Sunday, July 09, 2006

Media company profits exceed oil company profits

Oil companies have what Forbes Magazine called "huge bulls-eyes on their backs" because of their record profits. Exxon-Mobil, for example, made $36-billion in 2005. Most of the major newspapers in the country have had at least one article that puts these huge profits in a negative light.

But there is one group of companies that made even bigger profits. You guessed it: media companies, including some of the very companies that own newspapers that -- on their editorial pages -- are calling for a windfall profits tax!

Exxon-Mobil's profit margin in 2005 was about 16 percent. (I'm defining profit here as earnings before interest, taxes, and depreciation.) That's pretty good by virtually any measure. But there were at least 10 media companies that had bigger margins. These media companies include the Washington Post (23%), the New York Times (18%), and Knight Ridder (20%), which was recently bought by McClatchy (28%).

What's interesting is that the company leading the way is Gannett (32%), owner of USA Today. People say that the newspaper business is dead, but does anyone know of a technology company that posted these kinds of numbers in 2005?

OK, there were a few, but not many.

The (pun intended) bottom line is this: If I were a reporter working for a big-city daily, and I wanted to do an expose on the robber-barons of the 21st century, I think I'd check the top floor of my own building first.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Keeping the truth alive

As a Christian journalist, sometimes – in my more melancholy moments – I wonder if what I and my fellow Christian journalists are doing is having any impact. After all, the mainstream media, with its overwhelmingly liberal and, often, anti-Christian bias, seem to overwhelm our perspective and viewpoint.

But in those moments, I console myself with two thoughts. The first comes from the great poet T.S. Eliot, who once wrote that when we live in a dark age, the goal of Christians, and Christian artists and writers in particular, is not so much to win the battle, but to “keep the truth alive.”

The second thought doesn’t reduce itself so easily to a single sentence. It is, instead, a story about a time that Eliot himself lived through.

In 1940, Hitler’s Nazi troops had overrun Europe. England, which had been a free and sovereign nation for a thousand years, was all that stood against the Third Reich’s totalitarian ambitions for the entire world. Hitler knew that so long as Great Britain remained free, he would never be able to fully secure his gains on the European continent. So Hitler decided to attack.

But he knew that a water and ground assault on Britain would be a bloody and by no means a certain endeavor. So it was imperative that Hitler use his fearsome Luftwaffe to begin bombings against England, to soften the nation’s defenses so that his ground attack would be successful.

Thus began the Battle of Britain in the early fall of 1940, and extending into the spring of 1941. On some days, more than a thousand German planes would attack Britain. But on each of those days courageous though overwhelmingly outnumbered Royal Air Force pilots suited up to meet them. Winning the battle outright was impossible, because on some days the RAF fighters were outnumbered 10 or even 20 to one. So the goal of these RAF pilots was much more focused -- and desperate: If we can’t defeat Germany, we can at least keep England alive.

And so they did. The RAF fighters did not actually defeat the Luftwaffe, but they did force Hitler to change both his strategies and his tactics. The Germans had to abandon their deadly accurate daylight raids. They were forced to bomb only at night. These night time raids were terrifying to the people of London, and – to be sure – they were catastrophic in many ways. But they were much less damaging than daylight raids would have been. Hitler discovered that even though his air forces were superior, their effectiveness could be diminished just enough to allow Great Britain to maintain some semblance of defense against a ground and water assault. Hitler’s plan for a ground invasion of England had to be abandoned.

In the end, a few hundred RAF fighters – and those who supported them – turned back the most fearsome war machine that had ever been assembled. Some historians believe it was the true turning point of the war. Whether you accept that assessment or not, no one has ever quarreled with Winston Churchill’s famous summary of those days: “Never before in the annals of valor, has so much been owed by so many to so few.”

Today, we are involved in a spiritual battle. Just as World War II was in many ways a battle for the survival of freedom against tyranny, so today we are in a battle for the very survival of faith, family, and freedom. And today, as it was then, the enemy controls the air. His message is getting out on the airwaves and in print.

Finally, of course, it is important to realize that God wins the battle. Said more succinctly: The Truth wins! God doesn’t really need us to fight his battles. You may remember that during Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when the local powers tried to silence the crowds, Jesus reminded us that if the people were silent, then the rocks would cry out.

No, God doesn’t need us. But He gives us the joy of employing our talents in His service. And – of course – in any war, there are casualties. And even the winning side can suffer terribly. So a part of what we do as Christians, whether we are Christian journalists, or Christian activists of any kind, is not so much to bring a victory that is already assured, but to minimize casualties. To keep people out of the direct line of fire of the enemy.

All of this is why Christian journalism is so important. And when I get discouraged about the impact we’re having, I console myself with these thoughts. Just as a small number of RAF pilots could keep England alive until it could be victorious, so Christian journalism can keep the truth alive until, ultimately, Truth itself is victorious.

Warren Smith is the publisher of the Evangelical Press News Service. He can be reached at