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Your state paper: An anchor in our community

Sep 7, 2017

I have often said when speaking to various groups across the state regarding the importance of maintaining a strong state Baptist newspaper, “After all, if we don’t tell our story, who will?”

But in reality, the function of a state Baptist newspaper goes far beyond that. While its duty is to tell the story of how God is working among Southern Baptists, it plays just as important of a role in documenting the times in which it is published.

God has been at work across Arkansas since the beginning of our great state, and providing an account of that work has been an important framework of our state Baptist newspaper since its founding.

The first charge of The Baptist Advance – the name under which the Arkansas Baptist News (ABN) was founded in 1901 – was “For Christ, the Churches and Cooperation.”

While a state Baptist convention communications department can tell the stories of all of the wonderful things God is doing among His people, a state Baptist newspaper’s role is tasked with journaling the times in which we live to hopefully bring better understanding to issues that impact Baptists as we strive to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world.

The mission statement of the ABN supports this premise: “The Arkansas Baptist News exists to assist Kingdom work by informing, inspiring and involving Arkansas Baptists through meeting needs of people, spreading the gospel, making disciples and growing God’s work in Arkansas and beyond.”

Thumb through the pages of practically any state Baptist newspaper and you’ll find stories of faith, perseverance and celebration of the mighty works of God. Additionally, you’ll find stories of the workings of the Southern Baptist Convention and its entities, opinion and editorials from Christian and entity leaders, news from across the state, postings of pastor and church staff openings, news analysis pieces, Sunday school commentaries and much, much more.

It is unfathomable to think that one day the work of Arkansas Baptists would be without an independent voice from pastors and laypeople alike provided through their Baptist newspaper.
However, we must acknowledge that these are challenging times for all print publications. The Internet and the emergence of social media have forever changed the way a state Baptist newspaper functions and seeks to reach its various audiences.

In the book, “Saving Community Journalism,” researcher Penelope Muse Abernathy states, “(W)hat is important is not the size of a paper’s print circulation but, rather, the mission of the paper.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Abernathy goes on to say, “Publishers and editors can begin by asking this simple question: if your newspaper ceased publishing tomorrow, who has the most to lose? The answer in most communities – rural and urban, large and small – is that there would be a tremendous vacuum for many, including readers and public officials, who depend on the newspaper to be a credible and comprehensive source of news and information that affects the community; advertisers, who depend on the newspaper to connect them with local consumers of their goods and services; and shareholders, employees, and vendors, who rely on the newspaper for income.”

While Abernathy’s book is about for-profit newspapers, I believe her words ring vitally true to Baptist journalism as well.

Our state Baptist newspaper represents a community of nearly 1,600 Arkansas Baptist State Convention-affiliated churches across the state, which includes more than 550,000 Arkansas Baptist members of all ages in small, medium-size and large churches.

What’s more, the influence of the life and work of Arkansas Baptists on our great state is huge – if we considered their numbers alone. However, it should be acknowledged that Arkansas Baptists serve in practically every imaginable venue in private business and public life – from the governor’s seat to influential CEOs of major corporations – along with every possible position in between.
The ABN plays an important support role of furthering the work of the state convention and promoting and advocating the work of other convention agencies. We exist, in part, to undergird the total work of the state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.

However, the ABN also plays a watchdog role, serving as the eyes and ears of Baptists, informing readers of whatever is happening in Baptist life and trusting Baptists to make wise decisions.
Our purpose statement reads, “The Arkansas Baptist News … is committed to providing timely, fair and accurate information of interest to Arkansas Baptists. The Arkansas Baptist News staff seeks to produce a quality publication to inform, inspire and involve.

“We seek to inform readers regarding local church news, associational news, state convention news and national Southern Baptist Convention news.

“We seek to inspire readers by sharing exciting stories about how God is using churches, programs and individuals in powerful ways for Kingdom business. By seeing what others are doing, Baptists are inspired to adapt ideas to minister to others.

“We seek to involve readers by sharing diverse opportunities for involvement in missions, ministries and evangelism. We encourage readers to become actively involved in what God is doing through Arkansas Baptists.

“The Arkansas Baptist News strives for journalistic integrity, fairness and balance in its reporting of Baptist news.”

Arkansas Baptists should be proud of all of their institutions that have distinguished themselves as leaders in their particular ministry: our colleges, our children’s home, our foundation and our state camp. The leaders and staff of these entities have the sole purpose of bringing glory and honor to Jesus Christ. The ABN does its best to tell their stories and assist them in their mission in every edition we publish.

We have a great Arkansas Baptist community, which is worth preserving today and for future generations.

Ron Heifetz of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University perhaps said it best:

“A good newspaper is an anchor in a community. A newspaper reminds a community every day of its collective identity, the stake we have in one another, and the lessons of its history.”

Tim Yarbrough is editor/executive director of the Arkansas Baptist News.

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