The banquet -- the culminating event of the 10th-annual Baptist Press Collegiate Journalism Conference -- featured award presentations for students in the fields of print journalism, photojournalism, broadcasting, Web design and yearbook.
Starnes, a reporter for FOX News, is heard on hundreds of radio stations around the nation and is a frequent contributor to "FOX & Friends" and "Hannity." He also writes a daily blog for FOX Nation.
"We are in the business of telling stories, aren't we?" Starnes said. "We do it with words. We do it with pictures. We do it with video. We tell people's stories. And I love my job. I love going out and telling those stories of people and what they're doing with their lives because words matter. Words are very important. Words can heal, but words can also hurt."
Starnes recounted some of the more memorable stories he has covered recently -- some humorous, like a goose that was hit by an arrow and survived, and some more serious, like the 2009 plane crash in New York that came to be known as the "miracle on the Hudson."
The day of the crash, Starnes heard that a small plane had crashed in the Hudson River, he said. But when he arrived on the scene, he saw that it actually was a commercial jetliner, so he began broadcasting live and even got an interview with a man who had just escaped from the crashed plane.
Weeks later, the pilot, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, made his first flight after the crash along the same route, and Starnes bought a ticket on the plane.
"We were able to go live as we were taking off on that airplane with Capt. Sully Sullenberger as the pilot. And it was really, really cool," he said.
Among his other favorite assignments was covering a young golfer who won the Junior PGA Championship but disqualified himself after discovering that he broke the rules by having one too many clubs in his golf bag.
"He ended up doing something that was quite remarkable and quite honorable in this day of athletes and their supersized egos. This is the story of the honest golfer," Starnes said before playing a recording of his radio coverage.
Perhaps the most emotional story he has covered recently was the suicide of a student from Rutgers University after his roommate secretly broadcast one of the young man's sexual encounters on the Internet, Starnes said. While not condoning any sexual immorality, he said the tragedy made him feel compassion for the deceased student and his family.
Starnes encouraged the college journalists to care for the people they cover as well.
"We live in a very difficult time," he said. "There is a lot of noise out there in this country and out there in this world. And we as journalists have a responsibility to wade through all that noise and tell the stories.
"I want to challenge you and encourage you as you leave this place: Write stories that matter.... Have compassion when you pick up your pen, when you pick up your laptop. And I want you to remember something: Every word you write in the newspaper, every word you speak on television and on radio, it matters."
David Roach is a pastor and writer in Shelbyville, Ky.
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