DULUTH, Ga. (BP) — The Christian Index will transition primarily to an online presence Jan. 1, the Georgia Baptist Convention’s newsjournal has announced.
“Bowing to the pressures of an increasingly difficult economic climate with rising production and distribution costs — coupled with declining revenue from circulation and advertising — The Index will produce its final biweekly print edition on Dec. 24,” the paper reported in its Sept. 3 print edition.
“But that doesn’t mean [The Index] will cease publishing,” the paper stated in a front-page news story. “It will simply move to the web with a never-ending news cycle no longer tied to print deadlines and ever-increasing mailing costs. It will also be a free product with no charge for online access.”
“This shift will free up Cooperative Program funds that will be redirected toward evangelism and church planting efforts in Georgia and far beyond its borders,” The Index stated.
The Christian Index describes itself as “the nation’s oldest continuously published Christian newspaper,” dating back to 1822 when famed missions supporter Luther Rice started it as the Columbia Star in Washington, D.C. The paper first became part of the Georgia convention in 1840; the convention sold and repurchased the paper in the following years, acquiring it for the final time in 1919.
J. Gerald Harris, the paper’s editor, noted in an accompanying editorial various factors that made it “increasingly inevitable that The Index would have to become an electronic publication only,” including:
— The Index “has been losing subscribers and becoming more dependent on the Cooperative Program” during the past seven years.
— “The cost of newsprint and postage has continued to increase. By going to an online edition only we will save almost $320,000 annually in printing and mailing costs.”
— “More and more people are reading the news on their smartphones, tablets, and computers.”
In 2000, The Index shifted from a weekly with 12-16 pages to a bi-weekly publication of 16-24 pages. Later financial pressures, including mailing costs that exceeded the printing costs, pared the page count back to 12-16, the paper recounted.
Last year, The Index extended its online presence beyond desktop computers to a variety of platforms such as smartphones and tablets.
Harris, in his editorial, noted the online Index — at www.christianindex.org — “will allow us to produce more up-to-date news items by posting stories and sharing opinions on events almost as soon as they happen. News alerts featuring political, ethical, and cultural issues can also be posted on The Index website expeditiously.”
The Index website “will automatically resize to fit any computer, laptop or device,” Harris noted. “We believe this change will allow us to substantially increase our number of readers, particularly younger readers. We will be able to use social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to drive people to our website, thus increasing our readership. We believe this will also make The Index an extremely attractive venue for advertising products and events because of the increased number of readers that will be drawn to the website.”
Harris invited pastors to help increase the paper’s readership “by sending us the email addresses of church members and anyone who may be interested in becoming an online subscriber. We will not share email addresses with anyone outside the Baptist Missions and Ministry Center, and those who do not wish to receive The Christian Index email updates may opt out with a single click.”
In a print context, Harris said The Index will provide a weekly synopsis that churches can download and print for those who prefer a paper copy. “Additionally, to make this transition as smooth and effective as possible, we will still provide a monthly synopsis of The Index to those who specifically request it,” Harris said. “This special offer is being made primarily to our senior adults with a possible minimal cost and will include features most requested by them as determined by a pending survey.”
Overall, Harris said, “The move will enable The Index to remain true to its original calling of providing missions support through stories that encourage, motivate and inspire its readers to greater sacrifice.” Change is never easy, he said, “but the Christian life is all about change. We are to be changing daily — more into the image of Christ and less in the image of the old self.”