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Publishing ... by design

"Publishing ... by design" Continued...

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

Enthusiastic as they may have been, however, there simply weren't enough of them. Three months into the effort, WORLD was going every week to about 5,000 loyalists-about one-fourth or one-fifth of the number we needed by that time. And we were penniless. We had a venture, but no capitalists to go with it, and therefore no way to continue. Our board pulled the plug on continued publication, and we sat dazed for the next few weeks wondering what lay ahead. We wrote our 5,000 subscribers, begging them to be patient and not to ask yet for refunds. My recollection is that fewer than 50 of those great people asked for their money back.

That gave us time to think and ponder our future. With big vision, but still no resources, the board decided to end the 44-year run of The Presbyterian Journal and to devote all organizational energies to the worldview tasks of our children's publications, the book club for children-and now WORLD magazine as well. Corporate by-laws were changed to note a new commitment to an educational rather than an ecclesiastical task-a vision focused on the importance of a biblical worldview for all of life. Non-Presbyterians were elected for the first time to the board. So were women.

WORLD was resurrected in March 1987, and the Journal's subscribers became part of the WORLD family. The next few years found the organization in a survival mode-but still characterized more by a cheerful pioneering spirit than any foreboding that the end might be near. In fact, the end was always only a week or two away. But that fact kept folks' trust focused on God Himself rather than on any ingenious human plans.

Indeed, nothing short of God's sovereign oversight could have preserved a fledgling magazine like WORLD over the next few frantic years. Included in God's plans were a few surprises that significantly affected the outcome:

Early growth came slowly. After three years, WORLD still had fewer than 12,000 subscribers. But then one of the best Christian magazines in America, Eternity, went out of business. WORLD inherited Eternity's 20,000 subscribers, more than doubling our circulation. That was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a transfusion without which WORLD probably would have died an early death.

I got a postcard sometime in 1989 from a journalism professor in Texas. "I've seen a copy of your magazine," he wrote, "and I like it. I hope we can meet sometime soon." We did meet the following year, and at my request, Marvin Olasky joined our board of directors. In 1993, he came to Asheville for six weeks to tutor our young but growing staff. He did that again in 1994, and I asked him to join WORLD as editor. His vision, his bright mind, his hard work and incredible productivity, his loyalty, his feistiness-all these God used both to preserve and to enlarge our outreach.

The process by which any magazine comes together is complex, involving dozens of creative people. To take on that challenge every week, with tight deadlines, multiplies the complexity. To do it with all those creative people scattered around the world raises the ante even further. The 1990s brought two remarkable entities to address those complexities. Without the Internet and e-mail, with their ability to fling ideas and pictures and paintings and keystrokes around the world at will, WORLD would not have made it.

Nor would the effort have been sustained without Nickolas Eicher, our managing editor in St. Louis, Mo. His appreciation of cyberspace is matched by his zeal for a well-crafted headline, his insistence on a biblically faithful perspective, and the loving oil he pours almost every day on creaky personal relationships. A few other magazines (mostly monthlies and quarterlies) get published in cyberspace, but I know of no other weeklies produced the way WORLD gets created every seven days.

"You're fishing in ponds that are too small," Jay Munro told me early in 1994. His experience was in real estate, but his marketing savvy was dead-on for what we were doing in publishing. "You need to go to bigger markets," he insisted. So he suggested advertising on the Rush Limbaugh show. It was a costly foray-but incredibly productive. The phone rang 1,700 times after our first 60-second spot ran. After 30 such spots, we had doubled our circulation. We eventually parted ways with Rush Limbaugh, but we never forgot the importance of fishing in bigger ponds.

"It looks as good as any of the secular magazines," people tell me regularly. And then someone adds: "No, it looks better." From the beginning, WORLD worked hard to look better than typical Christian publications. Designer David Freeland came in 1995, and took that insistence to new levels of excellence.


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