Originally published on July 24, 2020 on The Alabama Baptist
EDITOR’S NOTE: July 26 is Southern Baptist Media Day in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Trusted sources of information and inspiration for almost 200 years, Southern Baptist media have experienced myriad changes and challenges in 2020.
Added to the Southern Baptist Convention calendar in 2019, Southern Baptist Media Day, on July 26, is set aside to celebrate how God has used and continues to use Southern Baptist media in His mission.
“In a culture where mainstream media continue to face an identity crisis and competition from expert bloggers and TV and podcast show hosts, Southern Baptist media outlets have the opportunity to offer our communities a model for living by the highest of journalistic standards while also striving for excellence in the craft in general and shining for Jesus in the process. It truly is possible to report straight-forward facts, be fair in the presentation and trust people to handle the information responsibly, and I have to believe the true news reporters out there trying to navigate this unusual time would love to find that opportunity again. Who better to lead the way than Southern Baptist media professionals?” said Jennifer Rash, president and editor-in-chief of The Alabama Baptist.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as significant unrest in our nation, Southern Baptist state publications have navigated numerous challenges in 2020, including financial concerns, social distancing, working remotely and more. Still, editors persevered in their “sense of calling and responsibility,” said Rash.
Amid this year’s challenges, Rash expressed a focus shared by other editors of Southern Baptist media, “We hope that engaging with The Alabama Baptist and TAB Media offers a glimpse of hope and reminders of how much good really is happening amid the chaos. Our goal is to offer accurate and fair reporting of news and information, helpful resources for surviving life’s difficult circumstances and hope-filled encouragement and inspiration along the journey. We love sharing the stories of God’s people doing God’s work in Alabama, across the nation and around the world. We pray your time spent with TAB is calming, peaceful and fulfilling — and that it prompts you to shine for Jesus, share His love and demonstrate the amazing grace He modeled for us.”
Because of financial and other pressures, at least three state papers in 2020 opted to go fully digital and suspend their print publications, while remaining fully committed to reaching their audiences with essential news. Arkansas Baptist News, first published in 1901, announced in a press release in February its decision to dissolve its independent board and return operations of the publication to the state convention. Soon after making that administrative change, the ABN published its final print edition on March 26 and became a fully digital publication. At that time, Greg Addison, associate executive director of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, stated, “The ABN is, and will continue to be, a vital tool for bringing us together through the ministry of information. While the tools may be new, the focus will be the same.”
In its 35th year of publication, the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist published its final print edition in Spring 2020. The fully digital format, said MWB editor David Williams, offers the potential of “saving thousands of dollars each year while speeding up the delivery of the paper to our subscribers.” The paper is now being distributed by email and as a download from the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention website.
In July, Mississippi’s The Baptist Record announced that it was ceasing printing and going fully digital. Declining print subscriptions, hard-to-predict future costs of newsprint and postage, and decreased advertising related to COVID-19 contributed to the decision, said TBR editor William H. Perkins Jr. “We have no plans to reduce the content of the Record in any way. … As a matter of fact, we want to expand the content to include items we have not been able to print because of the physical limitations of a small-format, weekly newspaper,” he added.
One state Baptist paper, California Southern Baptist, after nearly 80 years in existence, discontinued its print and digital publications with the April 2020 issue. Although the CSB experienced decreased circulation and increased costs, editor Terry Barone said, “This is not solely a financial decision, but also an attempt to communicate more effectively.” He said the California Baptist State Convention is committed to providing news and information to its constituencies. “We have the opportunity to use many different types of emerging technologies to better tell the stories of how God is working among California Southern Baptists,” Barone said.
While other state publications are making difficult decisions to suspend their print publications, The Alabama Baptist, said Rash, is committed not only to continuing its print publication but also to expanding its reach through other communications channels. Currently, TAB has a print circulation of 47,000 and a digital circulation of about 7,000. “At TAB, we are committed to a multi-platform content distribution system which will include a printed publication while also continually moving forward in a variety of digital offerings,” she said.