Who picks the pictures?

The instinct and logic behind how we choose graphics for CC.

Last April, as Russia’s invasion into Ukraine was still fresh on the news and the reports of war crimes were leaking out, I received a folder of images from a news correspondent with the permission to print them in Christian Courier. The images were gut-wrenching, taken by civilians as ground-level evidence of Russian war crimes. At the time, Angela was on leave and Meghan Kort was guest editing. Meghan recalled facing the dilemma of what to do with those images. Christian Courier is a journalistic publication. How do we choose graphics for a story that deals with death by suicide, war crimes or abuse in the church? CC staff face this question a lot. In the end, we have to ask what is the most ethical and respectful graphic. “We decided not to use the Ukraine images in 2022,” Meghan said. “There are stories that are important, but we have to ask, whose role is it to cover?” 

Tough stories 

Likewise, last winter we had many discussions about how to report on the death by suicide of a student at Redeemer University. “It’s a real thing that people should know about,” said Meghan, “but we need to do it well.” According to the Government of Canada, 12 Canadians commit suicide every day, and 200 other Canadians attempt it. The first group they list as high-risk for suicide is men and boys. How do we honour those individuals and the families they leave behind? 

In 2017, Angela wrote an article about the death by suicide of Jordan Hiemstra. “I got a couple of things right and a couple of things wrong,” remembered Angela. She included some photos of the young man, which is no longer a CC practice. But she also included photos taken by the young man himself: “they were dark, which showed his mindset at the time. It was a different way of communicating the story.” She’s currently developing a set of guidelines for CC writers for how to cover suicide deaths.


Ethical questions are hardly unique to CC. I took an online course with Jon Berkeley, an illustrator whose work is on the cover of many well-known magazines, including The Economist. He spoke of the difficulty of illustrating a story on abuse on a swim team. In an image that was respectful yet poignant, he painted a girl alone on a diving board. Instead of water beneath her, the swimming pool was a box of emptiness. 

We don’t have the resources of Jon Berkeley but we face the same dilemma. To show the face of the perpetrator of abuse is to give them extra coverage. And victims of abuse should rightfully be given their privacy. Last October we had two cover stories about abuse within the church. “We really struggled with what to put there,” recalls Angela. “It was easy to show Rachel Denhollander on the front page because we interviewed her, but then the question was how to show her.” 

Kevin, one of CC’s designers, placed horizontal bars of colour behind Denhollander that looked like a flag. “That fit nicely with the theme of calling her a warrior, or General in the army of abuse survivors,” said Angela. The second cover story was on the effect on the congregation of abuse allegations against pastor Bruxy Cavey within a megachurch called The Meeting House in Oakville, Ontario. Instead of choosing a photo of Cavey, Angela chose an image of the church worshipping. “I think it shows the setting really well; they met in movie theatres. This was a different kind of church. You can see the place is packed. It’s the context of where it happened.” 

Angela also remembers when the #metoo allegations first started to roll in. A pastor wrote a generalized article for CC about abuse in the church. “For the cover page I made a collage of eight of the men [perpetrators of abuse] at the time and sent that to Kevin to put on the front page. When it came back to me, I right away thought, ‘Oh no, I don’t want that, that looks awful. Why am I giving them space? We don’t need their faces there.’” Instead, CC published art depicting John the Baptist calling for repentance

Reimagining visuals

The use of art is one way that CC differs from other publications: “I don’t know any other newspaper doing it,” says Angela. Magazines might, but newspapers typically won’t. “But it works really well for us, because there are so many layers to our stories and art can touch on those layers in a way that a photograph can’t. And I find they invite the reader in a little more gently.” 

As Meghan says, CC is “reimagining the role of visuals in a newspaper” beyond photography. We ask artists around the world for permission to print their work in our church year issues, or as accompaniments to poetry and features. Over and over again, these artists are generous. Some communicate their excitement to have their work feature in the context of journalism, interacting with real life issues that matter to the artists. We didn’t use the war crime images in April’s issue, but for months we relied on the good work of Creatives for Ukraine, a collective of artists representing the crisis in Ukraine through art. 

When it comes to the most sensitive topics, sometimes CC invests in an in-house, original graphic. That might mean asking our designers to create something new, like when Kevin placed a puppet on strings against the backdrop of stained glass windows for Angela’s article ‘Abuse of Power’, covering Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church. “That felt risky at the time,” remembers Angela, “because it was implying levels of control and a church setting, but it was received well.” 

In the last two years at CC, I have had the honour of illustrating topics such as celebrating women in ministry (while recognizing the challenges that still face them), negotiating conversations over the vaccine divide, begging the church to not split over a controversial Synod, a funeral during covid lockdown, the ethics of MAiD and tension in a binational denomination

Your part

With each illustration and each issue, we learn how to do this better. Our ability to distance ourselves from sensationalism and choose the path of slow journalism and hope-filled reporting is all thanks to you, our readers. Through print subscriptions and donations, your support of this small publication proves that you, too, value ethical journalism. We couldn’t be more thankful for this ecosystem of writers, editors, designers, artists and readers. 


  • Maaike VanderMeer

    Maaike first appeared in CC's pages as a teenage writer from Ontario. Fast forward almost a decade later (and relocate to a land-based fish farm in southern British Columbia), and Maaike stepped in as CC's assistant editor for a year in 2021. Now she serves as Art and Development Manager. She is intrigued by the symbiotic relationship between hope-oriented journalism and the arts, and the place it has in CC's pages. Her degree is in Intercultural Service and World Arts and she creates original watercolours and graphics for CC (proving that work can be fun). You can follow more of Maaike's visual experiments on Instagram @maai_abrokentulip

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