EDITORIAL: What’s this talk about a merger?
The Religious Herald is more accustomed to reporting news than making it, so the story about a potential merger between the Herald and Associated Baptist Press makes me a bit uneasy. In some respects the news is premature. Before an actual merger takes place we have many details to work out. And, as we all know, the devil is in the details.
Even so, the enthusiasm exhibited by both the ABP and Religious Herald governing boards leads me to believe that they will find a way to pull this off.
In this process I want to be as transparent with you as I can be because I know you cherish the Religious Herald just as I do.
First, let me explain the action taken by our board. Board president Tony Neal, pastor of Walnut Hills Baptist in Williamsburg, Va., appointed a committee to work with a similar group from ABP’s board to determine the feasibility and potential of a merger. The committees eventually recommended a set of agreements that will frame our deliberations as we move forward. These were adopted on April 16, by ABP’s board and on April 19, by ours. In adopting them, the Herald and ABP have essentially become engaged. We have a lot of creative work remaining before we actually say “I do,” but to this point we have committed ourselves to marriage. Each is coming as an equal. The two organizations are remarkably similar, with the same number of full-time employees (four), budgets of nearly identical amounts and endowments very close to the same.
I anticipate that one of your questions might be, “Why is a merger even being considered?”
Merging allows the Religious Herald to gain a national footprint and ABP to gain secure footing in a key region of the country. By combining operations the Herald more than doubles the size of its full-time reporting staff. I believe we can do an even better job of reporting on events in the Mid-Atlantic area while also providing information about issues affecting Baptists across the country and worldwide.
As we all know, times are changing. Although most of our readers get their information from our website, many still know us primarily as a newspaper. Probably no industry in the country has been affected more by cultural and technological changes than newspapers. This is true for the secular press as well as for religious papers. The Herald quickly adapted to these changes by establishing a website, then by engaging social media, then by sending news alerts when new stories were posted to our website. Many readers choose to read each issue of the Herald in our electronic version. As new technological innovations become available, they require increased staff time and training as well as greater financial resources to stay current. Merging will put both organizations in a better position to provide cutting edge coverage in keeping with reader expectations.
We began in 2006 working with ABP, the Baptist Standard of Texas and Word & Way of Missouri in a venture we called New Voice Media to develop stories that appeared in all our papers and on our websites. At that time we saw the potential for greater cooperation in the future, leading eventually, perhaps, to a merger of operations. This is not a sudden or knee-jerk response to reallocation of diminished resources by the Baptist General Association of Virginia. New Voice partners discussed the possibility at various points and the Herald and ABP have been seriously gravitating toward merger for almost a year and are keeping the door open for others to join us in the future.
Perennially, the theme of the BGAV has been, “We can do more together.” I believe this is equally true for those of us who gather, validate, report and interpret the news for Baptists. Combining strength means we can accomplish more with the same resources.
Another positive feature is that merger is driven by our theology — at least to my way of thinking. Working together to accomplish our mutual mission and eagerly embracing what we believe to be best for the Kingdom are hallmarks of God’s people. One non-negotiable point in our deliberations is that the tradition of the Religious Herald must be preserved. For 185 years the Herald has stood for truth-telling with theological integrity and cultural insight. That heritage must be honored. It is too precious to be surrendered.
I cannot guarantee in what form the Religious Herald will survive after a merger; but unless the DNA of the Herald is clearly recognizable in the new entity that emerges, our board has already indicated it will leave ABP standing at the altar.
But merger also allows us to avoid some potential pitfalls. One of the changes in Baptist life is the reality that ministries like the Herald and ABP must increasingly appeal directly to individuals, churches and other sources for funding. Unless we interrupt the course we are on, a time will come when ABP and the Herald will be appealing to the same donors and the same readers in the same geographical area with many duplicate stories as head-to-head competitors. Merger enables us to avoid the folly of such competition and equips us to deliver better services to our readers. I believe donors and readers will not only appreciate, but benefit from this approach and that it will, perhaps, serve as a model for other groups.
I cannot deny that this is a monumental step and that I have been anxious about it. It is sobering, indeed, to even imagine that after nearly two centuries the Religious Herald, as a newspaper, might eventually fade from the scene. This possibility has kept me awake nights. Still, I am comforted in knowing that in the past 185 years the Religious Herald has initiated many changes and endured many others. The Herald has faced many challenges and opportunities and has responded with creativity and faithfulness. Standing in the tradition of our forebears, we are attempting to do no less.
Here, too, our faith informs our actions. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24). And then he proved his trust in this truth by dying that we all might live. If the anticipated merger actually happens, the Religious Herald will not die, but live on in a new form. Sounds heavenly, doesn’t it?
Jim White ([email protected]) is executive editor of the Religious Herald.