I am reminded often how print is dying and that no one reads newspapers anymore.
Of course many of those same people who pronounce the death of print neglect to mention that most modern newspapers – like your own Arkansas Baptist News (ABN) – also reach a significant audience via a website and social media.
The reality is that the readership of the ABN’s “legacy” print product and readership of our digital products are both extremely strong. Pound-for-pound – while Arkansas has the lowest population of any southern state – the ABN’s readership in Baptist and evangelical circles is second to none.
The digital presence the ABN has developed over the past seven years is specifically impressive in an age when many have albeit naively pronounced state Baptist newspapers as a relic of the 20th century.
We know that every edition of the ABN reaches an estimated readership of about 37000 and that each month our website and social media reach on average 33000 viewers. These are not “guesstimates” but rather actual figures based on our paid subscriber base as well as analytics from our website and social media.
If we take a moment to look past the smoke and mirrors of the “death of print media” crowd we can objectively pronounce that the “new media” that engrosses so many people today is potentially a dangerous animal.
For example while many initially loved signing up for a “free” Facebook page where they could share and receive information about their family friends and perhaps an old friend from high school it is now becoming abundantly clear that one’s personal information is a valuable commodity that is subject to forms of potential misuse and privacy concerns.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was on Capitol Hill last week testifying to Washington lawmakers regarding a privacy scandal that has rocked the tech world. Many are asking why a tech giant like Facebook doesn’t have to adhere to the same rules that other large media conglomerates do.
Facebook has come under fire before and this past year or so has significantly changed the algorithms it uses in determining what its users see and don’t see. The company has been accused of allowing the private information of 87 million Facebook users to be accessed for marketing and political purposes.
But Facebook is not alone. If you’ve ever searched for something on Google or sent an email about a product or service you are being tracked. Ever wonder why the next time you open a webpage that ads for similar products suddenly start popping up?
The ABN website uses Google AdSense ads as well. In the past year I had a pastor contact me about why ads for mail-order seminary degrees and end times prophecy books were appearing on our website. I looked on my web browser and my ads were completely different based on my past searches. I didn’t have the heart to tell the pastor that what he was seeing was a result of his previous queries.
Now don’t get me wrong. I think websites and social media services have greatly enhanced the sharing of information and communications across the globe but it has come at a great price.
During the rise of television in the U.S. parents worried about their children watching hours of “mindless television.” Today the mindlessness is not only visual but also interactive and in the palm of your hand 24/7.
If new media allowed everything to be delivered on an even playing field that would be fine and good but it is not.
For example it is well known that liberal and left-wing views are favored on Facebook over conservative news and opinions.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz grilled Zuckerberg during the congressional hearing pointing to conservative pro-life and Christian pages that had been removed after being deemed “offensive.” Cruz also asked Zuckerberg if any Planned Parenthood or moveon.org pages had been removed with Zuckerberg responding that he was unaware that any had.
This past year our team at the ABN along with other state Baptist newspapers and religious organizations I have spoken to has reported a lower number of new viewers “reached” on Facebook. There was a time when a breaking news post on the ABN Facebook page would garner a number of new people who had no previous relationship with our news service but now this generally no longer occurs.
Facebook has explained that it has applied new algorithms to news sites making it harder for people previously not associated with a particular news service to access it prompting news outlets that have utilized Facebook extensively to explain how users can once again get “alerts” to new news posts (see related graphic above).
We live in a brave new world that we all must embrace on some level. It is not our parents’ or grandparents’ analog world of file cabinets and paper but rather a digital world where private information about our lives is available to practically anyone who knows how to access a search engine.
God’s goal for mankind is to advance His gospel in a lost and dying world not to further our knowledge for our own ends which can lead to destruction.
Tim Yarbrough is editor/executive director of the ABN.