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June memories

Twenty-five years ago this summer, WORLD learned some very difficult lessons

Issue: "Tour d'America," June 18, 2011

Only a tiny handful of WORLD's current subscribers will remember why June 2011 is a special anniversary in the history of this magazine.

Who, after all, wants to recall an order from the organization's board of directors? "Close it down. Not one more issue. The experiment is over."

With great gusto and optimism, we had launched WORLD in March of 1986. Our first 13 weekly issues had all appeared on schedule. Propelled with the confidence that if we built even a modestly credible product, "they" would come, we charged on through the spring months. Problem was, we had no earthly idea who "they" were-and no plan to reach them. The subscribers and advertisers so essential in any publication's war for survival had not yet reported for duty. But I did have $100,000 dollars' worth of printer's and postage bills, and a staff to pay. So when the board of directors said, "That's it. The party's over. Wake up from your dream," I knew-though painfully-that they were right.

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That's the anniversary we celebrate this month-in June of 2011. Twenty-five years ago this month, we closed the magazine down. I don't think I can ever forget it.

God had a whole series of lessons to teach us. The first of those lessons involved a short course in humility-having to explain publicly to a hardy band of 3,000 pioneering subscribers how naïve we had been to think we could ignore so many basic rules of publishing. They had trusted us by investing their first year's subscription, and now we had burned through that entire investment and more. That first plan hadn't worked very well at all. How could we expect people to trust our future revisions?

So, after a cautious resurrection a year later, came a quarter century of sorting out which lessons we should learn from the "big boys" in publishing, and which we should cautiously ignore. These were, after all, the years of journalistic fabrication by The Washington Post (see Janet Cooke), plagiarism by The New York Times (see Jason Blair), and overall fraud in The New Republic (see Stephen Glass). How, in such a climate, could we develop a magazine known for authenticity, trustworthiness, and truth-telling integrity?

And in economic terms, while the go-go years of the 1990s were good for WORLD and media in general, the decade following 9/11 was anything but. The whole existence of print media more and more fell into question. Comparative weaklings among newspapers and magazines of all genres declared bankruptcy; those that were stronger became flimsy shadows of their former selves, with page counts dropping by half. Nobody thrived.

So, you may ask against the background of all those years of instruction, how are you folks at WORLD spending your 25th anniversary? My quick-and cheerful-answer as WORLD's founder is to say quite simply: "Expectantly-but modestly."

Expectantly because we still believe that Christian readers around the world both desire and deserve a truth-telling source for news and commentary that launches its work from a Bible-based value system. We think we've learned a good bit about that task, but we know there's more for us to learn. We want our already competent reporters and writers and editors to get even better and better at their tasks. We'd like in the next few years to attract another 100,000 subscribers to our family. And we understand that we'll probably be communicating with many of those folks more with digits than with paper and ink. All that is exciting.

But modestly, too. We're remembering that a God who can, against all human odds, raise us up can also, without having to explain why, put us down. Isn't there an adage that there's more to learn from our failures than from our successes? So for our 25th birthday, I'm deliberately focusing a little less on the launch of WORLD in March of 1986, and a little more on June of that same year-when a very wise Father knew we had some important lessons to learn.

What about you as summer kicks in? Do you have a failure to celebrate?

Email Joel Belz

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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