Written by Daniel Hazard
'Connectivity' is central to United Church News identity, purpose
As we prepared for the UCC's web streaming event on All Saint Sunday, a key word used in rehearsals was "connectivity," as we wrestled with the technology necessary to link - via an internet bridge - our three remote sites in Maryland, Wisconsin and Texas to our central control room in the Amistad Chapel in Cleveland.
Connectivity is a vital concept for us in the UCC: it unites our communities, it represents a network of care to those who are shut in or shut out and it ties us to our Creator through the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
As the "to do" page in my calendar turned from the technological intricacies of web streaming to the seemingly quaint task of putting pen to paper - actually, fingertips to keyboard - to write this column for United Church News, the concept of connectivity leapt again to mind. I considered what role a newspaper plays in this era of "podcasting" and "blast e-mails."
Why do we go through this exercise every other month, with its drain on resources, its challenge to an overburdened staff and its seemingly outdated method of distribution. Why do we do this?
The answer, I believe, lies in the same word: connectivity. And our stakeholders in this ministry seem to agree. The proof, as they say, lies in the data.
And who are our stakeholders?
First, it is you, our readers. Editor Ben Guess recently returned from a meeting of denominational editors, to report that, despite having the smallest staff of any of our ecumenical partners, United Church News has more than twice the circulation -180,000 - of our closest sister publication. Most denominational periodicals have a small fraction of our readership.
And each year, voluntary support from our readers continues to increase. So far in 2006, we have received more than $90,000 from individuals (and a few churches). We expect to exceed our goal of $110,000 for 2006 - the highest amount ever.
Second, there are our advertisers. Advertising is a largely untold story in our news and editorial pages, and that's as it should be. There is an important line between payment for space and newsworthiness; one should never influence the other. But organizations don't advertise in places that have no promotional importance.
Today's secular headlines frequently cite how ad revenues have plummeted in the newspaper business. Yet, advertising in United Church News has increased dramatically, this year generating more than $325,000, a four-fold increase in six years.
Then, third, there are our Conferences and local-church stakeholders. We are frequent recipients of comments telling us how important this communication conduit is for Conferences to get the word out to local churches.
In 2001, we had just 15 Conference editions; now there are 30. Because the national setting pays for printing, collating and mailing the Conference editions, in partnership with the national section, our Conferences collectively save more than a quarter of a million dollars to strengthen the connectivity with their local churches. This partnership between different settings of the church offers a successful model as to how we do ministry together.
Then, finally, there are our critics (the loving ones, of course), who fall into two categories.
First, there are those who say that a newspaper is passé, that all communication should be electronic. This raises serious inclusivity concerns. Many of our constituents are not web users, and getting all your information on-line can color the experience. Case in point: A recent story in The New York Times about the UCC's Stillspeaking marketing efforts was interesting enough - if you read it online - but if you saw the print version, you noticed a large image from our "bouncer" TV commercial on the front page of the Sunday business section - a much more gratifying experience for UCC members!
There is value to experiencing the paper as a whole - savoring its look and feel, and seeing Randy Varcho's innovative design. And it's portable. You can take the paper along with you or give it to a friend.
Then there are those who, legitimately, raise the question about affordability. It costs almost $80,000 for each issue. But, if you do the math, you will see that we are within shouting distance of matching our income to our out-of-pocket expenses, something beyond imagining just three years ago when our deficit for this ministry totaled more than $300,000.
This turnaround has been made possible because you, our readers, understand the centrality of connectivity to the health of our church. You have risen to the occasion, supporting this ministry with a chorus of "amens" - and cold, hard cash.