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Christian magazine editor talks faith, journalism

Ryan Hamm

Ryan Hamm. managing editor of Relevant Media Group, is from Battle Creek, Neb.

By Lindsey Richards
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Ryan Hamm intended to become a history teacher. Instead, he’s a journalist documenting history in the making.

Hamm is the managing editor of the print and web content of Relevant, a Christian magazine covering God and culture.  “The stories we tell are at the intersection of faith and culture—the places where life is really lived,”  the magazine’s website explains.

Relevant reaches about 800,000 readers each month. It is distributed once every two months in print and for iPad and there are daily updates on its website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Hamm, in a phone interview, said he earned a history degree with a minor in English literature at Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts college in Illinois.  After student teaching, he decided education wasn’t a good career fit.

But he had worked on the student newspaper since his sophomore year and he had always liked writing.  He began submitting articles he had written for the school newspaper to Relevant, and the magazine would often post the stories on its website. After college, he worked as an unpaid music editor for Relevant for about a year  and then worked at Christianity Today International as an assistant for a department of editors.

That’s where he really learned the most about editing.  “I was working with people who had been doing it for 20 years and they were amazing at it,” he said. When the opportunity presented itself, Hamm returned to Relevant, this time as the managing editor.

In that role, he juggles content for both print and the Internet.  “I generally like print more, but maybe that’s just because it’s more tangible,” he said. “But it’s more about topic than medium when it comes to what I like to edit.”

And the Internet presents challenges of its own. “It is kind of tough because it is basically an entire magazine every day. Just because an article did well yesterday doesn’t mean that you can just relax and not post anything the next.”

Because Relevant is primarily a Christian publication, it faces a different set of obstacles than a non-niche publication.  “I don’t want to single us out as some sort of persecuted media group or something” he said. “Every group is going to have its challenges based on audience. I think ours are unique. It can be a discussion about what we can and can’t cover in good faith because we might have readers that might not be comfortable with a certain level of music or a movie rating. That is always an ongoing discussion.” He said that the writers and editors at Relevant feel a certain level of responsibility to their audience,  but they do not want to limit what they write because a reader might feel uncomfortable about certain topics.

Hamm had several suggestions for journalism students:

  • “Try to learn new stuff as quickly as possible. The publishing industry is in such flux that the way things were done even 10 years ago are not the way things are done anymore.”
  •  “In addition to hard journalism, educate yourself in things like sales and marketing, because they are going to be increasingly more important to editors.”
  •  And no matter where a journalist’s first job is, the most important factor is to work with someone who is good at what he or she does and learn as much as possible.
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