UMR Communications, including United Methodist Reporter, to close

Board members and staff of UMR Communications hold communion after closure vote. UMR photo by Sam Hodges

Finding no viable plan for reversing financial losses of recent months, UMR Communications will cease operations on May 31.

UMR Communications (UMRC) publishes the United Methodist Reporter in print and digital formats and online, and provides printing and communication services to churches and other nonprofits.

The final print Reporter will carry the date June 7, but will be mailed and printed by May 31.

The UMRC board reluctantly but unanimously voted this morning to close during a tearful meeting at the nonprofit’s Dallas office.

“At one time, our ministry produced nearly 300 separate editions of the newspaper which integrated content created by our news staff with content provided by church and conference partners,” said Tom Palmer, board chair.  “That number has decreased over the past 10-15 years due to changes in publishing technology. The financial crisis of 2008 had a significant impact on both individuals and institutions. Local church and conference finances were also severely affected. As a result, a growing number of churches and conferences either ceased publishing Reporter editions or changed their publishing frequency. We now no longer receive enough revenue from our publishing and printing operations to sustain the overhead needed to maintain the ministry.”

Closure will cost the jobs of the 26 remaining employees, including some with more than 40 years of service. Thirteen others were laid off near the end of 2012.

Alan Heath, CEO since August 2011, said the ministry had struggled financially for several years. But the late 2012 loss of a major contract – for printing, as well as for warehousing and shipping curriculum materials – reduced revenue by about 40 percent.

Reporter editions have declined to 45, though UMRC has continued to print other newspapers, as well as doing a variety of specialty printing.

Since the beginning of the year, efforts to cut costs while seeking new income could not keep the ministry in the black. Mr. Heath noted that UMRC has operated as a fee-for-service ministry, with no strong donor base and no direct support from the United Methodist Church.

In recent days, various organizational alternatives were explored internally and with friends of the ministry, Mr. Heath said, but closure became the only realistic step.

“There was no solution that didn’t involve red ink,” he told board members.

Mr. Heath added, “This decision obviously affects not only our newspaper customers, but other customers that have relied on us for printing and mailing services for many other products. We are sorry to leave our partners in ministry who have been so faithful to continue their relationship with us. We will do our best to help these ministries find a new print provider.”

Customers with questions are encouraged to contact the following:

Debbie Christian, Director of Production, dchristian@umr.org

Kay Fielder, Sales and Customer Service, kfielder@umr.org

Cherrie Graham, Ad Sales and Customer Service, cgraham@umr.org

Wendy Campbell, Sales and Customer Service, wcampbell@umr.org

For departing employees, severance and vacation pay will not be available in the short term, for lack of funds, Mr. Heath said. He added that after liquidation of assets, any remaining funds will be used to pay former employees  proportionally.

The Reporter has its origins in pre-Civil War Methodist papers in Texas, and was long the main vehicle for news about Methodists in Texas and across the Southwest.

In recent decades, it has covered the full United Methodist Church, offering independent news coverage, features and commentaries. Staff members have regularly won religious press awards.

Mr. Heath said an appropriate home will be sought for the newspaper’s print and online archives.

The UMRC board celebrated communion at the end of this morning’s meeting, led by the Rev. Arthur McClanahan, a board member and director of communications for the Iowa Conference.

Before doing so, he said: “Many of us standing around these ordinary tables have received the gift of grace of people of the UMR family – the grace of an extra day, or days, or more when we’ve needed to send our copy for a paper, the grace of converting stick-figure ideas into beautiful designs, the grace of telling stories, offering commentaries, helping us to see beyond our own horizons. And we are the better for the gift that the UMR team is.”

shodges@umr.org

 

Sam Hodges, Former Managing Editor, UMR

Sam Hodges

Sam Hodges was the managing editor of The United Methodist Reporter from 2011-2013. A formee reporter for the Dallas Morning News and the Charlotte Observer, Sam is a respected voice in United Methodist journalism.

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Join the conversation....

  1. chappell temple says:

    How sad this is, given the long and distinguished history of service that the UMR and its predecessors, have rendered to the church. Perhaps this, as well as the closure of Cokesbury stores, was all but inevitable given the changing times and cultures, but it sadly suggests that our denomination as a whole is in deep trouble, as well. So from where will the independent voice within our communion now come?

    • cbastle says:

      Dear Chappell Temple & All Interested:
      In response to your concerns about an independent voice within the United Methodist communion, St. Stephen UMC in Mesquite TX, has sponsored an informational website, United Methodist Insight, since December 2011. We seek to be a forum that gathers and presents the works of many within United Methodism that are listening to discern God's will for the denomination. We don't have the long standing our good colleagues at UMR, but we hope in our small way to foster open discussion and discernment for United Methodism. You can find us at http://um-insight.net. Thank you.
      Cynthia Astle, Coordinator
      United Methodist Insight

  2. nathan attwood says:

    This is heartbreaking and discouraging–I read the entire print edition every week and use the website regularly. I can certainly understand how this happened and this is not a huge surprise. Print media and small newspapers have suffered incredibly in recent years, as have organizations related to mainline denominations. The part I don't understand is this: Was there no way to end the print editions and make UM Reporter an online only resource, as Newsweek plans to do? My prayers and gratitude are offered on behalf of the wonderful people who have given us the UM Reporter. Thank you.

  3. ssjcollins24@aol.com says:

    UMR will be much missed. It's been an appreciated link to the UMC while serving another denomination.

