Editorial: Please walk this path with us
by JAMES A. SMITH SR.
Executive Editor

Article Date: Dec 3, 2012

 At the Florida Baptist State Convention annual meeting last month I announced some changes that are in the works for our website and other digital publishing platforms, asking those in attendance to walk this new path with us. I write here to inform our readers, again urging you to travel with us on this new road.

What really matters – the theme of the FBSC annual meeting this year – is a simple summary of the mission of Florida Baptist Witness: publishing “Good News about God’s work that encourages, enables and exhorts Florida Baptists to exalt God and extend His Kingdom.”

The content of the Witness is focused on what really matters, as summarized in a video shown at the annual meeting (available on our website) in which some of our readers discussed what they value about their state newspaper. The Witness covers what really matters among Baptists in Florida and across the Southern Baptist Convention, what really matters in our cooperative mission work, and what really matters in our broader culture and worldview issues. Our readers know that they can trust the Witness to be just in our coverage – and that matters greatly to us.

Starting with our FBSC exhibit, and continuing now online and in print, we are inviting readers to tell us what really matters to them by participating in our readership survey. Those who fully participate are eligible to win a Kindle Fire tablet or $200 LifeWay Christian Stores gift card – reader’s choice!

Newspapers aren’t shy about offering its opinions, but it’s not often that a newspaper actually asks the opinion of its readers. So, here’s your chance to tell us what you think about the Witness and what we can do to improve. Please take five minutes to fill out the readership survey. If you have already participated, thank you.

This readership survey will help shape the future of the Witness, so your participation as a regular reader is vital.

One change coming for the Witness relates to our website and other digital platforms – enhanced PDF versions of the paper available on various mobile phones and tablets. Starting in January, visitors to the website, www.goFBW.com, will have to register – provide a username and password – to access the content. Although this registration is free, it’s a first step toward a future paid subscription model for our website.

For more than 10 years, we have made available on our website all the content of the print edition – and much more – without subscription. However, given publishing realities today, our Board of Directors and staff have determined this must change. In the future, some form of a digital subscription model will be required for our website and other digital platforms. We are currently evaluating various online subscription models and expect to implement a plan in the spring.

All kinds of newspapers, including our fellow state Baptist newspapers, are grappling with how to navigate the uncertain waters of transitioning from a primarily print to a primarily digital delivery of news and reflection about what really matters. There’s no doubt that there is a role for solid, just news and reflection in a digitally dominated age. The challenge all newspapers are facing is how to make that indispensible journalism work economically.

There was great wisdom 129 years ago when our Florida Baptist forebears had the insight and commitment to establish Florida Baptist Witness and for succeeding generations to sustain the newspaper these many years up to this very day. That sustenance comes not only in the form of subscriptions, but also in indispensible support from the Cooperative Program. As a ministry of Florida Baptists, it’s proper that the Cooperative Program would fund the work of the Witness. Indeed, without CP, the Witness simply could not exist. For that CP support, the board and staff of the Witness is very grateful to the churches of the Florida Baptist State Convention and its leaders.

Still, at least as the Witness is currently structured, it is also absolutely vital that there is strong subscription support for this ministry. As much as it would be impossible for the Witness to exist without CP support, the same is true for subscription support. And, in a day in which many news consumers are turning to digital platforms for their information, we must find a path on which those readers may travel with us as subscribers in order to continue this ministry.

Launching a subscription for our website and other digital platforms is not the path I wanted to take. Indeed, I have resisted this change in the hope that the website would continue to be available to all as a Kingdom-enhancing ministry. In fact, I believe that is just what our website has been, providing the content of the print edition and much more enormously valuable information. There is no other place in Florida Baptist life to readily access the information provided on our website. The archived content of more than 10 years of print and online only content is an incredible resource. The influence of the Witness website is demonstrated in the fact that secular newspapers frequently link to our coverage – most recently, a New York Times columnist.

As many other newspapers – both Baptist and secular – are exploring how to monetize their websites and other digital platforms, we must do the same. Indeed, given the economic realities it seems the only way forward is to have a subscription model for our digital publishing platforms. To that end, next spring we will be announcing a subscription model for our digital products. As we take this path, we ask you to walk with us and help us continue to be able to serve all faithful Florida Baptists, many who increasingly desire to have their news delivered electronically, while continuing to also publish the Witness in print.

Whether in print or digitally, what really matters is that Florida Baptists will continue to have a trusted source providing news and reflection about what really matters.

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