Georgia editor pushed into early retirement
January 24 2003 by Mark Wingfield & Tony Cartledge , Associated Baptist Press

Georgia editor pushed into early retirement | Friday, Jan. 24, 2003

Friday, Jan. 24, 2003

Georgia editor pushed into early retirement

By Mark Wingfield & Tony Cartledge Associated Baptist Press

ATLANTA - William Neal, editor of the Christian Index for a decade, has taken early retirement, reportedly under pressure from Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC).

Neal, 55, was called to a meeting with White Jan. 16. At the same time, one of White's assistants was dispatched to the Index offices to announce to the staff that the Index offices would be closed until the following Monday, Jan. 20. According to sources, the GBC staff also confiscated computers.

Callers to the Index office the week of Jan. 20 were told that Neal was out of the office for the week.

White's office reported that neither he nor other GBC officials were available for comment to the Biblical Recorder. White released a statement to Baptist Press, however, that he and Neal had discussed Neal's retirement plans and that more news would be forthcoming after a meeting of the Index board on Jan. 25.

Meanwhile, convention sources reported that White terminated three other Index employees Jan. 20. The others dismissed were Managing Editor Greg Brett, Media Coordinator Melea Goode and Administrative Assistant Laura Boltin.

The Index, the nation's oldest Baptist newspaper, is owned by the Georgia Baptist Convention. Although located in a separate facility in Atlanta, the Index receives major funding from the state convention, and the newspaper's editor historically has been elected by the convention's Executive Committee.

A reorganization of the state convention in the mid-1990s, however, gave the executive director broad powers to hire and fire convention staff without prior action by the Executive Committee. All Index staff members are considered employees of the state convention.

Neal, who is a 28-year employee of the state convention, had been under increasing pressure from conservative leadership for several years. The Index, they contended, was not doing enough to advance the cause of the Southern Baptist Convention and of conservatives in Georgia.

In 2001, the paper's board of directors forbade Neal from publishing any announcements, advertisements or editorials relating to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. They also demanded that no mention be made of CBF in the Index except in news items "which the editor believes directly affect Georgia Baptists and/or Southern Baptists." They further required Neal to consult with the convention's executive director or other board members before publishing any item that referenced CBF.

Neal has had no direct involvement with the CBF, a group of moderate Baptists disaffected by the change of leadership in the SBC since 1979. CBF has its headquarters in Atlanta.

Neal previously worked in campus ministry, both as a local campus minister and as director of the state convention's campus ministry program. He also served as associate editor of the Index with editors Jack Harwell and Al Mohler.

Harwell, who served the paper 21 years, took early retirement in 1987 after an effort to have him fired resulted in the formation of a watchdog "review board." Harwell was threatened with termination if his writing was deemed too critical of conservatives.

Mohler became editor in 1989, leading the paper in a more conservative direction. He left in 1993 to become president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

During his tenure as editor, Neal turned around a declining circulation and expanded coverage to include a broader spectrum of Georgia Baptist life.

Neal and his staff redesigned the publication, which won overall design awards from the Baptist Communicators Association. Neal also received awards for his editorial writing and for producing E Street, a supplemental magazine.

Neal was an active member of the Association of State Baptist Papers, and was currently serving as the organization's president.

In 1997, Neal initiated a project for the Index to acquire and renovate "Pinebloom," a historic Tudor mansion that now serves as publishing offices for the Index and as worship space for two Atlanta congregations.

Neal is a graduate of Columbus College and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned both a master's degree and a doctor of ministry degree. He and his wife, Judy, are members of Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Ga.

Brett, the managing editor, came to the Index in March 2000 from the staff of Truett-McConnell College, where he had been vice president for institutional development. He previously worked for Georgia Baptist Children's Home and Family Ministries. He is a graduate of Georgia Southern University.

Goode came to the Index in 2001 from Truett-McConnell College, where she had been alumni director.

Boltin had been with the Index four months and served as the editor's secretary. She previously worked in the Georgia Baptist Convention's Cooperative Program office.

The four departures removed half the Index's staff. The four remaining staff members are Associate Editor Joe Westbury, Graphic Design Editor Kelly Matthai, Circulation Manager Beverly Tye and Business Manager Donna Ward.

(EDITOR'S NOTE - John Pierce, editor of Baptists Today, contributed to this story.)

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1/24/2003 12:00:00 AM by Mark Wingfield & Tony Cartledge , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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