Thrice as Nice - Word&Way

Thrice as Nice

In May 2008, an anonymous blogger caught the attention of political commentators after creating a statistical model that beat out most pollsters in predicting some big Democratic primaries. A few weeks later, the creator of the site, FiveThirtyEight, went public with his identity and worked on a general election model. Nate Silver’s predictions proved highly accurate in forecasting both the presidential results and the U.S. Senate outcome.

With kudos for his model, Silver grew his site and increased his team of writers and data journalists. With that success, he reached a licensing deal with the New York Times in 2010 to move the blog over to their domain for three years. The blog expanded beyond politics to also try to predict sports (which I consulted while filling out my March Madness brackets) and the Academy Awards. In 2013, with the end of the Times deal, ESPN acquired FiveThirtyEight. The site weathered some rough predictions in 2016 and was transferred by ESPN to ABC News in 2018.

Last year, ABC News laid off most of the FiveThirtyEight employees, leading Silver to leave at the end of his contract. This time, he no longer got to take his brand with him (though he still owns some of the forecasting models). ABC News continues to run FiveThirtyEight, but it’s a shell of what it used to be (and didn’t even help me with my bracket this year). So Silver last year launched on a new platform to offer his data-driven work: Substack.

After writing for a few months and turning on paid subscriptions, Silver noted the benefits of writing a newsletter on that platform: “The median post at Silver Bulletin is now getting about the same amount of views as the median post I’d write at FiveThirtyEight, but the variance is much less — the floor is higher and the ceiling is lower (so far). However, the baseline rises with each new subscription.”

A significant data journalist who’s worked for the paper of record and the Disney family of networks is finding Substack an ideal platform. Just like we have since launching A Public Witness three years ago.

(Sara Cervera/Unsplash)

This vibrant addition to the Word&Way family of products (including our 127-year-old print publication and our podcasts) is part of the future of journalism. The publishing platforms have changed, but our mission since 1896 continues. While many media outlets have been struggling, A Public Witness continues to grow. The total number of subscribers to this publication has grown over 15% during the past year — to over 10,500. And the number of paid subscribers — the community who make this all possible — has grown 29% in 12 months. And our readers now come from all 50 states and 103 countries.

It’s not just that more people are reading. Our award-winning journalism is making a difference. So after lighting three birthday candles, this issue of A Public Witness looks back at the highlights of the past year.

Quite a Year

Over the past 12 months, we published a weekly roundup and 99 pieces exploring the intersection of faith, culture, and politics. Of those 99 pieces, 40 went only to paid subscribers (who can also write comments on any post to add to the conversation). We covered a lot of important ground, including events and topics that would’ve otherwise been ignored in coverage.

We reported from the gatherings of multiple denominations, including the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Mennonite Church USA, and Progressive National Baptist Convention. We also provided news and analysis about critical issues facing the Southern Baptist Convention and United Methodist Church. Additionally, we provided coverage from attending the Baptist World Alliance gathering in Norway, an anniversary gathering of Thimar in Lebanon, the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, the Poor People’s Campaign marches in state capitols, and the Summit for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C., as well as lectures by historians Diana Butler Bass and Jemar Tisby.

As war and violence dominated the news, we offered unique angles from which to consider these conflicts, like an interview with a Russian pastor in exile after praying for peace. We also published pieces considering Christian support for war, the use of a biblical story to justify genocide, the U.S.’s troubling shipments of cluster bombs, the risk of militarized AI, Ukrainian Christians highlighting attacks on their faith, and subversive mourning for an assassinated dissident.

We provided coverage from a number of Christian Nationalist events, watching so you don’t have to. Like the ReAwaken America Tour (again), a Pastors for Trump gathering, a “prayer” event featuring politicians and pro-Trump pastors, and a Michael Flynn conspiracy conference at churches. But we also reported on preachers confronting Christian Nationalism in sermons and a youth program training a new generation to put their faith in action for a pluralistic democracy.

A boat billboard sponsored by Faithful America and Christians Against Christian Nationalism travels around downtown Miami during a nearby ReAwkaen America Tour on May 12, 2023. The logo for A Public Witness was one of several that scrolled along on the right panel. (Faithful America)

With the 2024 election coming, we’ve covered a number of campaign issues, including the longshot presidential campaign of a pastor, the politicization of the death penalty, politicians campaigning during church services, and the prayers at Trump campaign rallies.

We also explored a hodgepodge of other issues, including “prophecies” based on Super Bowl statistics, a little-known anti-democratic theology gaining popularity, efforts to ban child marriage, the use of the Bible for unemployment tax law, and the push for “chaplains” in public schools.

We also published reviews of 12 books, with a paid subscriber each month randomly chosen to receive an autographed copy of that month’s book. These reviews included works on chaplains, Silicon Valley, Contemporary Christian Music, the Doctrine of Discovery, Christian Nationalism, and more.

Another way of looking back at what we’ve published the last year is to consider our most-read pieces. Here are the top ones of the past 12 months:

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Broader Impact

We appreciate everyone who has been reading and sharing our work. We provide original in-depth news and analysis, which is why our work is often cited by larger publications. In just the past 12 months, that has included cites in articles by the Associated Press, Baptist News Global, Louisville Courier-Journal, New York Times, Slate, and others. Our reporting was also cited in a report from the Congressional Freethought Caucus. Pretty impressive impact on national conversations for a publication with such a small staff and budget!

Additionally, last month we received 10 awards for pieces published at A Public Witness (in addition to other awards for our seasonal e-newsletter Unsettling Advent, our podcast Dangerous Dogma, and more). These awards help show our commitment to bringing you quality Christian journalism.

We are also deeply thankful for the feedback we receive from our subscribers. Here are just a few recent comments from paid subscribers who offered a comment they agreed we could share:

  • “I support your work because I need a strong, clear, honest voice in today’s world.”
  • “It’s thoughtful and I like how you push back against Christian Nationalism with both grace and good humor.”
  • “I supported your work because it’s a rare voice of reason.”
  • “I have found information here that I have not seen elsewhere and it is helpful information.”
  • “It’s the only place I can find lately that speaks the truth.”
  • “Probably the most articulate writings in what it means to biblically follow Jesus.”

The community that is growing here encourages and inspires us to keep up the work. We appreciate all of you for reading. Together, we are creating a public witness as a counter to Christian Nationalism and other heresies. And if you’re not yet a paid subscriber, please consider upgrading to help our award-winning journalism continue. Here’s to another year!

As a public witness,

Brian Kaylor

A Public Witness is a reader-supported publication of Word&Way. To receive new posts and support our journalism ministry, subscribe today.