Voices

The next 20 years

New technology makes an "impossible publishing formula" even more challenging

Issue: "WORLD's 20th Anniversary," March 18, 2006

So if, as WORLD's founder 20 years ago and the one who has watched its survival and growth through the twists and turns of all the 855 separate issues we've produced-if I don't have the credentials now to predict what WORLD's next 20 years will be like, who does?

The answer is stark: Neither I, nor anyone I know.

From its outset, WORLD was an iffy proposition. One of the smartest people I know in the field of Christian magazines shared three terse words with me when I showed him our early financial report and business plan: "Impossible Publishing Formula." We came home from that visit, hung that placard on our wall, and determined to prove it wrong. But the fact is that my friend was right. Our presumption was large in those early days-but God's grace was even bigger.

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Things would get worse. What was an impossible formula in the late 1980s has, in the age of the internet, become ever more bewildering. Still early in its second decade, the internet is shaking the foundations not just of the print publishing world, but of broadcasting as well. Everything is up for grabs. Big layoffs are underway in such stable places as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and all the network news divisions.

The internet, to my way of thinking, is particularly potent because of its triple whammy. It can boast of immediacy, economy, and accessibility. If it brought just one advantage, or even two, but failed on the third front, the competition with traditional publishing might well continue to be a lively one. But the internet makes a strong argument on all three fronts.

The internet is so immediate that it has already outdated the morning paper and the evening news. You get an update as often as you want to hit your refresh key. For those of us who have struggled to cut a day or two off the Postal Service's five- or six-day delivery of WORLD, the immediacy game is already over.

If you got such immediacy but had to pay a big premium for it, you might think twice. But you have to listen when the internet says, "Not only can we get this morning's news to you this morning, but we'll charge you less in the process." And there's virtually nothing that can't be delivered so economically. We currently pay 25 cents a copy (or a total of $33,000 a week) for very poky postal delivery of the paper-and-ink version of WORLD. Immediate delivery of that very same package via the internet would cost close to nothing.

But it isn't, of course, "that very same package." There are still thousands of people-like me-who don't want to read the morning paper, or their favorite magazines, or even a letter from Mom, on a glassy computer screen. We want to hold that paper, or magazine, or letter from Mom, in our hands. Well, that too is coming. The best proof of such an assertion is this statistic: This year, more than 55 percent of all the snapshots taken by Americans will be printed out in their own homes. If full-color photo technology can be made accessible to every home in America, the production of newspapers and magazines will not be far behind.

Part of WORLD's task in the years just ahead is to discover at each step along the way how its unique editorial assignment fits into that dizzying technological scenario. Along that path, we will be bumped, squeezed, and sometimes reshaped.

But challenging as all that is, it's not our main task. By God's grace, we won't forget the things that matter more:

We won't forget that our main task is to tell the truth. By whatever technological means, whether fastened to paper fiber or electrons, we'll keep trying to paint an accurate picture of each week's reality. And we'll try to do that without allegiance to any parties or organizations or powerful people. Our allegiance instead will always be to the standards God spells out in His word, the Bible.

We'll cast a big net. We won't forget that all truth is God's truth. We'll resist the temptation to suggest that God's solution for the human condition is primarily political, or that if we could just get a few particular people elected, all would be well. We'll remember that God is working all things for the accomplishment of His purpose-and that therefore we should be exploring just as wide an agenda of happenings. We'll try to avoid hobbyhorses, rutted thinking, worn-out sources, disproved solutions, and overly scary scenarios.

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