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Medium, And Message, Hold Steady For Amish Paper

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Medium, And Message, Hold Steady For Amish Paper


Medium, And Message, Hold Steady For Amish Paper

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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At a time when many newspapers are struggling, one unique weekly paper is still thriving, much as it has for 120 years. That's because it knows its audience. The paper is called The Budget, and it's written for and read by Amish people around the world. Recently, its writers gathered at the paper's headquarters in Sugarcreek, Ohio, to hone their journalism skills.

Amanda Rabinowitz sent this report from member station at WKSU.

AMANDA RABINOWITZ: Think of The Budget as kind of 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 than 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.

On Page 10, publisher Keith Rathbun reads the big news from the Eli J. Miller family in Fredericksburg, Ohio.

Mr. KEITH RATHBUN (Publisher, The Budget): (Reading) My husband and I were taking a noon rest on the porch in our reclining lawn chairs. My husband was holding real still, informing me he has a bird in his hair. I looked and sure enough, a bird was fluttering around in his hair, pulling out strands of hair. He thought it felt kind of good, but I decided he better not sit out there too often if he doesn't want a bald head.

RABINOWITZ: 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.

Recently, The Budget invited its 800 scribes to its office in the heart of the country's Amish population in Sugarcreek, Ohio, to see how their letters go to print.

Hovering over computers, dressed in hand-stitched clothes, straw hats and bonnets, they watched their letters become articles. Mennonite scribe Sherry Gore from Sarasota, Florida, keeps her reporter's notebook close.

Ms. SHERRY GORE (Scribe, The Budget): I'm taking notes of every little thing that I see. And it's like just coming home for the first time.

RABINOWITZ: Eighty-four-year-old Atlee Miller, wearing a long, gray beard, black pants, a white shirt and suspenders, lives close to The Budget's headquarters. He has been a scribe for more than 15 years.

Mr. ATLEE MILLER (Scribe, The Budget): 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. Life is not all about ourselves; it is about your neighbor.

RABINOWITZ: Miller is New Order Amish. He uses electricity and allows a home phone, but 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.

Mr. MILLER: We live in the world just like other people do. So we're affected what goes on in the world, even though we might not be part of that. But we are affected, what goes on.

RABINOWITZ: 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 hyper-local in the days before that became a buzzword in the newspaper industry.

Sometimes, Rathbun says, that hyper-local coverage and the news of the broader world merge. On 9/11, Flight 93 crashed in the field of an Amish farmer in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Mr. RATHBUN: 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.

RABINOWITZ: Rathbun says young Amish appear to be getting more of their news 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.

For NPR News, I'm Amanda Rabinowitz in Kent, Ohio.

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