Ruth Dickinson was perhaps destined for the job she has, spending her childhood “ makeing magazines from a really young age”, and doing work experience at Just 17 as a teenager. Somewhere along the way, however, she listened to a careers advisor and "ended up doing a law and french degree, which was all wrong".
Ruth became a Christian at university and looking back, thinks this was linked to a rediscovery of her passion for journalism. A friend set her up with an internship at the Baptist Times where she was trained by [ex Telegraph journalist] Hazel Southam, then editor; “she was great, really rigorous, trained me up like we were on a broadsheet”. Because it was a small team of four people she really had to hit the ground running and soon got a job as a reporter.
Fast forward six years and Ruth is the youngest editor of Christianity magazine, and the first woman to hold the post. Her enthusiasm for the publication bubbles over. “I think you can really believe that we are doing some good, helping people with their faith”. Her key aim with the magazine is discipleship, (it’s not an evangelistic publication) and she thinks that it supplements the input people get at church with more of a “birds eye view” of the wider church and the world.
Also, despite beginning on a newspaper, Ruth loves the medium of magazines in general- “ I love their visual element, the fact you can curl up with one and dip in and out”. Importantly, Christianity Magazine can be really informative in an accessible way: “ most Christians are not going to sit down and read a 400 page book on penal substitution, for example, but they might read 2000 words. We can provide something meaty, interesting but manageable”. She has also appreciated moving from a weekly to a monthly cycle, and the time to make the output more coherent and thoughtful.
I asked her about the change from journalist to editor, which some people find tricky. “I love it” she says, “I’ve always loved polishing other people’s work, developing writers, helping people find their voice”. She also mentions the need to see the big picture. As a journalist you are just concerned with the words in front of you, but editors need to be thinking about the design, the flow, the advertising- everything.
Like many people working in Christian media Ruth sometimes find the relationship between her faith and work life a difficult one to navigate. “Funnily enough, it was easier at the Baptist Times, because we were just there to report the news, with less of a responsibility to also be a ministry”. She thinks that is possible to combine the two well, you just need to be thoughtful and consistent, and remember that your job is as much a part of your ministry as leading worship on a Sunday.
Ruth has also found it interesting establishing good working relationships with other Christians; “it’s not like at church where you can just be the family, because there are other agendas involved. I always think ‘Am I supposed to have a professional facade?” However, despite this initial distance she has found it to be really rewarding, and has some great colleagues who are also precious brothers and sisters . “It is actually a great joy of working in a Christian environment”.
One area of her working life where Ruth is strict is in the issue of rest- she very rarely takes work home at the weekends or in the evenings, and thinks that it should be possible to work hard in reasonable hours and get the job done. Key to this is her motto “strive for excellence, but not for perfection”. She thinks overwork and competitive busyness are an endemic problem, especially in media. “When did we as a society sit down and decide that this was the most productive or the most healthy way of living?”.
Finally, I asked her if she’d had any nightmare moments as editor. She told me of one time when as deputy, they had run a piece by then head of the Evangelical Alliance Joel Edwards on the ‘Christian Voice in the Public Arena’. “Somehow the l of public and the n of area had got lost. Several people had read the piece and not noticed, and it was only just before it went to print, on the third proof read, that someone came running up with a big red ring around the headline. Can you imagine? Joel Edwards talking about the ‘Christian Voice in the Pubic Area? I had nightmares for weeks”.