Imagine a world with no state Baptist newspapers. It could well happen. And while you are at it, you might as well picture a world with less Baptist news, with perhaps a few promotional stories containing only information that some may want you to know.
This month, we begin celebrating the 190th anniversary of Kentucky Baptist newspapers. Our theme is “Celebrating 190 years of shining the light through what we write.”
The first state Baptist newspaper in Kentucky, The Baptist Recorder, was published in December 1825. It only survived a few years. But undeterred, other editors took up the mantle. By 1834, The Baptist Banner emerged, and it would become the Western Recorder in 1851, so named because its circulation spanned from Kentucky westward.
The Western Recorder has been publishing continuously ever since, conveying Baptist news and unifying Kentucky churches in missions and ministry. We officially joined the Kentucky Baptist Convention family in 1919, though we were serving its churches and associations long before then.
Today, the internet has exploded in popularity. State Baptist editors were optimistic at first—perhaps overly so, in hindsight—as they rushed to give away their content online. That trend began shifting recently as more and more newspapers erected “pay walls,” which require a reader to subscribe to see content that their news writers generate.
There’s a reason for this shift. It’s because reporting is an expensive task, and newspapers still do the bulk of uncovering facts that undergird stories, from covering national and state Baptist events all the way to covering your local church happenings. Without state Baptist newspapers, few may ever hear about what local churches are doing for the cause of Christ in their communities and associations.
A recent Kentucky Era article reported that The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism conducted a study of the “news ecosystem” in Baltimore. The study looked at six key storylines in 2010 and where the news had originated. Of the stories that contained new information, 95 percent came from traditional media, mostly newspapers. The study concluded that new media such as Twitter, blogs and FaceBook “played only a limited role: mainly as an alert system and a way to disseminate stories from other places.”
The same is true of your Baptist news sources, with the majority of new information coming through articles written by Baptist journalists, which are then disseminated through Baptist Press. Kentucky Baptists know they can trust the Western Recorder for reliable reporting, devoted to serving the churches.
Despite state Baptist newspapers serving as the primary source for news in many state conventions, recent trends paint a stark picture. Nationally, Baptist newspaper readership continues to fall, including that of your Western Recorder’s. Without your church’s subscriptions, the day may soon come when your Baptist newspaper will be in jeopardy—like those in some neighboring states, which are now published only online and viewed by a limited audience.
Although newspapers continue to report more church news, reach more Baptist households and impact our state convention more than any other medium, including the Internet. State Baptist newspapers, especially on the economic front, face some serious challenges as printing and mailing costs continue to escalate while their Cooperative Program allocations dwindle.
Your Kentucky Baptist newspaper has been around since 1825, making it the second oldest continuously published denominational newspaper in the nation. With God’s grace, we’re not planning on ceasing publication anytime soon. But, truth be told, The Western Recorder needs more subscribers. We need YOU! We are grateful for your faithful readership through all these 190 years, and we’re as committed today as we were back then to “shining the light through what we write.”
Todd Deaton is the editor of the Western Recorder.