The Western Recorder will cease to be a monthly publication effective March 31. While the monthly issues will cease, the Western Recorder legacy will live on with the annual meeting magazine bearing the Western Recorder name.
The publication, in its 195th year, has changed dramatically — both in appearance and content. It originally was a broadsheet (full-size newspaper), but migrated to a much smaller size before settling on a tabloid size for the majority of its existence. It was published weekly until 2015 when it moved to an every-other-week publication schedule.
In March 2019 the format moved to a glossy print magazine. That change followed a unanimous vote by the Western Recorder Board of Trustees to move the publication from an independent status to fall under the umbrella of the Kentucky Baptist Convention Communications Department.
The impact of the coronavirus was the death knell. "While we were gaining subscribers and advertisers, that came to a screeching halt with COVID-19," said Chip Hutcheson, interim managing editor. "When churches canceled in-person services, some halted the WR because they had no way to distribute it to their members. Advertisers weren't spending any money because of the economic plight they were experiencing."
"I will miss the Western Recorder," said Todd Gray, KBC executive director-treasurer. "The Western Recorder has been a source of news for Kentucky Baptists for many decades. Of course, that news will continue to be provided in other ways such as Kentucky Today online news service and the annual meeting Western Recorder magazine, but I will miss the monthly publication. I am grateful for Chip Hutcheson and the excellent job he has done in leading the publication of the Western Recorder magazine during a challenging time. No one could have done better at this task at this time than Bro. Chip," Gray noted.
"What I will miss most is interacting with Kentucky Baptists while preaching in various churches across the state who tell me that they read my articles or that they are grateful for the ministry of Kentucky Baptists and the good work God enables us to do together. Please pray for us through this transition. While we will not be providing news about Kentucky Baptist life through the Western Recorder, we do want to be certain that news is provided. Please pray that God will enable us to communicate to Kentucky Baptists clearly and consistently about the good work God is doing through our churches, our agencies and institutions, and through the Kentucky Baptist Convention Mission Board staff."
The KBC Administrative Committee began pondering the WR status in the early stages of the pandemic, and determined that good stewardship of Cooperative Program dollars could be best utilized in ways others than underwriting the costs of producing the magazine.
"Over the years as our society moved from print to digital to get their news, so did Kentucky Baptists," said David Stokes, Administrative Committee chairman in 2019-20. "In March 2019, Western Recorder moved to a monthly magazine format. Even though this helped, it was not enough to offset the thousands that had been lost in the past 20 years or so. Then came 2020 with all of its challenges and unpredictably.
"Your KBC administrative team was asked to make a tough decision," Stokes added. "Prayerfully discussing the options, with great appreciation for the efforts and ministry of Chip Hutcheson, it was decided to put in place a plan to phase out the monthly magazine, but continue the Western Recorder as the official magazine of the Kentucky Baptist Convention Annual Meeting. Our prayer is this will be an appropriate way of celebrating the impact, importance and legacy of the Western Recorder for generations to come or until our Lord returns."
Wes Fowler, pastor of Mayfield First Baptist Church and KBC president, said the Western Recorder "has been a blessing to Kentucky Baptists since 1825.
"We need to pause and appreciate the value of something that has served us so well for so long," Fowler said. "It's likely the Western Recorder reported on the formation of the Kentucky Baptist Convention in 1837, as well as the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. It probably kept readers informed through most of the Civil War, and it was surely a primary source of information during both world wars. The Western Recorder kept readers informed through the 75 Million Campaign (1919-1925), and it reported on the creation of the Cooperative Program in 1925. These are but a few of the historical moments the Western Recorder blessed us through.
"Despite being a blessing, though, the Western Recorder has suffered — just as other state convention newspapers. Despite its tremendous past, the future of the Western Recorder is not as promising. At this time, faithful stewardship indicates it is proper to bring this blessing to its much-appreciated end. This saddens me deeply. As someone present in many of the internal meetings, I know that every effort has been made to preserve the Western Recorder. Despite our best efforts, the challenges simply outweigh our desires.
"It's fitting to celebrate the longevity of something that has served us so well. It's also fitting to remember that many good things will come and go, but the salvation we have in our Lord will last forever. I praise the Lord for the faithful witness of the Western Recorder, but more importantly, I praise the Lord for the gospel of Jesus Christ!"