Written by J. Bennett Guess
Budget cuts prompt new, creative thinking
Imagine if the UCC, like many of our denominational counterparts, had an online news service with ever-fresh content. Just think about logging on to an interactive website—not unlike msnbc.com or cnn.com—and finding up-to-date religion news from a UCC perspective. Envision constantly-posted stories, releases, features, commentaries, letters, reviews and analysis.
Well, that's what we've been stewing about lately, and that's just what we're hoping to unveil—soon.
On page 3, you'll read some, well, depressing news that this newspaper—starting after this issue—will have its publishing frequency reduced from 10 to six issues annually. To be honest, we weren't too hip to that idea.
We believe earnestly that a less-informed, less-engaged church member translates into a less-involved, less-committed church member. As an independent-voiced newspaper, we believe you have the right to know the good news, and the bad news, about your church—its programs, its leadership, its administration, its finances, its worship, its prayerful visioning and its future direction—and without spin.
But when the writing was on the wall about the cost prohibitions of continuing our current 10-issue print format, we decided to quit whining and start dreaming.
We started asking ourselves: What if an online news service could actually deliver better, more-instantaneous news to our readers? What if, instead of a static post of our monthly stories, we could post stories regularly—even daily—so you didn't have to wait for the news to be delivered by U.S. mail? Could there actually be some advantages to shifting our emphasis—at least in part—to a web-based news service?
To be sure, there are advantages to print publications. I'm a newspaper guy; I love them. They are portable—you can read a newspaper at breakfast, on the sofa, in the bathroom, at your desk, on the bus, even in the car. (Hopefully, not while you're driving, even though some do.) Moreover, newspapers are intrusive—they come to you and beg for your attention. And if you've got a subscription, you get the paper. You don't need a computer to read one.
That's why—for the above reasons and more—we'll always insist on some sort of printed publication. But having obliged the nay-sayers—and I've been one of them—we also know there are some weighty advantages to engaging, not running from, emerging technology.
A web-based service will be more affordable and instantaneous, less restrictive due to page-count limitations and more accessible to those with disabilities. It appeals to newer, younger readers, and it allows us to offer video, invite immediate feedback and provide far-deeper levels of coverage. Stories can be enhanced by links to church-produced resources, online polls can garner your response, and news can be archived and searched much easier. Our product will be available to you whenever and wherever you need it.
Yes, we're still in the scheming phase, meaning you'll be learning more in the weeks to come. We know we've got our work cut out for us. We've got less staff—not more—to take on such a project. And, right now, United Church News has about 175,000 subscribers compared to the 10,000 monthly online viewers that ucc.org currently attracts.
Still, there's vast potential, and we intend to tap into it. We're working as a unified communication team to make it happen.
As the Rev. Robert Chase, this newspaper's publisher, has said, "If we proceed creatively, this can offer us more—not less—opportunities."