An instrumental figure in the formation of Associated Baptist Press – a forerunner to Baptist News Global – is stepping down at yearend after a half century career in Baptist journalism.
About 225 people gathered Oct. 5 in Birmingham, Alabama, for a banquet honoring Alabama Baptist editor Bob Terry for 50 years of covering and interpreting news in Baptist newspapers owned by state affiliates of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Terry, 75, began getting bylines in Baptist news outlets during two years as news director at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, while working toward a master-of-divinity degree that he earned in 1968.
After seminary Terry worked eight years as assistant editor and associate editor at Western Recorder, a publication of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, including stints as acting editor during illnesses of the paper’s longtime editor, C.R. Daley.
Terry resigned in 1975 to become editor of Word & Way, at the time recognized as the official newspaper of record by the Missouri Baptist Convention. (Missouri Baptists later severed ties with the newspaper over a dispute about trustee selection.) He served in Missouri for 20 years, before his election as editor of the Alabama Baptist in 1995.
Earlier that year Terry was elected executive director of the Association of State Baptist Publications, a trade group for Southern Baptist state newspaper editors founded in 1895, working part-time in addition to his full-time job until his replacement was named this summer.
In the summer of 1990 the editors’ group – then called the Southern Baptist Press Association – held an emergency meeting at the Harvey Hotel in Dallas to discuss concerns about potential censorship of Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention news service founded in 1947 at the request of Baptist state newspaper editors.
Baptist Press had earned a reputation among secular mainstream media as a model for transparency, fairness and balance by a denominational news agency before conservatives gradually gaining control of SBC agencies began alleging bias against the leaders of the so-called Conservative Resurgence during the 1980s.
Things came to a head shortly after the SBC annual meeting in 1990, when Baptist Press director Al Shackleford and news editor Dan Martin were asked to resign quietly or be fired. They refused, setting up a called meeting of the SBC Executive Committee to consider their termination on July 17, 1990.
At their meeting in Dallas, the editors passed two resolutions affirming press freedom and discussed what to do should Baptist Press no longer be a reliable source of denominational news. After the formal meeting, Terry, still at Word & Way, invited a smaller group of editors who were particularly concerned about the future of Baptist Press to an informal meeting in a hotel room.
Terry later asked the editors — gathered in Nashville, Tennessee, for the closed-door Executive Committee meeting to determine the fate of the Baptist Press journalists — to endorse the concept of a new alternative Baptist news service not tied to the denominational bureaucracy.
After the Executive Committee voted to fire Shackelford and Martin by a vote of 45-15 with one abstention, local attorney Jeff Mobley announced to a crowd of about 200 onlookers at the SBC headquarters building in Nashville formation of Associated Baptist Press, an independent news service “guided by the highest tenets of professional journalism and the standard of Christian ethics.”
Terry recruited Nashville consultant Floyd Craig, longtime communications director at the SBC Christian Life Commission, to begin publishing ABP on a contract basis. The arrangement lasted until shortly before the ABP board of directors elected Greg Warner, previously associate editor at the Florida Baptist Witness, as executive editor in April 1991.
In 2013 ABP merged with the Religious Herald, a newspaper published in Virginia for 185 years, to form Baptist News Global, a reader-supported, independent news organization providing original and curated news, opinion and analysis about matters of faith.
A native of Alabama, Terry grew up in Michigan before enrolling at Mississippi College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1965. He added a doctor of ministry degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1979.
After he retires Dec. 31, Jennifer Rash — a 23-year employee at the Alabama Baptist with a current title of editor-elect – will succeed him beginning Jan. 1. Terry said he plans to continue to write for his blog, nowconsiderthis.com.