United Methodists need The United Methodist Reporter

Wesleyan Wisdom | Donald Haynes | United Methodist Reporter

In our time of emails, Facebook, and online news, all print media are in readership decline. Most are in financial straits. Most denominational bookstores, including the Cokesbury stores of The United Methodist Church, are closed or in fiscal jeopardy. Time honored periodicals like Newsweek and The Christian Century cannot exists solely by subscriptions and advertising; they depend on faithful donors to keep the presses rolling.

Russell Richey suggests in his two-volume work The Methodist Experience In America that while the development of  seminaries began to impact the  denomination’s theology, the editors of Methodist related publications impacted doctrinal standards.    And for many years there was a vibrant and active Methodist press. Not that long ago the Methodist Quarterly Review was the most widely read religious periodical in America and virtually every Methodist preacher subscribed and read it assiduously. Sunday School quarterly editors were read by multiple millions and the editors at The Methodist Publishing House had a virtual monopoly on curriculum  in the days when Sunday School attendance was almost double that of worship attendance.

Almost every annual conference had an “Advocate” (a regional newspaper) and it wasn’t unusual for their editors to be elected bishops because of the “power of the pen.” High Point University, one of four colleges of the Methodist Protestant Church, owes its existence to the dogged month-by-month editorializing by Flavius McCulloch from 1898 until 1925, when the college finally opened.

In 1847 The Texas Christian Advocate printed its first weekly edition with a combination of church and secular news and views. In 1960, it morphed into The Texas Methodist. Meanwhile, in spite of considerable denominational subsidies, excellent publications like Together Magazine (first published in 1957) had to shut down in 1973. Together had at one point 1.25 million subscribers. The New Christian Advocate had to shut down their presses in the 1960’s because of growing deficits.

Spurgeon Dunnam

Spurgeon Dunnam

The Texas Methodist” eventually The Methodist Reporter and through the leadership of Spurgeon Dunnam amassed a circulation of over 500,000. The Reporter was used as a supplement to the local newsletter of forty annual conferences and 350 local churches. It was never subsidized by GCFA. In 1981 the name was changed again to United Methodist Reporter. The highly successful paper had a large staff and became a major printing operation. However as the communications world changed, subscriptions began to decline and the printing business became less profitable. In May of 2013, after many years of financial losses UMR Inc., the parent operation of The United Methodist Reporter, shut its doors.

However three United Methodists who believed in the tradition and power of The United Methodist Reporter came together with a proposal to keep the UMR tradition afloat as an Internet only operation. Charles Harrison, Jay Voorhees, and Gavin Richardson formed CircuitWriter Media LLC and continue to operate the United Methodist Reporter in addition to their full-time jobs.

Without the United Methodist Reporter, I believe that the nearly 8,000,000 United Methodists would be left without an important voice that helps to keep the connection informed. Social media nor periodicals that have a specific agenda cannot fully tell us the story as the seasons of our future unfold.

There are publications that seem to do okay today, especially among evangelical readers. Christianity Today is an impressive paper and has many-colored full-page ads to supplement its subscription income. In the United Methodist world, Good News Magazine, first published in 1967, is to be congratulated on its loyal readership and its colorful and well designed ads. It identifies itself as “a forum for Scriptural Christianity within The United Methodist Church,” and the editorial posture and most published guest editorials of Good News are predictably conservative on theology and social justice. For the most part, the people who take the magazine read it to strengthen and articulate positions that they already hold. I am glad we have Good News because it is a voice for conservative United Methodists who often feel they have minimal influence around general church social justice issues. In the “sea” of Calvinist literature, Good News also is a welcome voice for Wesleyan/Arminian doctrine.

But The United Methodist Reporter goes on, and I’ve seen an effort by the editors to represent the theological diversity that is present in United Methodism. However, ads are scarce and the budget is minimal compared to earlier days of the prestigious paper’s circulation. There is a minimal staff that works hard to publish the stories and commentary that make up the site today, and there simply isn’t enough advertising revenue for anyone to take this on as a full-time job. Indeed, United Methodist Reporter funds are so fragile that staff have asked for concerned leaders and readers around the connection to subsidize their coverage General Conference in Portland. Only they can give a UMC but independent coverage and editorial viewpoint of the daily and cumulative actions and decisions. The hour is late, but this call needs to be met with an outpouring of fiscal support. United Methodism needs a strong and vocal “UMR.”

Any and all institutions like seminaries and UMC related colleges and universities need to advertise in “The Reporter.” Presses and The Methodist Publishing House have their own budgetary issues, but they need to tell their own story through the online issues of The United Methodist Reporter.

Bishops, District Superintendents, pastors, and UMR readers with their own social networks need to “pass the word” that The United Methodist Reporter is the only true editorial and reporting voice of our denomination.


If you wish to make a donation to UMR’s GC2016 coverage, please visit http://unitedmethodistreporter.com/gc2016-donations/

Donald W. Haynes, UMR Columnist

Donald Haynes

Dr. Donald Haynes has been an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church for more than 50 years and is a member of the Western North Carolina Annual Conference. A recipient of the Harry Denman Evangelism Award, Dr. Haynes is the author of On the Threshold of Grace—Methodist Fundamentals; serves as an adjunct faculty member at Hood Theological Seminary; and is the Assistant to the Pastor in Evangelism at the First United Methodist Church of Asheboro, North Carolina. Dr. Haynes has written for The United Methodist Reporter since 2005.

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Dan Gangler

The United Methodist Reporter is NOT the only nation independent United Methodist online publication. A former editor of The United Mehodist Reporter, Cynthia Astle, edits United Methodist Insight at http://www.um-insight.net. Check it out. It’s weekly and free.

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