Thursday, December 06, 2007

Decline of State Baptist Papers

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Baptist Press released a story today documenting the decline of state Baptist papers. The story confirms what many have suspected for the last several years. Southern Baptists are not relying on "official news sources" for their information about denominational issues as much as they did in years past. The reality is that many subscription-based print media are facing a declining readership in the wake of the ubiquity of the internet. That, coupled with the fact that we are living a post-denominational world does not bode well for the future of state Baptist papers whose editors view their main purpose in terms of promoting a denominational agenda.

Bob Terry, editor of The Alabama Baptist and executive director of the Association of State Baptist Papers made this astute observation:
State Baptist papers are still searching for the reason they exist.
Why do state Baptist papers exist? What purpose do they serve and what will be their purpose five years from now?

One hundred years ago Baptist papers did not have this kind of identity crisis. J. B. Gambrell, the great early 2oth century Texas Baptist statesman, served as editor of the Baptist Standard in the latter years of his life. He was never uncertain about the responsibilities of his paper. When Crozier Seminary started succumbing to modernism Gambrell wrote that it had become a "hotbed of radical destructive heresy." After he received criticism for expressing himself so plainly on this question, Gambrell defended his actions by explaining his perspective on the "duty of the Baptist press" in a 1913 editorial. He wrote:
Of course, the press should be duly cautious, but it should be duly loyal and courageous, too. If the press will speak out our schools can be and will be saved from the influences which have blighted religion in some parts of the world as the boll weevil have blasted the cotton fields of the South where they have gone. The denominational press can save our churches from what drove Spurgeon from the larger Baptist fellowship of England. The Baptist press can save unity of the Baptists of America by faithfulness. That the attacks on the integrity of the scriptures and on the belief of Baptists will result in divisions is as certain as predestination. It is not a pleasant work Baptist papers are called to, but it is unspeakably important.
Caution, loyalty and courage. Combining these qualities in the right proportion is a challenge that any denominational news organization faces. That is true not only for the "official" sources of Baptist news, but also for the increasingly popular blogs that offer commentary on Baptist life. When the Scriptures or Baptist principles are under attack--either wittingly or unwittingly--then those who are genuinely loyal to the Baptist cause must cautiously yet courageously expose and resist those attacks.

As Gambrell noted, that is not a pleasant task, but it is vitally important.

15 comments:

jfile said...

One thing I learned when researching a for a paper in Baptist History was that it was in large measure the "Illinois Baptist" the newspaper of the Illinois Baptist State Association that made it possible for the IBSA to even begin in 1906-07. The state paper came first as Baptists in the southern part of the state wanted an alternative to the "Standard" based in Chicago. Northern Baptists were tolerating professors at the University of Chicago who denied the deity of Christ and the virgin birth. Baptists in the southern portion of the state broke away because of this toleration of liberalism. Then in 1910 the IBSA joined the SBC to cooperate in foreign missions.

All of this was organized and fueled by the state paper.

J said...

But what does the Illinois Baptist do for us now? I have received a copy for over 10 years now and it is continually filled with puff pieces and rah-rah stories about the CP. It is an official arm of the State Convention and can never be expected to report about the problems within the state or SBC. Baptist need an independent press.

Then again, we have the blogs, so maybe they are the independent press of the 21st century

Tim Rogers said...

Brother Tom,

Great article. I would agree with the assessment of Dr. Gramble. We have seen his statement come to fruition.

j said, "Then again, we have the blogs, so maybe they are the independent press of the 21st century" and I would agree. I also would ask the question; Why are the blogs the independent press? I believe it has to do with money. Notice that the various state news papers, either have a Board of Trustees the editor answers to, or the editor is hired as an employee of the convention, thus answering to the E/D. The reason the blogs are the independent press, is that we are not controlled by a purse.

