“One of the virtues, perhaps almost the chief virtue, of a newspaper is its independence.”
— C. P. Snow
A RULE at the Church Times is: never let organisations write about themselves. If we write about someone, it’s reporting. If they do, it’s advertising (which, of course, we love — but in the right place).
We seldom break this rule, but we would like to step out from behind our editorial desks to wish you a happy New Year, to explain the necessary rise in the cover price, and tell you why next week’s Church Times will look a little different.
The bad news first. Because of a string of common-or-garden increases, such as a hike in paper costs, we regret that we have this week increased the cover price (an increase that is, of course, shared with the newsagent). We are, though, holding down the subscription price for the time being.
At the same time, from next week we will be producing the Church Times in a slightly different format. The newspaper’s design has changed little in more than a decade, and as we plan to introducing a few new elements over the coming weeks, we are updating the design.
We also want to make more of the fact that the print version of the Church Times now works very much in tandem with our website and social-media activity. Many readers, besides downloading our weekly app, now go to our website for breaking stories throughout the week, or to read a fuller version of the stories that appear in print. Another way to stay informed is to join our 30,000 Twitter followers or 4000 Facebook followers.
As well as look forward, we also look back: our digital archive of the whole paper since its founding in 1863 is available. All these elements come free with a subscription.
FAMILIARITY with the Church Times may obscure the fact that this newspaper is unique, not only in the UK, but in the world. We cannot think of another religious newspaper that operates with total independence from the denomination it covers, is neither beholden to it nor hostile, values truth over PR, answers to no party or interest-group in the Church — and (through the charity that owns us, Hymns Ancient & Modern) pours a portion of any profit it makes back into church enterprises.
As a result, in a world in which independent journalistic scrutiny is under constant threat, Anglicanism has an organ within it — but not belonging to it — that attempts to keep it up to the mark. We delight to tell the good news stories, but we also point the spotlight on to less comfortable areas.
We note that, for a growing number of our readers, the Church Times is now the only newspaper that they buy. They can find here the national and international stories of concern to a Christian readership — and still for less than the price that many people pay for a takeaway cup of coffee.
A few sums
ALL this is a tremendous responsibility, borne by a handful of dedicated staff, assisted by a greater number of much appreciated contributors. Like our readers, we are sometimes pained by the news that we report.
By and large, though, our affection for the Church, and for the Anglican Communion in particular, embraces its flaws as well as its aspirations.
Our readers’ annual subscriptions or weekly payments are, to us, a mark of trust — a sign that, although they correct our mistakes and note our omissions, they appreciate the Church Times. At present, they pay roughly half what this costs to produce. Because advertisers value the chance to place before our readers their wares, their charitable appeals, and their vacancies, they currently pay the other half. Many newspapers have gone under in recent years because, as advertising revenue has fallen away, costs have been cut and quality has deteriorated. This hasn’t been, and is not our policy at the Church Times.
A few readers may have heard that Church House, Westminster, has devised a new scheme to track clerical moves, which is intended, perhaps, also to obviate the need to advertise clerical vacancies, which have long been a part of this paper’s service to the Church, and a key part of its income. We are co-operating with them, but, at the same time, we have pledged to maintain our high standards of service direct to dioceses, patrons, and parishes. Whatever the future holds, our commitment to maintaining and enhancing the paper’s high editorial standards is absolute.
What you can do
WE ARE fortunate in having an extraordinarily loyal and appreciative readership.
To increase the circulation, and thus secure the future of the paper, we need our readers to encourage more people to subscribe. If you believe that others — friends, clergy, church officers, and congregation members — could benefit from what the Church Times has to offer, please will you introduce us?
One of the most effective things that our readers can do is share stories on Facebook and social media, retweeting links, and generally spreading the message that access to Church Times content is easy on smartphones and PCs.
For the whole of January, we have increased the number of Church Times articles non-subscribers can see online to 30, so that new readers can discover more of our content.
And as a token of our appreciation, we are offering £5 to spend at Church House Bookshop, our partner organisation, throughout the month of January. Just enter the voucher code CTJAN18 at www.chbookshop.co.uk. The £5 discount is valid for any order of £20 or more.
I am writing this a few hours before attending the funeral of Dr Bernard Palmer, the editor who turned the Church Times into a newspaper for the whole of the Anglican Communion. In his history of the paper, Gadfly for God, Dr Palmer, with typical modesty, quotes an earlier editor, Roger Roberts, on the Church Times’s purpose. A church paper, Roberts wrote, should be a paper of record, with accurate accounts of important church events and debates; a paper of ideas, aiming to stimulate ideas; a paper of controversy, opening its columns to the pros and cons of “vigorous, sometimes violent” argument; and it should be a paper of reconciliation, seeking to bring closer together adversaries on opposing sides of issues that divide Christians.
Holding together a disparate Church
THE Church Times does not belong to any party in the Church. Most of what we do has no political flavour, in any case: the news, the features, the gazette, the reviews, the interviews, etc. When it comes to opinion, we seek views from across the Christian spectrum and beyond. We are not, however, tied to the same kind of protocol as governs the BBC during election campaigns, and we do not wish to bore our readers with vain repetition, however much some campaigners might like us to. If something is lively and well argued, we’ll publish it, regardless of whether we agree with it, or it goes against the grain.
An organ that serves the whole body of Christ has a duty to remind its members that they differ greatly from each other, and yet are all part of the whole. To those who wish to be encouraged in their own world-view, this can sometimes be uncongenial. Perhaps no Church is quite as diverse in its range of voices as the Anglican Church. All the more reason, then, for a trustworthy, independent forum where these voices can all be heard.
Out and about
BEYOND the pages of the weekly paper and the daily updates on our website, the Church Times is involved in an increasing range of activities. These include, in no particular order, the very longstanding Train-A-Priest Fund, raising money to support the next generation of priests; the Festival of Faith and Literature, bringing authors and readers together for an inspiring weekend in beautiful Oxfordshire (tickets still available); the Church Times Cricket Cup competition, now starting its 68th year; the new Festival of Preaching, which last year prompted an extraordinary demand for tickets, and which, with our partner the Canterbury Press, we will be repeating in 2019; and the Green Church Awards, which we believe are helping to transform the Church’s approach to the environment.
We also benefit from being part of the Hymns Ancient & Modern group, with colleagues involved in Christian book-publishing, marketing, and sales. Many of the things that the Church Times now does are available in audio format, and video output is being developed.