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The Evangelical Connection to Beliefnet's Sale

Beliefnet's new parent company includes evangelical advisors. Plus: Rod Dreher's blog will move off of the site.

Advisors to a small media company that acquired the large multi-faith website Beliefnet include evangelicals such as Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice and T.D. Jakes, pastor of Potter's House in Dallas.

Last week, BN Media LLC purchased Beliefnet from Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which also owns The Wall Street Journal and Fox News. Steve Halliday, president of BN Media, said the company plans to create further cross-promotion between Beliefnet and its subsidiaries.

The for-profit company owns Affinity4, which specializes in channeling 10 percent of consumer spending to charity, and Cross Bridge, which creates video content. Halliday says the editorial control will be left to the discretion of Beliefnet editors. Sekulow and Jakes serve as Affinity4 board members and Cross Bridge advisors, but Halliday says the company will create a separate multi-faith advisory board for Beliefnet.

"We like what Beliefnet does," he said. "We're simply looking to add tools to that to make the user experience even broader."

Halliday says that Beliefnet pages will have cross-promotion where the company feels it is appropriate.

"You could be watching a video on Beliefnet where T.D. Jakes is talking about water wells for Africa, and at the end, it would say ‘Click here to go to Affinity4 to give to the effort,'" Halliday said.

Terms of the transaction were confidential, Halliday said. News Corp. laid off several Beliefnet employees during the transition, but Halliday declined to say how many.

Halliday sees video content as part of the key for success in online publishing.

"If you take YouTube and Hulu as two examples, you can see phenomenal growth," he said. "It's better than a Kindle reader: you have things to read, you can push a button, and take action in one place."

Beliefnet has an average of 3 million unique visitors per month to its website, which hosts blogs written by several Christian writers, including Scot McKnight, Ben Witherington, and Rod Dreher.

Dreher, director of publications at the John Templeton Foundation and former columnist for the Dallas Morning News, said he is moving his blog off of Beliefnet later this summer when Templeton launches an online magazine.

Dreher's blog departure was planned in January, so it had nothing to do with the acquisition, he told me. He has high praise for his Beliefnet editors who gave him editorial freedom and never told him not to write about certain subjects, but less praise for its former parent company. News Corp. purchased Beliefnet about two years ago.

"Beliefnet could have been integrated into the News Corp. organization as a gatherer and disseminator of religious news and opinion for News Corp. properties, but that never happened," Dreher said in an e-mail. "I know too that Beliefnet has long wanted to get back into the business of religious "hard news," but the fact of the matter is, the soft-focus spiritual features are what drove traffic to the site."

Dreher, who usually writes commentary related to current events, said he wondered whether his blog's readers were that interested in the rest of Beliefnet.

"[R]eligiously observant journalists like me love to complain that the American media doesn't get religion, and it really is true. But what if the American public doesn't get religion either, at least not in a journalistic sense?" he said. "I mean, what if they don't want serious, sustained and critical coverage of American religious life, both the good and the bad, but rather prefer their religion news to be soft and self-helpy?"

Beliefnet was founded in 1999 by Robert Nylen, who died in 2008, and Steve Waldman, who left the company last year.

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