A daily newspaper?

It's not easy: Such ventures demand dollars and uncommon sense

Issue: "Casualty of 'peace'," March 24, 2001

Wouldn't it be great," a friend asked me again last week when I was in Florida, "if a group of Christians could get together and buy a daily newspaper somewhere, and show everybody what it would be like to publish at least one paper in the country from a Christian perspective?"

It was hardly the first time someone had broached the idea. And I hope I didn't throw too much cold water on her proposal when I responded as I did by pointing-as I do whenever someone brings up the idea-to two giant obstacles.

The first is financial. Most folks don't realize how much money it would take to buy even a small newspaper. When the daily paper in Salisbury, N.C., sold four years ago, buyers lined up for the privilege of hearing an asking price reported in some media to be over $50 million. And that was for a newspaper in a town of just 23,000 people!

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Newspapers like the Post in Salisbury sell for such elevated prices because, properly managed, they can be cash cows. These days, they tend to be monopolies in their own cozy little communities. Advertisers who want to reach an entire market have no choice but to ante up and pay the going rate. Such command puts the owner in the driver's seat. And it makes it a daunting task to think of buying out such dominance.

Big city newspapers are another whole story. When the Gannett chain bought out the Indianapolis and Phoenix papers a couple of years ago, the purchase price was not in tens of millions of dollars-but rather in multiples of hundreds of millions.

Granted, such purchases are not beyond the reach of some properly motivated individual Christians. Or at the very least, groups of such people could pull off such an assignment. But it's a venture that would leave most of us financially dizzy.

Still, that's the easy obstacle to deal with.

To our financial lack of preparedness, we must also add a woeful dose of philosophical and ideological lack of readiness to run even a small daily newspaper. I know that from experience-experience accumulated over the last 15 years watching WORLD magazine get its start in the marketplace.

We thought we knew what we were doing when we started WORLD, but I could fill this whole issue with a list of the things we weren't ready for. So it's not hard to extrapolate and guess what kind of policy issues would be waiting for the executive staff of a new daily newspaper committed to "Christian principles."

Will this paper publish a Sunday edition? Will it publish a Monday edition? Will it cover Sunday sports and concerts? Will it publish ads for movies? For R-rated movies? Will it publish a horoscope? Will it publish personal classifieds? Will it publish ads for banks and finance companies that charge usurious rates? For hospitals that do abortions? Will it publish steamy personal stories about celebrities? About politicians? How will it treat religious cults? How will it treat pagan religions? How will it treat mainstream religions that are also pagan?

I can already hear good Christian friends of mine disagreeing on almost all those issues. I can hear them just because all those questions are so much like the questions we have faced ourselves as we've developed a publishing profile and a business plan for WORLD. And the answers to many of the questions are sufficiently ambiguous that I myself can argue them from either side with a perfectly clear conscience. Such experience persuades me it would be very hard to get together enough management people, enough investors, and enough journalists who are agreed on enough basics to put out something as complex as a daily newspaper.

Don't get me wrong. I want to see it done. I hope somebody does it in my lifetime.

But both obstacles will require that Christians with a vision for accomplishing such a grand goal start getting together from time to time to get to know each other, and to discuss the issues. It may take 10, 15, or even 20 years for us to cut through all the underbrush, to identify the big issues on which there can be no compromise, and the little ones that can properly be bent enough to make things work. Participants will need enough feistiness to make a difference, and enough common sense to endure.

WORLD magazine and its new sister organization, World Journalism Institute, are in a good position to coordinate such an on-going discussion. If you'd like to be part of that dialogue, send me a note. Tell me what gifts God has given you to contribute to such a long-term venture, and I'll report back in a few weeks what we have uncovered along the way.

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