I do not mean to sound so negative concerning the State Papers, but the fact remains that the editors will be called on the carpet for writing things against the schools because there are allumni sitting on these boards that want the schools promoted in a positive sense. The editor's first loyalty will always be to the BoD because they can release him/her.

Blessings,
Tim

irreverend fox said...

the state papers are what they are and we should not be amazed with their content over all. you shouldn't squeeze an orange and hope for apple juice. I know I'm young and I don't know what they were in the good old days...but I've never expected them to deal with hard issues open and diverse perspectives.

would the state paper ever run a series of articles highlighting the "pro's" and "con's" of doing away with the entire state convention system by allowing local associations to give to the CP directly? of course not.

Mike Hall said...

Brother Tom,

It's no wonder state papers are declining. The Biblical News and Recorder of NC is a great example. It is one of the last vestiges of the moderates in this state. The people in this state that attend churches that are growing or at least healthy are too busy doing ministry to waste time reading the thing.

jfile said...

j,

I agree. I hope my point was that this is what Baptist papers used to be. We might be able to see some of this kind of influence in the MBC Pathway today. But for the most part you are right. The Illinois Baptist had the ability to do that because when it began--it was independent. It was the alternative to the official Baptist paper. But just as the rest of the denomination dwindled into pragmatism and programs--so did once cutting edge newspapers.

Timmy Brister said...

Just another reason why Southern Baptist blogs are attractive. They not only represent the democratic voice of the rank and file Southern Baptist, but they are free and are not sustained by Cooperative Program monies.

A curious question: If the state papers have decreased 22% over the past decade, has there been a corresponding decrease of at least 22% in the funding of these papers in the same time period?

Bill said...

Tom

I grew up reading The Western Recorder!

Does anyhting else really need to be said?

David Wooten said...

Almost every SBC publication (state or national) has become a spin zone for the perpetuation of the bureaucracy. I'll get my denominational news elsewhere.

Bill said...

As indicated above, one of the reasons why state Baptist papers are declining is that they contain so little worth reading. They are just a bit more sophisticated than the old society section of weekly community newspapers: "The Thompsons enjoyed a visit by their cousins from Alabama last week. A good time was had by all!"

Examine state papers from the 19th century. They were filled with theological pieces as well as practical and denominational matters. Baptist papers today are basically irrelevant to me. I skim through ours (SC Baptist Courier) in about five minutes and consign it to the wastebasket.

The exception to that was when I was in Georgia and receiving The Christian Index while Al Mohler was editor. That paper was worth reading.

Bill Moore

heath lloyd said...

Courage. Where is the courage?
Why waste trees on fluff and puff?

Thanks Tom for this entry, and thank God for your courage.

irreverend fox said...

seems to me that those state papers could become more relevant and more resourceful at the same time by transitioning themselves into online blog/sites...

I never read a newspaper...I sit down at my desk in the morning and log onto www.foxnews.com and read the news. Then I log on throughout the day for any updates or breaking news. Whenever I look at a paper I can't help but think that I am reading old news.

Why should these CP papers continue to waste money in print when they can do more with FAR less (pennies really)?

And I agree with Bill as well…there is really not much to them…it’s all “nice” and all…but…not really worth all that much.

pregador27 said...

I thought about re-subscribing to the Florida Baptist Witness, but it just does not seem worth it. When I read the site, I see Dr. Sullivan having something to say and all positive spin. I really only go to see the editorials. Occasionally there will be a good news piece about what is going on, but too much spin.

I do not think it is worth $17.95 for 46 issues a year. Sorry.

GUNNY said...

I used to read the Baptist Standard here in Texas.

However, the last issue I read was dated March 26, 1997. It contained an article alleging that Calvinist "doctrines lead to dunghill" and basically described Calvinism as Hyper-Calvinism and took several inaccurate jabs.

I have not read the Baptist Slandard since.

johnMark said...

This year at the GA Baptist Convention something was passed about the Christian Index being sent to all churches in GA. I can't remember the details.

In GA aren't they called blawgs? :)

Mark