By Chris Turner
Director of Communications, TBC
Is newspaper dead?
It is a legitimate question. It’s no secret, the newspaper industry in general — and Baptists state newspapers specifically — have fallen on hard times, and both are in a nosedive that at times looks to have reached terminal velocity. But are newspapers really dead?
More importantly for you as a reader of this publication, is the Baptist and Reflector dying, on life support, or hoping for a bright future? Great question, and I’ll answer that in a moment.
I love newspapers, but of course I would. I was a reporter for a number of years before migrating to organizational communications. However, my love of newspapers does not blind me to the industry’s free fall. Baptist state papers, long a stalwart of Southern Baptist life, have fallen on hard times. At least two have recently ceased print publication and a third will do so at the end of this year. Circulation numbers have spiraled downward; printing and postage costs have spiraled ridiculously upwards and are mostly to blame for the demise of state papers (but there are other factors as well). Quite frankly, the odds to some degree are stacked against the sustainability of state Baptist papers. It legitimately raises the questions: Do we lay the 180-year-old Baptist and Reflector to rest, and would anyone notice if we did?
Apparently a lot of you would notice because you emphatically answered that question for us last year if you participated in our extensive Baptist and Reflector readers’ survey (and thank you if you did). We learned that we have an extremely committed readership. So, with the help of your feedback, here is what the future looks like for the Baptist and Reflector.
We will continue to publish a hardcopy paper every two weeks for the foreseeable future. When your newspaper is 180 years old — and one of the oldest continuing publications in America — there is a responsibility to that legacy. Editor Lonnie Wilkey and I get that. There is no guarantee the Baptist and Reflector will always remain as a biweekly newspaper, but we are committed to passing on the Baptist and Reflector in some format to future generations of Tennessee Baptists. For now, we believe our readership values a print version so we will continue to produce it.
We are committed to helping shape the biblical worldview of Tennessee Baptists. If you are a consistent reader, you may have noticed the increased number of articles diving into controversial issues like the Yes on 1 abortion amendment vote last November, the special issues we’ve done on addiction and same-sex marriage, and the stories and columns related to patriotism, race, physician assisted suicide, abortion and other tough topics bombarding our culture. We made the conscious decision last fall to meet those issues head on because we want to help Tennessee Baptists bridge the gap between the inerrant Word of God and its application in the world. We are open to — and welcome — your suggestions for future coverage so send them to us!
We are committed to changes that help us remain relevant to the lives of Tennessee Baptists. Systematically attacking the tough cultural issues is not all we’re doing. Very soon we are launching a complementary B&R online newspaper that will offer updates multiple times a week. We are redesigning the print version of the paper to give it a fresh look. We are simplifying our subscription fee structure to offer our subscribers better value. We are revamping our e-newsletter to offer our readers timely news updates. We are launching social media channels to stay in touch with our readers and allow you a quick way to connect with us. We are committed to better serving you and doing whatever is necessary to make that happen.
We are committed to reporting news about Tennessee Baptists and Tennessee Baptist churches.
More than 66 percent of the thousands of you responding to our survey said you wanted to read news about Tennessee Baptists and Tennessee Baptist churches. That far exceeded any other type of available news. We listened, and immediately intensified our focus on how TBC churches are reaching the lost locally and globally, how churches across our state are being revitalized and planted, and how you are reaching Tennessee and reaching the nations through your giving through the Cooperative Program and to the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions.
We need your help. We can’t do this alone. The responsibility for the legacy of the Baptist and Reflector doesn’t just belong to those of us who produce it; it also lies with those who read it. If you like the direction we’re going in the days ahead, tell others about the Baptist and Reflector. We are trying our best to pack as much value in every issue to make the new $15 per year individual subscription fee a steal (and at 57 cents an issue it is an incredible steal!). If you have ideas and criticisms, tell us. We need and value your feedback. We value your prayers even more.
It is true that newspaper is dying, but throughout history Tennesseans have run toward the fray and not away from it.
We are just crazy enough to believe that the best days of the Baptist and Reflector lie ahead if we cooperate with our readers, focus on how God is at work in Tennessee and through Tennessee Baptists, and offer biblical insight into today’s issues that help shape our readers’ Christian worldview.
We live at a pivotal point in history and these serious times cry out for a serious publication that offers a serious biblical perspective. The Baptist and Reflector is that publication, and by God’s grace, will be even more so in the future.