  4. cbastle says:

    This is heartbreaking news, not only for those of us proud to list UMR Communications among our professional achievements, but for all of us who care about providing an independent lens on the increasingly insular and secretive United Methodist denomination. My heart and my prayers go out to all my former colleagues at UMR and to those in leadership who made this painful but clearly necessary decision. Well done, good and faithful servants! Go forth in the joy of our Lord, who plans for us all hope and a good future.
    With gratitude and many blessings,
    Cynthia Astle
    UMR National Editorial Staff 1988-2005

  5. popperdude says:

    As one who had the opportunity to work for UMR for several Years I have known this day was coming. It is a sad day. I promise you that in a few years the denomination will be asking for this independent voice. As someone told me several years ago " when the institutions start to fail it is normally the beginning of the end." My heart aches for my many friends who have spent almost all of their professional career at UMR. May God bless the next chapter of your life.

  6. roy howard beck says:

    Hello, Debbie. Hello, Kay. Hard to believe I left 25 years ago. And there you are. So sorry to see the era come to an end. But the whole newspaper industry and the economics of postal communication have changed so much since those 1980s peak times, haven't they? For every thing, there is a season, and the national United Methodist Reporter had quite a season, starting with the vision, tenacity and eccentric genius of Spurgeon M. Dunnam III who I quote regularly to my employees on at least a monthly basis. Among all the general circulation newspapers for which I have worked, and among all the journalists with whom I have interacted as a newsmaker, I have never encountered anybody who better embodied the spirit of fairness and balance to which 20th century American objective journalism aimed. Under that leadership, the United Methodist Reporter was in the best traditions of the independent community newspaper — fiercely loyal to its community (the United Methodist Church) and so in love with its community that it would speak truth when it hurt while doing its best not to hurt. It was a constant challenge and often a frustrating and at times disappointing experience to work in the national and global world of the UMR, but always a joy to be among colleagues for whom the search for journalistic truth and Christian truth were a joint, intertwined endeavor.
    Roy Howard Beck
    UMR Associate Editor 1980-1987

  7. I was associate editor of what was then TM/UMR from 1974 to 1980 and am saddened greatly by the demise of the newspaper. In its heyday, UMR was a journalistic force to be dealt with and a watchdog for the church. My gratitude to all those who built and have struggle for so long to make a success of the newspaper. It will be missed. My love and concern goes out to the employees. Thanks for all you have done.

  8. Thanks to everyone for a great ministry. I pray all God's best for everyone knowing that God will find new places for you to share your gifts and talents down the road.

  9. Ken Sommerville says:

    While I realize that print medium has had a difficult time surviving in this digital era, I find the news about closing our communications branch unsettling.

    I regularly consume the information posted on this website and find it important to the connectional nature of the UMC.

    We, as methodists, must find a way to continue to communicate our successes and ideas in the public forum,

  10. methodistpie says:

    Wow. This is a very sad turn of events. We talk a lot about "connection." THE REPORTER is one of the few "beyond the local church" resources by which I have actually felt connected. I appreciate the excellent staff, both present and past, for your faithful communication of issues that are important to this reader. Like I said: a very sad turn of events.

  11. jean rollin says:

    I am incredibly sorry to read this article! I have been reading the online version every day to keep up with what is happening around the country in the UMC.
    This is a huge gap in our communication system to lose the online version, too. As another commenter stated, I wish there was a way to keep the online version going since that is how many people get their info now. I can understand the print version problem with declining readership and publication, but not losing the online version, too.
    Thank you to all of the folks who did a great job of providing us information from around the country and world. I truly wish there was another way.
    Blessings to all. Rev. Jean Rollin, Common Ground: A United Methodist Community, Cambridge, MN

  12. carumc@aol.com says:

    How truly sad! You were not only the publisher of my Conference (Central Texas) and my local church (First UMC Fort Worth) editions over the years, but you were committed partners with us as well as many other local church and conference clients. But most of all – you have been friends! It’s heartbreaking to realize you will not be there with your capable independent voice. Some Christians speak of their faith; UMR’s staff lives it! You will be missed.

    Carolyn Stephens
    Former Conference Director of Communications
    Former UMR Communications Board Officer

  13. umciniowa says:

    If, as we're frequently told – and with good reason – that communication is key to keeping relationships vital, losing this Reporter communique is indeed sad for our denomination. This resource has been invaluable in formulating discussions and classes and for information when serving on the many and various local church committees. It saddens me greatly that this resource is being totally abandoned and cannot perhaps be continued in some online format, which is how I've been reading it for several months. A link to the Reporter has recently been included in our weekly emailed prayer letter and I venture to guess others have accessed it frequently since this inclusion began. Thank you for those who have invested their talents, prayers and resources over the years. May God's Grace lead you into other areas of service.

  14. Dollars are always the issue. Yes, it is sad that many good folks are going to have to find new employ. But, had the heirarchy in the denomination not been so concerned about the phylacteries they receive–had some of the progressive agencies not drained the coffers, perhaps UM Communications–including the Reporter–would still be viable and affording the church they research, knowledge, reporting, and expertise.

    • Please remember that The Reporter was an independent publication with no organizational ties to any official church agency. UMR Commumications and United Methodist Communications are two separate organizations. One operated on funds received as a result of service and product provided (UMR) while the other is supported through apportionment funds (UMCom). It's a distinction that many do not realize. –Alan Heath.

  15. Too bad some of the funds to let the Bishops enlarge their (our) parsonages could not have gone to save this most vital communication tool. By the way, does anyone know size and cost/value of Jesus’ parsonage – just asking!!

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