By Linda Lawson Still
Contributing Writer, Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — Citing a downturn in advertising revenue and increasing costs for printing and postage, Baptist & Reflector Editor Lonnie Wilkey announced the paper will cut back publication to biweekly, effective with the June 4 issue (there will be no issue on May 28 under the current publication schedule).
The electronic edition will follow the print schedule.
To supplement the every other week publication, breaking news will be released via the Tennessee Baptist Convention website (www.tnbaptist.org) and mass e-mails to those who want to add their names to the current list. Around November, a new B&R website will be launched to carry print stories and additional electronic content such as columns. Also, use of social media will be increased to facilitate dialogue on key issues impacting churches. Further down the road, a B&R phone app will be available.
“I regret this had to be done so quickly,” Wilkey said. “As editor I’ve always been committed to staying within the budget. These actions will help us to get ahead of the curve and cut expenses.
“Through these changes, our desire is to make available more B&R content, not less,” he said. The biweekly issues will consist of 12-16 pages compared to the current weekly editions of 8-12 pages.
TBC Executive Director Randy C. Davis, who oversaw the B&R until this year, called the move to the new schedule “the right decision from an economic standpoint. As a strategic decision we can open other avenues of communication. In the long run I think Tennessee Baptists will have broader access.”
Davis described the B&R as “the strongest point of TBC communication, a lifeline for Tennessee Baptists.”
Chris Turner, director of the Communications Team that now includes the B&R, said results of a recent survey of readers will guide future content and frequency decisions. More than 1,600 readers responded to the survey and results are being tabulated.
“With the dedicated B&R site I believe we’ll be able to deliver more news and still have a high quality print product,” Turner said.
“People responded that they see value in the B&R and their opinions will guide us in determining how we can best serve our readership moving forward.”
Greater use of social media such as Twitter will enable better and quicker communication on issues such as abortion. Greater focus will be given to TBC ministry news and current church trends, he added.
Turner said the Tennessee Baptist audience has two distinct audiences: (1) those who prefer a hard copy publication and (2) those who prefer digital communications.
Wilkey, Davis, and Turner emphasized the changes create future possibilities for the 179-year-old Baptist state newspaper with a combined print and electronic circulation of about 45,000 and an estimated readership of nearly 80,000 weekly.
“I respect our long heritage,” Davis said. “The B&R will not be going away at all.”
Turner said, “I’d love to see the B&R website become the communications hub for Tennessee Baptists. I believe the best days are ahead of us.”
Wilkey became the B&R’s 16th editor in 1998 after 10 years as associate editor of the paper. He emphasized the B&R is not the first state paper to grapple with increasing costs by reducing publication frequency and predicted it won’t be the last.
Only about half a dozen Baptist state papers continue to publish weekly.
“The newspaper publishing industry as a whole is struggling with income declines and very few have been successful at generating income from websites,” he said. “We have an advantage in that we are a niché publication since there is no other newspaper targeted to Tennessee Baptists.”
He also said cost-cutting to be a good steward of resources has been a regular practice of the B&R. For example, staff has been cut from six full-time and two part-time employees in 1988 to four full-time staff today (Wilkey, Connie Davis Bushey, Mary Nimmo, and Susie Edwards). Edwards has been battling cancer for the past year and has been unable to work. The paper has utilized part-time help in the interim period.
“As an editor of print publications for more than 25 years, I find it sad we won’t be printing weekly,” Wilkey said. “But times change and technology provides new ways to communicate. If we don’t adapt now we’ll go the way of the dinosaur.
“I am grateful for the Tennessee Baptists who read the B&R online and in print.”
In an April 30 editorial announcing the readership survey, Wilkey said: “My desire is that no matter what the frequency or format, the B&R will be relevant to kingdom work, telling the story of Tennessee Baptists. And, when all is said and done, may God be glorified in whatever we do.”