Out of print - 'The Commission' magazine nears its end

The Commission no longer goes to the ends of the
earth - at least not the printed Southern Baptist
version.

What that means for Southern Baptists' efforts to
carry out the Great Commission remains to be seen.

The Commission no longer goes to the ends of the
earth - at least not the printed Southern Baptist
version.

What that means for Southern Baptists' efforts to
carry out the Great Commission remains to be seen.

In June, citing a $10 million budget shortfall, the
Southern Baptist International Mission Board cut 37
jobs and suspended publication of its
250,000-circulation magazine, The Commission.
Projected annual savings include $800,000 in
printing and postage costs, in addition to an
undisclosed amount for the salaries and benefits of
terminated staff members.

The board's communications staff bore the brunt of
the layoffs. By one count, 14 employees from the
department responsible for publication of the
65-year-old magazine were terminated, including
several with more than 30 years of agency
experience. An on-line edition of The Commission
will continue.

The cuts came despite the fact that research showed
The Commission played a significant role in raising
money for the board, recruiting career missionaries
and informing church leaders about missions.

The Commission "has as her most lasting legacy the
untold thousands of Christians who found their
concern for missions heightened by what they found
in her pages," said longtime Editor Leland Webb, now
retired. "Because of (The Commission), many
advocates of missions bowed their heads in prayer
and reached into pocket or purse to give extra
dollars."

The Commission also was the only Southern Baptist
publication consistently to earn respect and
accolades from the secular media. More importantly,
Webb said the magazine "earned a hearing for the
gospel and missions in the editorial offices of some
major publications whose staffs respected quality
wherever they saw it."

Former International Mission Board photographer
Charles Ledford was a new Christian when he applied
for a job with National Geographic.

"They didn't have any openings but encouraged me to
contact The Commission, since it was doing great
things visually," said Ledford, who last year was
nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in photography for
his work for USA Weekend.

The Commission was a training ground for
photographers, designers and writers, such as
Pulitzer-nominated Joanna Pinneo, who left the board
to become a photographer for U.S. News and World
Report.

Of course, the high cost of the glossy, color
publication always attracted the attention of budget
cutters, Webb admitted. However, until now, the
value received was judged to justify the expense.
Webb said his research indicates 46 percent of
career missionaries surveyed between 1986 and 1993
said the magazine played a part in their career
decisions.

A 1993 report also noted the board had received more
than $10.5 million in trusts, wills or other types
of gifts from contacts first made through The
Commission.

One former Southern Baptist missions leader said
loss of the magazine was like losing a family
member. Several terminated employees declined to
discuss the matter. The severance agreements signed
by the former employees reportedly limit what they
can say about the board and the magazine.

Mission board spokesperson Mark Kelly said nothing
has been said about whether the magazine might
resume print publication.

The final regular issue of the magazine will be
distributed in August. The November issue also will
be produced to support the annual missions offering.
Kelly said the move does not affect the board's
overseas correspondent system, which employs
journalists and photographers as career
missionaries. The correspondents were frequent
writers for the magazine. "We still have the on-line
version as well as many other channels of
communicating with Southern Baptists," he said.

The Commission "was not afraid to compete with the
big boys from the secular world of journalism," Webb
recalled.

The magazine frequently garnered national awards
alongside National Geographic, Newsweek and Life -
including top honors for photography and editing.

The demise of the magazine gives former managing
editor Kathy Wade pause "because I know the impact
(it) has had on individual lives, individual
ministries and individual decisions to be stronger
believers in Christ," she said.

"It's not just 56 pages of stories and photographs winning all types of
journalism awards," added Wade, whose position was cut recently. "It's
been a testament of how God is continually working through his people."
(ABP)

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