Medium, And Message, Hold Steady For Amish Paper

The headquarters for Amish newspaper "The Budget" in Sugarcreek, Ohio. i i

The headquarters for Amish newspaper The Budget in Sugarcreek, Ohio. Kiichiro Sato/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Kiichiro Sato/AP
The headquarters for Amish newspaper "The Budget" in Sugarcreek, Ohio.

The headquarters for Amish newspaper The Budget in Sugarcreek, Ohio.

Kiichiro Sato/AP

At a time when many newspapers are struggling, one unique weekly paper continues to thrive, much as it has for 120 years.

That's because it knows its audience: The Budget is the primary communication link among Amish worldwide. Recently, its writers gathered at the paper's headquarters in Sugarcreek, Ohio, to hone their journalism skills.

Think of The Budget as kind of a 19th century Facebook. It connects its subscribers — many of whom who have no electricity or phones — with family and friends scattered in Amish and Mennonite communities around the world.

But it's different from most weeklies; it doesn't have paid journalists. Instead, it uses hundreds of Amish volunteers it calls "scribes," who share stories and muse about the weather, births, deaths and farm accidents — in long columns with no pictures in sight.

Keith Rathbun, publisher of a 120-year-old Amish newspaper, sits at his office in Sugarcreek, Ohio. i i

The Budget's publisher, Keith Rathbun, works on the weekly Amish newspaper in his office in Sugarcreek, Ohio, in 2009. The 120-year-old publication remains the dominant means of communication among the Amish. Kiichiro Sato/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Kiichiro Sato/AP
Keith Rathbun, publisher of a 120-year-old Amish newspaper, sits at his office in Sugarcreek, Ohio.

The Budget's publisher, Keith Rathbun, works on the weekly Amish newspaper in his office in Sugarcreek, Ohio, in 2009. The 120-year-old publication remains the dominant means of communication among the Amish.

Kiichiro Sato/AP

Big news on Page 10 from the Eli J. Miller family in Fredericksburg, Ohio, reads: "My husband and I were taking a noon rest on the porch in our reclining lawn chairs. My husband was holding real still and informed me he had a bird in his hair."

The Budget has changed little since 1890. Only a handful of ads, mostly for farm equipment, support its 48 pages. It sustains itself with its 19,000 faithful subscribers who pay $42 a year to have the paper delivered to their mailboxes weekly. Circulation has been holding steady for decades.

The 800 Budget scribes who made the trip to the paper's office in Ohio got a chance to see how their letters make it into print. Hovering over computers, dressed in hand-stitched clothes, straw hats and bonnets, they watched their words become articles. Mennonite scribe Sherry Gore from Sarasota, Fla., kept her reporter's notebook close.

"I'm taking notes of every little thing that I see. And it's like just coming home for the first time," she says.

Atlee Miller, an 84-year-old who sports a long gray beard, black pants, a white shirt and suspenders, lives close to The Budget's headquarters. He's been a scribe for more than 15 years.

Articles sent in from various Amish communities in the country are entered manually into a computer. i i

Articles sent in from various Amish communities in the country are placed in baskets before being entered into the computer system. Kiichiro Sato/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Kiichiro Sato/AP
Articles sent in from various Amish communities in the country are entered manually into a computer.

Articles sent in from various Amish communities in the country are placed in baskets before being entered into the computer system.

Kiichiro Sato/AP

"Somebody writes about, well, this man fell out of a tree and broke his back — you know, a lot of people in the world today are not interested in knowing what goes on with people," Miller says. "Life is not all about ourselves; it is about your neighbor."

Miller is New Order Amish. He uses electricity and allows a home phone, but he doesn't have a television or drive a car. He says most Amish today follow news and politics beyond their own communities and subscribe to a daily paper as well.

"We live in the world just like other people do. So, we're affected [by] what goes on in the world. Even though we might not be a part of that, but we are affected [by] what goes on," Miller says.

Still, publisher Keith Rathbun says 80 percent of The Budget's subscribers are the more conservative Old Order Amish. For them, the paper is irreplaceable — and was hyperlocal in the days before that became a buzzword in the newspaper industry.

Sometimes, Rathbun says, that hyperlocal coverage and the news of the broader world merge. On Sept. 11, 2001, Flight 93 crashed in the field of an Amish farmer in Shanksville, Pa.

"We had a scribe there that was able to tell us, like, how that community felt about that. I get goose bumps. It's just pure in what it does," Rathbun says.

Still, he says young Amish appear to be getting more from their cell phones and the Internet than from newspapers. So he says he may have to take The Budget digital — someday. But for now, it will continue to deliver its news once a week to mailboxes around the world.

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