Paper Decline

December 07, 2007

The Baptist Press had a couple of interesting pieces yesterday about the decline of Baptist state newspapers. The first article offered the following observations:

According to information published in the 2007 SBC Annual combined with data from the annual USPS periodical reporting form, state Baptist papers average issue distribution has dropped to 956,000. A decade ago (1997), the reported distribution was 1,230,243. In 1987, the papers reported 1,719,767.

... No paper appears to be exempt from the decline. Warren Buffett has described what is happening to secular newspapers as a "protracted decline."

... Bob Terry, editor of The Alabama Baptist and executive director of the Association of State Baptist Papers, does not see the decline in state papers as due totally to the dynamics of technology.

... During the SBC's Conservative Resurgence, the state papers became a battleground, Terry said, and eventually people became "fed up" with what was happening and responded by cancelling their subscriptions. Anti-state paper attitudes developed among the new convention leadership.
The second piece is a column by former Baptist state newspaper editor John Yeats. It is entitled "Baptist papers as golden retrievers." Here are a couple of his points:
During the 1980s many people viewed Baptist journalists like secular journalists looking for a Baptist Watergate. Some viewed their journalistic role as that of a convention watchdog snooping under every rock to find some story angle that tantalizes Baptist readers.

If Baptist journalists were ever the convention watchdogs, then the pit bull of the past has morphed into a golden retriever. Today's antagonism has moved to the blogsphere and the current venue of Baptist papers is more of a reflection of convention loyalty and statesmanship.
Both pieces mention the Internet as likely part of the challenge for newspapers because younger people rely more on the Internet than newspapers and because the Internet is a much quicker news medium. The rise of online Baptist news sources and blogs reporting Baptist news are definitely creating a lot of competition, are allowing more people to have a voice, and are bringing stories to light that might otherwise have been ignored. Thus, perhaps part of the problem is not just the new medium but the fact that many Baptist newspaper journalists are acting like golden retrievers.

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