the less visible acts of service which churches perform all the time at a local level.

Do we need more good news?

It can get disheartening to read repeated stories in the nationals of Christians fighting for their rights all the time (e.g. not to allow a gay couple to stay in their B&B etc). Whatever the rights or wrongs of those cases, I haven't a clue how they advance the kingdom.

Diocesan press officers and some groups do a great job of getting local level good news stories into regional media outlets. We could do with more of those positive stories in the national press.

What have you been proudest to achieve so far?

I'm proud of some of the articles I wrote after trips to India and the West Bank (both kindly hosted by Christian Aid).

Any embarrassing faux pas?

I once interviewed a Nigerian Archbishop over lunch and, just as I started to eat, his English host leaned over and whispered: 'Before we start, the Archbishop's wife is going to say grace.' I suppose people whose lives are in constant danger because of their faith are a bit more thankful for a nice meal than I am.