Christian paper's editor has faith Publisher hopes to fix print media's lack of religion coverage

November 03, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

From a one-room office in his Westminster home, Keith Ward puts together news, features and spirited debate with a Christian slant for the Carroll Call.

The publisher, editor, lone reporter and photographer, circulation manager and arts reviewer for the county's first specifically Christian newspaper does it all in about 70 hours a week, usually writing right up to his deadline.

Then he drives to Washington, where the Washington Times prints his 16-page monthly.

"This is a real one-man operation, although I just hired an ad salesman, and it's a lot more work than I thought," said Ward, 32. "I enjoy writing and editing, but I'm no good at sales."

On his own, he had acquired about 15 advertisers, but he needs more. A salesman who works on commission will free him for other duties, Ward says.

He is preparing his December issue, the third in what he hopes will be "a long and fruitful conversation within the Christian community in Carroll County," he wrote in his first editorial.

"Christians want news of their community, and they really want to know what is going on in churches," he said. "People feel newspapers are not in touch with their lives. With this paper, maybe I can tie the Carroll County Christian community closer together."

He sees the monthly paper as more than local news and soft features. In the September edition, he tackled the mixture of religion and politics; last month he reported on the separation among local black and white churches. He expects to write on morality themes and hopes many future story ideas will come from his readers.

"There is a lot of opportunity in this county for what I want to do," he said. "This will die if the churches don't support it."

The Carroll Call is placed prominently at the entrances to several churches.

"It is good to have the information that is not available in the regular papers here," said the Rev. Donald Pickens, pastor at First Assembly of God. "We will keep making the paper available and watching what he puts in it."

Ward, a graduate of Towson State University, has worked as a reporter and editor at several community newspapers, most recently the Gettysburg Times, and also has done free-lance writing.

"History, politics, music, science, a reporter is allowed to glimpse at it all," he said. "I love journalism. It is really in my blood."

Last week, he resigned his most recent job as editorial page editor at the Gettysburg Times and is now devoting all his time to the Carroll Call.

"As a Christian, I see something missing in coverage of religion, which is really kept on the periphery on most papers," he said. "Spirituality is a big part of many people's lives, and newspapers have their priorities out of whack."

Ward says he sees a need for more diversity in the print media's coverage of religion. Religion stories, which years ago routinely tTC filled the front page, need to be more than a half-page once a week at the back of the paper, he said.

He publishes 3,000 copies of the paper a month and distributes them to churches, Christian bookstores and a few other businesses that sell newspapers.

"We can't keep them in stock," said Shelly Bandy, owner of Bibles Plus in Cranberry Mall. "There is a phenomenal interest. People love it, and many have said they would be willing to pay for it."

The September and October issues were free, but the December edition will cost 50 cents. If readers buy 2,000 papers a month and advertising picks up, the Call should break even, Ward said.

Bandy predicts success.

"The Christian industry takes a lot of bashing," she said. "The Call is laying out the issues and letting readers make decisions. The Christian community has been looking for this a long time."

Ward is losing money on his newspaper business, but he is building slowly and is not disappointed, he said. Maybe, one day, the Call will be as much a part of life as the daily news, he said.

"If the Lord wants us to succeed, then we will make a profit," he said. "I don't want to get rich, but I would like for my wife to semi-retire."

Kathleen Ward, an obstetrician practicing at Harbor Hospital, is expecting the couple's fourth child next month.

Pub Date: 11/03/96

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