Not so fast

One more cost to count in the daily newspaper business

Issue: "Bush: 'We will not fail'," Oct. 20, 2001

It's been six months since I devoted this space to a whimsical exploration of the possibility that a group of Christians might get together, buy a daily newspaper somewhere, and show the world what it would be like to publish at least one paper in the country from a distinctively Christian point of view.

In that column, I said bluntly I didn't think anybody's ready to do that yet-and I cited two huge obstacles.

The first was the dollar cost. My guess is that without up-front capital of $30 to $50 million, the project will be doomed to failure. It takes that kind of money to start or buy a daily newspaper even in a small market, and then to operate it successfully.

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The second obstacle, though, I suggested in my column last March, is much harder. We Christians are woefully disunified and unprepared ideologically and philosophically to define and then live out the profile of a "Christian" daily newspaper. We Christians still disagree way too much on what it means to be a "Christian" anything.

Yet in spite of my pessimism, so publicly expressed, nearly a hundred WORLD readers have responded since March to indicate their enthusiasm for such a project. Even last week, the production director for one of Gannett's 98 dailies wrote to lend his support-and to tell of his distress at having to be part of a newspaper that regularly passes off as normal views of marriage that are so contrary to God's plan.

So how may I say this gently? While a few readers identified with my skepticism on the financial and philosophical fronts, a big majority of respondents confirmed my worst fears. It was as though they read my headline-"A daily newspaper?"-loved the idea, skipped right by my serious concerns, and asked all too glibly: "Where do I sign up?"

In doing so, I fear we'll waltz right into another of the all-too-frequent embarrassing scenarios where we take on a big cultural assignment, try to pull it off with a glitzy "Christian" label attached but a half-cocked and amateurish approach, and bring disrepute to the very name we were trying so hard to honor. So to the two other difficulties we face, let's now add a third: Naïveté.

Am I discouraged, then, by the scope and complexity of this challenge? Hardly. The better you define a problem, the better your chances of licking it.

Yet now, while continuing to look for kindred souls out there among you readers (and some who are still beyond WORLD's reader base), we will redouble our efforts to make WORLD magazine itself a strong support base from which some day God may be pleased to raise up still other expressions of public journalism done by Christian folks.

We will work hard to make WORLD a business success. WORLD must continue to grow, multiplying both its subscriber base and its base of committed advertisers. As that happens, the magazine's capital base will also expand, freeing us to explore other ventures. We will continue to identify and work with investors who share our vision.

Simultaneously, we will also continue working hard to make WORLD a journalistic success. We will cover our present beats with more depth, and we'll add more topics to the mix-more about medicine and personal health, more about business and finance, and more about science and technology.

We will do that in part by seeking out experienced and gifted Christian journalists already at work in the field, and partly through close cooperation with World Journalism Institute, our company's educational arm. WJI offers opportunities for aspiring journalists to hone their skills and for practicing journalists to review their perspective. We will call on you readers to provide $500,000 in annual support for WJI as it produces a bigger and bigger stream of journalists both for WORLD and for the secular media.

As WORLD grows, its people will be increasingly visible in the public eye-appearing more and more on talk shows and asked for their opinions on important issues.

As WORLD grows, it will also deal less from weakness and more from strength on issues like timely distribution through the postal system and availability on the nation's newsstands.

In this whole process of growing WORLD and watching it mature, we'll stay modest enough to remember that someone else might well find a short-cut route, and beat us to the launch of the daily newspaper we keep dreaming about. But we'll also stay sobered by the reality that sometimes what looks like a short-cut is a good way to get lost in the woods.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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