By Bob Allen and Robert Dilday
Associated Baptist Press and the Religious Herald have agreed in principle to a merger of their operations, creating a new Baptist media platform which leaders of the two news organizations said will enhance the mission and heritage of both.
In separate meetings April 16 and 19, the governing boards of ABP and the Herald adopted a framework which moves toward forming a new legal entity and name, creating a new governing board, integrating staff and combining delivery systems and financial resources.
The framework envisions news distribution in both digital and print formats, and leaves open the possibility of additional news organizations joining the combined media outlet in the future.
The move brings together two well-known media brands in Baptist life. ABP was founded in 1990 as the nation’s first independent news service for Baptists. The 185-year-old Religious Herald has strong ties to Baptists in Virginia and in recent years has expanded its coverage in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Leaders said the merger was a proactive response to dramatic changes in both the news industry and in Baptist organizational patterns. It also, they said, is a natural development in the longstanding collaboration between ABP and the Herald, which was a key participant in establishing the news service 23 years ago.
In 2006, ABP and the Herald formed a content-sharing platform — New Voice Media — with two other news organizations, the Dallas-based Baptist Standard and Jefferson City, Mo.-based Word & Way.
Exploration of closer ties between ABP and the Herald began as early as 2011, and the next year staff discussed the prospect in more detail. In the fall of 2012, ABP’s board of directors and the Herald’s board of trustees each named task forces, which developed the framework adopted this week.
Those two task forces are expected to remain in place as they work with staff to develop a business plan, staffing structure and other details, which the existing boards will be asked to adopt. Though no timetable for completion has been proposed, task force members said they planned to move quickly to implement the framework.
“The Herald’s trustees have been courageous enough and visionary enough to ask what lies beyond what has been,” said Herald executive editor Jim White. “With this vote they joined the board of ABP in saying we believe that what-can-be will serve the Kingdom of Christ and fellow Baptists better than what has been.”
“I believe this is a God-given moment in the lives of two highly respected Baptist news organizations,” said David Wilkinson, executive director of Associated Baptist Press. “It is an opportunity to embrace with creativity and courage a new kind of future for ABPnews and the Religious Herald, for our readers and advocates, and for the Baptist witness to the gospel. In my judgment, this shared vision is best served by a proactive and purposeful integration of our organizations.”
Tony Neal, chair of the Religious Herald’s board of trustees, called it “an exciting opportunity for both the Religious Herald and Associated Baptist Press to dream something greater than either organization can do alone.”
“All too often, Baptist are known for their parting ways with one another but the work of these two governing bodies demonstrates that Baptists can also find ways to creatively collaborate and unite and more of that is needed in kingdom work,” said Neal, senior pastor of Walnut Hills Baptist Church in Williamsburg, Va.
Associated Baptist Press board chair Kyle Reese said he is pleased that both organizations are committed to building on and strengthening their partnership.
“The new organization will continue to provide credible and compelling information about matters of faith, recognizing that stewardship and the maximizing of resources are better together rather than apart,” said Reese, pastor of Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.
Neal said there are many details to be clarified, but the effort has significant benefits for all involved. “The Religious Herald’s 185 years have been filled with significant milestones, and we believe this step will ensure another 185 years of providing credible information, compelling features, keen analysis and resources for spiritual formation for Baptists in the mid-Atlantic and beyond,” he said.