Continuing to serve "Georgia Baptists with faithfulness and effectiveness," Scott Barkley was promoted to editor of The Christian Index June 1. Joining The Index in 2004, the Cartersville resident has helped the once biweekly paper venture into the digital age as an online news journal.
"My background in working with Southern Baptists in my home state and adopted home state [of Alabama and Georgia, respectively] gives me the passion to tell not only the story of the Savior they serve, but the efforts they take to present that Gospel and make an impact on others," Barkley said. "People think first of evangelism, and that’s great. It’s our first priority. But I’ve seen Georgia Baptists do that while also helping people in various ways, such as providing free dental or health care, giving clothing, teaching conversational English, having 'yard sales' where everything is free, joining together to establish substance abuse facilities and [other] approaches. And that’s just in our state.
"Georgia Baptist churches literally go all over the world to share the Gospel but also help in ways, such as construction projects and medical clinics. There are risks in this, but they keep going. The first local example I think of with this is Tabernacle Baptist, which experienced a tragic loss on a mission trip in Honduras in 2007 when church members Perry Goad and Ric Mason died in a truck wreck. That church family also went through the death of Kyra Karr, a young mother and missionary in Italy who died in a car accident while visiting Cartersville on furlough. Despite those events, Tabernacle has continued to go and share."
He continued, "Over my 14 years with The Index I’ve seen Georgia Baptists show that same spirit time and again. I’ve been honored to talk with them and get to tell their stories. I consider it an honor and am extremely blessed God has granted me the opportunity to continue doing that as editor."
With Barkley serving as editor, his predecessor, J. Gerald Harris, will continue working at The Index as senior editor through his retirement Dec. 31.
"Scott joined The Index staff in January of 2004," said J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. "He has served Georgia Baptists with faithfulness and effectiveness in a variety of roles with our state Baptist publication. Scott was instrumental in making the transition from a print edition to an all-digital news journal in January of 2016. He has served as a production editor, web content editor and associate managing editor in his years at The Index.
"Scott has been honored by the Baptist Communicators Association for his outstanding journalism. At the most recent Baptist Communicators Association Awards, he was recognized three times, including a first place award in Editorial/Opinion for 'Remembering the Jesus Man and His Voice for the Gospel.' With Scott’s diverse background and experience, I feel he will be a valuable asset in continuing to enhance The Christian Index in this digital age."
Getting his first taste of writing with the Cherokee County Herald and The Gadsden Times while in college at Jacksonville State University in Alabama, Barkley later accepted a teaching position at Woodland High School in the early 2000s. After freelancing with The Christian Index, Barkley joined the Index staff as its production editor.
"My role is to tell the story of Georgia Baptist work in our state and beyond into the Southeast, America and the world," Barkley said. "People may have an idea for what we are and what we look like. But one of the biggest eye-openers for me is how wrong that assumption is. Our greatest growth is among ethnic congregations, in particular Hispanic and Korean. Georgia Baptists made history recently by electing its first Hispanic representative on the Southern Baptist Convention Committee on Committees. … When our pastors get up to preach this Sunday, there are up to 24 different languages they may speak.
"One thing I’d like to do a little better is report on those churches and make sure their work in the community is seen around the state. We’ve also already began to focus more on student and collegiate ministry efforts, telling how churches and individuals [are] reaching out to and discipling those groups. Long term, I’d like for our churches to see The Index as a resource for helping tell their stories to other Georgia Baptists. But furthermore, I’d hope we can help those churches develop skills and tools for communicating and connecting with their own communities. My favorite stories are the ones where regular people, who probably don’t consider themselves anything special, make a difference by just taking the steps others won’t."
As White noted, Barkley was key to the Index's all-digital transformation. Referring to himself as a "storyteller," Barkley is excited to work during a time, where online resources enable one to reach a broader audience.
"The Index had a website since I joined, but in 2014 or so we began to look really hard at the future of the print edition. For one, the cost of ink, paper and postage had gone up while we’d barely moved on our subscription price. Keeping in mind we wanted to be the best stewards of funds received through the Georgia Baptist Convention — since renamed the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, we began to explore the real possibility of going all-digital and letting go of the print edition.
"I wasn’t involved in the heavy decision-making of this, but give a great deal of credit to [Managing Editor] Joe [Westbury] and our then editor J. Gerald Harris. The Index is the oldest continuously-published religious publication in America, having started in Washington, D.C., in 1822 as The Columbian Star before moving to Georgia and changing the name. A lot of people had grown accustomed to getting it in their mailbox every other week."
The switch to digital has altered the way The Index staff shapes its publication, from their working location to examining Google-provided analytics.
"The move to digital has brought along a lot of changes, obviously," Barkley said. "First, as a biweekly paper — that term has always bothered me, as it means every-other-week but sounds like twice a week — our deadline went from every two weeks to every day. That took some transition. We knew social media would play a big part, and have established a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
"The biggest personal difference in going digital? Instead of driving in to Atlanta like I did every workday for 12 years, I now work primarily from my home office," he said. "Professionally, I’d say it’s been how we pay attention to analytics provided through Google. This was something not in my wheelhouse at all but was crucial to learn — and continue to learn — for us to get a clear idea on how we’re doing.
"The problem with print is we could only look at our subscription list for figures on our progress. However, we had no idea if people were actually reading… or what they were reading. Now, we know both as well as stats on how long people are spending on our pages, from where they’re checking in and even how well we’re doing among readers of various ages. Something we never would’ve known [without] analytics is that a large size of our readers are coming from outside the state. After Atlanta, a Georgia city doesn’t appear on our list until the mid-teens, after cities like Birmingham, Nashville, Orlando, Jacksonville and Houston."
Presently serving as a deacon at Cartersville First Baptist, the 44-year-old is continuing his volunteer efforts with Cartersville City Schools' mentoring program and Cartersville High School's student paper, "The Chipper." Barkley and his wife, Amy, are the parents of four children: Rylee, 15; Jackson, 11; Bryce, 9; and Charlotte, 8.
"I feel very fortunate for the time in which I live," Barkley said. "I know, there are things you read and see that make us feel differently. But, there are just as many positive stories going on. Never in our history have we had the tools to get those stories out there. It’s just up to us to make the effort to do so.
"I’m very appreciative to Dr. Harris and J. Robert White, executive director for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, for entrusting a legacy news journal, like The Christian Index, to me. Most of all, I’m thankful for the Georgia Baptists out there doing the work of sharing the Gospel and ministering to others. Theirs is the story to tell. I just see myself as the storyteller."