Over my head

But God keeps bailing me out and building my staff

Issue: "Passing of a peacemaker," Feb. 20, 1999

It was just four and a half years ago that I realized how desperately I was in way over my head. Having launched WORLD magazine in 1986, and then with our tiny staff having held on desperately by our collective fingernails, we had survived for a little more than eight years.

But we hadn't done much more than survive. Our paid circulation was barely more than 25,000. Our losses the previous year had exceeded $300,000-and they figured to be just as bad by June 1995. We had a vision for a national newsmagazine built on a Christian perspective, and we had passion to carry out our vision. But both our vision and our passion promised to be short-lived if we couldn't learn also how to increase our toehold and find enough subscribers to balance our budget.

But the best things in life have a way of appearing only when we finally admit our own weakness. So conceding that the editorial task at WORLD had become way too big for me, I turned to Marvin Olasky, one of our board members who wasn't yet quite as famous as he is now, and said: "You be the editor; let me be the publisher. You build the magazine's content; I'll go find resources to help you build. You build the writing team; I'll work hard to see that there's a support team around you."

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To my amazement, Marvin said yes. Our board approved the new arrangement, and the new editor assumed his duties in December 1994. But early in January, disaster struck. Newt Gingrich, the new Speaker of the House in Washington, had spent his Christmas vacation reading a book by Marvin Olasky-and it had transformed his perspective on the issue of welfare reform. "Oh, no," I worried. "My brand new editor, with all this notoriety, will desert me and go on to bigger and better things."

But he didn't. To his everlasting credit, Marvin Olasky has for four years faithfully edited-and improved-WORLD magazine even while the major news media profiled him and sought interviews about his ideas. Nor has he ever missed producing his own column for WORLD just inside the back cover. In short, the new editor has always done all that he promised-and more.

Back in the publisher's office, however, the tempo just kept picking up. Subscribers liked the new editor, and word spread that he was producing a good magazine. New readers subscribed, and circulation reached 100,000. Advertisers liked those numbers and started buying more ad pages. With more readers, WORLD mattered more to opinion leaders like politicians and organization heads and church leaders. The phone rang much more often, correspondence increased, and the task of publishing a magazine became more complex with every issue. Once more, I found myself in over my head.

Should I go back to my board of directors, and see if someone there could bail me out? Indeed. And where better to turn than to the board chairman himself?

John Prentis, you need to understand, is not just anybody's board chairman. Before joining our directors in 1987, he had already served as owner and publisher of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. His interest in journalism reaches back to his high school and college days; he served on the staff of the student daily paper at Yale University, where he graduated in 1959.

Since then, chairman Prentis had enjoyed a career in banking and in business, had served as the chief administrator of one of the largest Presbyterian churches in Missouri, and had volunteered extensive time to St. Louis organizations like Westminster Christian School and Covenant Seminary, where he served as vice president. He has been a teaching leader in Bible Study Fellowship, and has served on the boards of nearly a dozen Christian organizations.

Amazingly, John Prentis too-like Marvin Olasky four years earlier-said he also would step aside from the board to work day by day on WORLD's staff. As publisher, he'd use his managerial background to help coordinate the growing complexity of the editorial, marketing, advertising, and financial functions.

Among the very first tasks John Prentis took on was a visit back to WORLD's mission statement. Being a practical (and economical) man, he suggested that it might be a bit wordy, and offered a revision. Here's how WORLD's board last week responded to his proposal: "To report and analyze the news on a weekly schedule in an interesting, accurate, and arresting fashion, and to combine reporting with practical commentary on current events and issues from a perspective committed to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God." I hope that suggests to you that WORLD's new publisher isn't just a competent technical manager, but one who has a big view of what our mission is all about.


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