LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — The Western Recorder — Kentucky’s statewide Baptist newspaper for 190 years — will experience two significant changes in March that are designed to bolster its impact and effectiveness in communicating with Baptists across the commonwealth and beyond.
The newspaper will combine operations with the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s (KBC) Communications Department as well as transition to a monthly magazine. That combination is intended to strengthen the publication that, like the rest of the newspaper industry, has seen declines in readership and revenues.
The Western Recorder board of trustees, that focused on preserving the KBC’s newspaper, voted unanimously last week to combine operations with Kentucky Today, the KBC’s thriving online newspaper that also operates a statewide news service and radio network. The merger will take place effective March 1.
“This is a win-win,” said Chip Hutcheson, chairman of the newspaper’s board of trustees. “It benefits the Western Recorder, but it also benefits Kentucky Baptists who will be receiving a world-class publication that can delve deeper into the issues they are facing.
Joining with KBC Communications makes sense from a stewardship perspective by avoiding duplication of some services.
“I’m convinced the shift to a magazine format will breathe new life into the Western Recorder,” Hutcheson noted. “Our board has considered the magazine format for quite some time, and this seems like the opportune time to make that switch as we merge with KBC Communications.”
Across the nation, the newspaper industry has wrestled with how to manage the rising costs of printing and distribution at a time when revenues are in a freefall. They’ve seen the number of reporters and editors dwindle and the number of news pages shrink.
One-fifth of U.S. newspapers have closed in the last 14 years, according to the University of North Carolina’s Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media. The university’s study found that 516 rural newspapers closed or merged from 2004 to 2018. In metropolitan areas, 1,294 newspapers were shuttered during the same period, bringing the total to 1,810 newspapers that ceased publication.
“People may not have been aware of the financial difficulties the Western Recorder has faced in recent years,” said Curtis Woods, co-interim executive director of the KBC. “We at the KBC felt compelled to do what we could to save the historic publication. The Western Recorder board of trustees and leadership in the KBC believe converting to a monthly magazine format is our best chance to not only save it but also make it more appealing to readers and advertisers.”
Moving the Western Recorder into KBC’s Communications Department and switching to the magazine format, Hutcheson said, will allow the Western Recorder to remain true to its mission of educating and inspiring Kentucky Baptists while helping KBC fulfill its mission to help churches reach Kentucky and the world for Christ.
The timetable calls for the first Western Recorder magazine to arrive in homes and churches in early March.
The Western Recorder has been serving the KBC since 1825. Initially, it was published weekly but, with the financial difficulties in recent years, had been cut back to twice a month.
Some state conventions have stopped publishing print editions altogether, opting for online publications. Several have moved to magazine formats. But the Western Recorder board of trustees and KBC leadership are united in wanting to preserve the printed product.
Economic factors, plus changes in the way consumers receive their news, have dictated changes throughout the newspaper industry.
“This move to a monthly publication schedule is intended to bolster the financial picture for the Western Recorder,” said Jim Donnell, KBC’s other co-interim executive director. “We are hopeful that moving to the magazine format will not only save money but also curb losses in subscription and advertising revenue.”
Western Recorder editor Todd Deaton will oversee the final two newspaper editions, due out on Feb. 5 and 19, before moving to South Carolina where he will be managing editor of the Baptist Courier magazine.
“Newspapers have had a tough go in recent years,” Deaton said. “It is my hope that by combining the resources and the staffs of the Western Recorder and Kentucky Today, that the KBC’s official news journal will continue to ‘shine like the stars’ long into the future.”