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The surge of African nations up the ranks of the world's worst persecutors isn't the only news today from Open Doors USA.
Along with the release of this year's World Watch List (WWL), an annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution for their faith, Open Doors is also launching World Watch Monitor (WWM), a fresh news initiative that aims to raise awareness of the persecuted church.
"It's important for people to have knowledge of persecution," said WWM editor Jeff Thomas (previously editor and vice president of the Colorado Springs Gazette). "The association of our news with the credibility of Open Doors [will] enhance our news information."
Open Doors is not a new player in the persecution news arena. Long before it launched WWM, the ministry ran the well-regarded Compass Direct News service. But Open Doors began to rethink its strategy in 2011 and decided to close Compass Direct and associate its reporting more closely with the Open Doors brand, Thomas said.
The World Watch Monitor name now explicitly links the news service to the WWL in order to "help readers encounter the larger story of the persecuted church and be invited to more significant involvement with it," he said.
WWM is one of many nonprofits—including Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Voice of the Martyrs, and International Christian Concern (ICC)—that use journalism to raise awareness of religious freedom around the world. "If you strip away the religious element of what we're doing, persecution is a niche topic," said Thomas.
But former Compass Direct editor Jeff Sellers says such news efforts are limited by their ties to particular aid agencies. Independent news organizations, like those in the mainstream press, face fewer limitations in gathering and disseminating information, he said.
"We're not like the mainstream press with a pretense of objectivity," said Sellers. "[But] we're also journalistic advocates, and we want to give stories a journalistic treatment."
Both Thomas and William Stark, ICC's regional manager for Africa and South Asia, said their respective organizations also present persecution journalistically. But because of their common mission—to raise awareness of persecuted Christians—neither sees the awareness work of others as competition.
"The more awareness of people who suffer purely because they believe in Christ, the better," said Thomas.
Stark says ICC, WWM, and MSN don't overlap too much in the news realm. He even maintains an open dialogue with the other editors in cases where collaboration might be possible.
"[ICC] is able to be an active participant in the aid side of things. We're not quite passive observers," Stark said. "That's an important difference that sets ICC out as somebody that not only is going to report on these things, but also get their hands dirty."
WWM's reports will be distinct from ICC and MSN's tendency to cover "spot violence," Thomas said. Instead, WWM will highlight the "engines of persecution, to help people connect the dots and see the underlying forces that give rise to these incidents," he said.
In this way, Thomas said, the new Open Doors initiative can fulfill its obligation to increase support for the cause of religious freedom without squeezing anyone else out of the arena.
"We're in the news business to provide more effective ministry to persecuted Christians around the world," Thomas said. "To serve the persecuted church, not to drive page views."