Here's our annual rear-view mirror look at the world over the last 52 weeks. So why not a similarly reflective view here on how WORLD magazine itself performed?
I do that against two unique perspectives. The first is that along with our faithful assistant June McGraw, who processes all your Mailbag letters every week along with hundreds of other administrative and editorial details, I'm the only one here who was also here, as someone has said, "at the beginning of the WORLD." The second perspective is that I no longer deserve any credit for what you receive in your mailbox each week. When the new WORLD shows up on my desk every Monday morning, it's typically as new to me as it is to you.
So I intuitively make three comparisons when I evaluate how our team is doing. I compare this past year with WORLD's first year, 1986. I compare last year with the year before. And I compare last year with where I hope we'll be five or 10 years from now.
My focus is mostly on the editorial package, because all of us know that in the end, everything else depends on the words and ideas that fill our pages along the way.
Here are some things that jump out at me as I look back at our editorial approach over the past year:
Feisty and flexible. If people sometimes picture WORLD as a sort of journalistic mosquito, that's OK. We're not a single-purpose organization, so we buzz around as many as several dozen topics in any given week. If we're not big enough right now to inflict major pain, a mosquito bite here and there does some good. So during 2002 we looked at corporate wrongdoing (two cover stories), at life issues (four cover stories), and at human-rights issues (at least half a dozen cover stories). Because 2002 was an election year, 11 covers featured U.S. political themes. But nine cover stories focused on foreign affairs. We featured education (three times), popular culture (twice), and false religious teaching (twice). To demonstrate then how easily we can show up in unexpected places, we carried a cover story on Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz.
Where but in WORLD would you get five thick special issues devoted to topics as diverse as Jewish-Christian relations, a media tendency to equate biblical conservatives with Islamic extremists, the latest books, a 9/11 reflection, and a close-up of what's going on in Chile?
The effort to be so versatile sometimes catches up with us. Nobody knows better than we do that once in a while we give a story cover treatment when it doesn't deserve it. The nature of journalism is that sometimes you think you have a story, only to discover at the last moment that you really don't. That happens less at WORLD all the time; but we look forward to the time when it doesn't happen at all.
Modesty helps. Sometimes our team is wrong, and it helps to admit it right up front. I'm not talking here primarily about WORLD's team itself, but about the ideological teams we normally support.
So, for example, because we're known as an "evangelical" voice, it would have been easier just to jump on the bandwagon taking Roman Catholics to the woodshed during a year when sexual abuse by priests was a major news theme. But WORLD took a hard look instead at sexual abuse by evangelical church leaders-and I think gained credibility in the process.
Because the Republican platform (as opposed to the carrying out of those ideals) usually seems to us more consistent with biblical values than does the Democratic platform, some folks see WORLD as blindly loyal to the GOP. So I'm heartened when we do counterintuitive stories, including a cover feature denigrating a Bush cabinet member (May 4) and a feature calling (just last week) for the Senate Majority Leader to step aside from his post.
Triumphalism rarely wins converts. Modesty helps.
Sometimes we also have to be modest about our own performance. Every week's issue includes a short list of errors we've caught-and I'm sure there may be just as many we didn't catch. We had to apologize this year to our friends at Christianity Today for including a single word in one story that made them look worse than they deserved to look, and to Serge Duss at World Vision for leaving out a single word that changed the meaning of a quote from him that I used in my column. As the apostle James says: "Behold, how great a fire a little matter kindles!"
Our main task. Although I hope we always do both in a helpful way, WORLD is here more to add perspective than it is to report all the news. It's important to us that you say to yourself once or twice as you read every page, "I didn't know that." But it's even more important that you say to yourself fairly often, "I never thought of it that way before." When, sometime in 2003, you get your WORLD renewal notice, I hope you'll remember that reflection.