The Western Recorder, Kentucky Baptists’ newspaper of record since 1825, will move from an agency of the Kentucky Baptist Convention to merge with the state convention’s in-house communications department beginning in March.
Last week’s vote by the Western Recorder board of trustees comes on the heels of Editor Todd Deaton’s announcement that he will resign to become managing editor of the Baptist Courier in South Carolina.
Trustee chairman Chip Hutchison said a subcommittee of the Western Recorder board began conversations last spring about merging operations with the state convention as a way to keep the newspaper afloat amid declining readership and revenues.
Hutchison, publisher of the Princeton Times Leader newspaper, said the move will eliminate duplication of stories published by Kentucky Today, an online publication launched by KBC communications in 2015 to “complement” the Western Recorder’s printed product.
The new Western Recorder will change format from a tabloid newspaper to a glossy magazine printed once a month. Hutchison said Deaton, editor of the newspaper since 2009, was asked to continue as editor, but “an opportunity unexpectedly opened up” for him to move back to his native South Carolina with “a side benefit” of being closer to aging parents.
Deaton will oversee the final two newspaper editions, due out on Feb. 5 and 19, before leaving his Kentucky job.
The Western Recorder predates the birth of the Kentucky Baptist Convention by more than a decade. It suspended publication temporarily during the Civil War but resumed in 1863. The Kentucky Baptist state board of missions purchased the newspaper in 1919 but allowed it to have a separate board of trustees to protect its editorial freedom.
The newspaper played a role in historical debates including the resignation of William Heth Whitsitt as president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during the Landmark controversy in 1899, founding of the Baptist World Alliance in 1905 and establishment of the Baptist Sunday School Board in 1891. It covered the dismissal of 13 professors at Southern Seminary in 1958 and a similar faculty shakeup after the hiring of current president Albert Mohler in 1993.
Under editor C.R. Daley, the paper spoke out on race and civil rights in an era when the idea of desegregation was not universally popular in Southern Baptist life. Late in his career Daley also opposed the “conservative resurgence,” a campaign to move the Southern Baptist Convention toward fundamentalism in the 1970s and 1980s.
Living former editors include Marv Knox, field coordinator of Fellowship Southwest; Mark Wingfield, associate pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas; and Trennis Henderson, who stepped down last year as vice president for communications at Ouachita Baptist University to work as a national correspondent for Woman’s Missionary Union.
Western Recorder is the second oldest Baptist state paper behind Georgia’s Christian Index. Founded as the Columbian Star in 1822, the Christian Index disbanded its separate board to come under the umbrella of the Georgia Baptist Convention and move to a digital-only platform in 2015.
The Religious Herald, operating in Virginia since 1828, ceased print publication in a merger creating Baptist News Global in 2014.
North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder, founded in 1833, now takes over as the longest-running traditional Baptist state newspaper, followed by Tennessee’s Baptist & Reflector, in print continuously since 1835.