UMR Communications, publisher of South Georgia Advocate, closed May 31
UMR Communications and the United Methodist Reporter have announced that they will cease operations due to financial pressures on May 31, ending a tradition of Methodist news coverage that began in 1847. UMR Communications (UMRC) publishes the South Georgia Advocate newspaper.
Staff of the South Georgia Conference learned of the closure Thursday afternoon, May 16, via email and the UMR Communications website.
In 2009 the South Georgia Conference formed a partnership with UMRC in which UMRC assumed the administrative functions of the Advocate while the South Georgia Conference provides the content for the South Georgia portion of the newspaper. The Advocate is published twice a month as an insert of the United Methodist Reporter.
The final Reporter issue will carry the date June 7, but will be mailed and printed by May 31. The Advocate editorial board decided that a June 7 South Georgia Advocate edition will not be published because it would cause the Advocate to incur more debt.
“We just learned of the closing of UMRC and are saddened by this news,” said Dr. Brad Brady, Assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries. “We are currently gathering information and discerning the Advocate’s future. We have many questions, as do our subscribers, which we are prayerfully trying to answer.
The editorial team is working with UMRC to assess the Advocate’s financial situation, and is exploring options for the future of the newspaper.
“While there are many unknowns at this time, we remain committed to sharing the good news of what God is doing in the South Georgia Annual Conference,” Dr. Brady said.
Further news and information will be shared as decisions are made.
The announcement below was published on the UMR Communications website:
UMR Communications, including United Methodist Reporter, to close
Finding no viable plan for reversing financial losses of recent months, UMR Communications will cease operations on May 31.
UMR Communications (UMRC) publishes the United Methodist Reporter in print and digital formats and online, and provides printing and communication services to churches and other nonprofits.
The final print Reporter will carry the date June 7, but will be mailed and printed by May 31.
The UMRC board reluctantly but unanimously voted this morning to close the nonprofit ministry during a tearful meeting at the nonprofit’s Dallas office.
“At one time, our ministry produced nearly 300 separate editions of the newspaper which integrated content created by our news staff with content provided by church and conference partners,” said Tom Palmer, board chair. “That number has decreased over the past 10-15 years due to changes in publishing technology. The financial crisis of 2008 had a significant impact on both individuals and institutions. Local church and conference finances were also severely affected. As a result, a growing number of churches and conferences either ceased publishing Reporter editions or changed their publishing frequency. We now no longer receive enough revenue from our publishing and printing operations to sustain the overhead needed to maintain the ministry.”
Closure will cost the jobs of the 26 remaining employees, including some with more than 40 years of service. Thirteen others were laid off near the end of 2012.
Alan Heath, CEO since August, 2011, said the ministry had struggled financially for several years. But the late 2012 loss of a major contract – for printing, as well as for warehousing and shipping curriculum materials – reduced revenue by about 40 percent.
Reporter editions have declined to 45, though UMRC has continued to print other newspapers, as well as doing a variety of specialty printing.
Since the beginning of the year, efforts to cut costs while seeking new income could not keep the ministry in the black. Mr. Heath noted that UMRC has operated as a fee-for-service ministry, with no strong donor base and no direct support from the United Methodist Church.
In recent days, various organizational alternatives were explored internally and with friends of the ministry, Mr. Heath said, but closure became the only realistic step.
“There was no solution that didn’t involve red ink,” he told board members.
Mr. Heath added, “This decision obviously affects not only our newspaper customers, but other customers that have relied on us for printing and mailing services for many other products. We are sorry to leave our partners in ministry who have been so faithful to continue their relationship with us. We will do our best to help these ministries find a new print provider.”
For departing employees, severance and vacation pay will not be available in the short term, for lack of funds, Mr. Heath said. He added that after liquidation of assets, any remaining funds will be used to pay former employees proportionally.
The Reporter has its origins in pre-Civil War Methodist papers in Texas, and was long the main vehicle for news about Methodists in Texas and across the Southwest.
In recent decades, it has covered the full United Methodist Church, offering independent news coverage, features and commentaries. Staff members have regularly won religious press awards.
Mr. Heath said an appropriate home will be sought for the newspaper’s print and online archives.
The UMRC board celebrated communion at the end of this morning’s meeting, led by the Rev. Arthur McClanahan, a board member and director of communications for the Iowa Conference.
Before doing so, he said: “Many of us standing around these ordinary tables have received the gift of grace of people of the UMR family – the grace of an extra day, or days, or more when we’ve needed to send our copy for a paper, the grace of converting stick figure ideas into beautiful designs, the grace of telling stories, offering commentaries, helping us to see beyond our own horizons. And we are the better for the gift that the UMR team is.”