I was looking over a copy of Telling the Truth in Love: A Brief History of the Baptist and Reflector from 1835, written by former editor Wm. Fletcher Allen (now deceased) in 2005.
The Baptist and Reflector has a long and distinguished history. It remains one of the oldest, continuously published newspapers (religious or secular) in the United States. The paper was originally titled The Baptist and was begun with the first issue in January of 1835 by R.B.C. Howell, who also was pastor of First Baptist Church, Nashville.
According to Allen’s research, Howell saw that “the major limitation of church growth was lack of communication. There was no method of supplying potential readers with news and status of other churches.
The lands west of Middle Tennessee were unsettled in many ways. This was the Southwest and Howell wanted to help evangelize the area. His answer? “Give them a newspaper!”
Allen added that The Baptist was “the original Baptist paper” in Tennessee and it laid the foundation for the modern Baptist and Reflector. The paper was published monthly with a subscription rate of $1 per year, “paid in advance.”
As I was reminded of the original cost of the paper, I couldn’t help but wonder how much a year’s subscription would cost in today’s dollars.
Since I am a mathematical illiterate (thus, one reason I became a journalist), I turned to our accounting team at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board for help. Joe Lovell, the TBMB’s new chief financial officer, informed me it would cost $33.67 in 2022.
Keep in mind that the original paper was published just once a month. The B&R is published 26 times annually, more than twice the original paper. Factor in the additional 14 issues each year and the cost would rise to approximately $67 per year.
The actual cost for the B&R currently is $15 for individual subscriptions and $11 for churches who send their members the paper through the Church Plan, given what the paper would cost if inflation was factored in.
With that said, however, our cost will have to increase slightly in 2023. Our rates will increase to $13 in the Church Plan and $18 per year for individuals. That is still about half of what the paper would cost according to the inflation rate since 1835.
The question remains: Why do we still need a printed Baptist publication? After all, everyone gets their news from television or the internet. Well, that is not quite true. Print is not dead yet.
Many people tell me that though they read stories from our website, especially if it’s something that happened between print issues, they still prefer the printed page.
While our circulation has dropped significantly since the paper’s heyday of the mid 1980s, our print circulation is still around 16,000 with a potential readership of 40,000, according to newspaper standards. And, because some churches receive only one copy, that issue is read by multiple people.
Ultimately, the reason the B&R is needed today is the same reason The Baptist was first printed in 1835 — communication. Tennessee Baptists need and want information about what is going on in our churches and our denomination.
The B&R has been “telling the story of Tennessee Baptists” with excellence since 1835 and we want that to continue as long as possible in print form. The B&R provides news, inspiring features, editorials and columns designed to inform and educate and more.
Baptist and Reflector Sunday will be observed on Aug. 21 in many of our churches across the state which means there will be more readers than on an average week.
We hope they will enjoy this issue and will want to become a member of our family of subscribers. The foundation has been laid so that the news will continue online for decades to come. Our hope and desire is that we can continue to provide a print issue for years to come.
In order to do so, we need folks who will subscribe for friends or their Sunday School class if the paper is not provided through the church.
We need more churches willing to participate in our Church Plan. We need people who will make monetary contributions so we can provide the paper to retired ministers and missionaries who want to keep up with Baptist life but cannot afford the cost of a subscription. We have one longtime reader who faithfully sends us a substantial contribution each year for us to use as needed. May his tribe increase.
We appreciate each and every subscriber. Without you, there would be no paper. Our subscribers know that after 187 years, their state paper is still a bargain. Thank you. B&R — For subscription information, call 615-371-2003.