ABP report that the Baptist Times is to cease publication from January here. At the time of writing, there is nothing about this on either the BT‘s own website, or on BUGB’s, but the report seems to quote the right people and when I queried it on Facebook Ian Bunce from Didcot assured me it is true.
It’s not news that the BT has been losing money, and has survived only through financial support from BUGB; nor is it news that the print media are struggling, particularly daily and weekly newspapers, in the internet age. Most other smaller denominations in Britain (even the CoS) have gone the way of a glossy monthly publication. Monthlies, however, fulfill a different role: good at features; much less good at reporting news or at providing a forum for denominational debate.
Of course, online news is instant and free, and online debate far more rapid and responsive. But in the face of such advantages, we should not forget the accompanying disadvantages. The day after the opening of the Leveson enquiry might not be the ideal time to say this, but journalists are professionals, trained to source and check stories; internet commentary – including this blog – is done by amateurs, who can easily get things wrong. (The – essentially false – ‘Word Alive split was over Steve Chalke’s orthodoxy’ story from a few years back is a case in point: running on the internet, it did real damage to real people, and to effective mission organisations.)
Further, discussion in print fora is moderated by editors, which can introduce problems of partiality and the like, but is much more often a great boon. There are very few, if any, popular religious or news websites where it is worth reading anything ‘below the line’, and so anyone with any sense doesn’t. (Blogs generally do better, because of their semi-private nature, and because there is, generally, a degree of quiet editing. Yes, I do delete comments even here, albeit only a handful – see policy tab above.) The appearance of open debate online, therefore, is often an illusion, resembling less a reasoned public forum and more the incoherent shoutings of a mob that simply drown out any worthwhile contributions that happen to be made. Editors exist to preserve certain standards of quality in reporting and debate; where there is no editing (as generally is the case online) there are no standards. This is inevitably bad news.
Finally, a print journal provides a focus; online debate is generally dispersed and fragmented. Those who hold to particular views gravitate to their own fora, and so discussion across party lines is much rarer. Factionalisation and polarisation are more likely in a debate that has no central context to draw it together. The BT did this for BUGB, and so was a real, if quiet and partial, force for denominational unity.
For these reasons, the loss of a newspaper like the BT is sad, even if it was inevitable. BUGB’s denominational life will be the poorer for it.