UCC communications: What's next on the horizon?
Written by Gregg Brekke
September - October 2009

United Church News and the Proclamation, Identity and Communication (PIC) staff  have experienced a period of rapid transition over the past several months. In addition to re-visioning how to communicate the news of the church, PIC has carried the load of Synod communications and production, and experienced the loss of almost one-third of its staff due to downsizing.

Other denominations' communications groups are undergoing similar cuts and expanding staff workloads, as are many UCC Conferences.

Secular news organizations have been reorganizing for several years and have yet to establish a consistent and sustainable model for daily news delivery.

Still, the necessity of national communications for the UCC has received consistent approval from the Office of General Ministries Board of Directors and the General Synod.

The end of the printed edition of United Church News is not the end of newsmaking in the UCC. New and more efficient means of communicating news will be deployed to facilitate this transition. As the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, UCC communications director, has said, "With shrinking resources, we can either struggle to pay for what's comfortable and familiar to us, albeit less of it, or we can choose to invest these same dollars in creative, emerging ways of communicating that will invite new interactions, conversations and people into our church."

Here is a sampling of the new or enhanced offerings that you may already be seeing in your email inbox or at your local church.

Online news and news digests

With the elimination of the printed edition of United Church News, all national news publication will shift to the internet and the UCC news portal www.ucc.org/news. The positive side of this shift is that all news will be "real time" or, at the very least, "near time." The bi-monthly print production schedule called for the collection of feature stories and notices in bundles, so they could be submitted in the print edition. The potential of a two-month delay between events and publication is eliminated by using these technologies.

Another upside to online news is the breadth of coverage offered on the news portal. Rather than being limited to the timeliness or "UCCworthy" qualities of a story, the news portal allows the communications staff to highlight many more stories from around the UCC; give substantial space to ecumenical and interfaith news; feature updates from myUCC bloggers; and provide fresh coverage of theological and cultural issues.

This online version of UCNews will continue to publish letters to the editor, commentaries, changes and obituaries in addition to offering advertising opportunities to our ministries and partner organizations.

The OGM Board and PIC staff are aware that not everyone has email or internet access. To that end, a bimonthly news digest will be produced in PDF format that churches and institutions can easily download, print and distribute to those without internet access.

The digest will contain feature stories, a sampling of letters and commentary, and with changes and obituaries.

While it won't be as large or as comprehensive as a 16-page edition of United Church News, the most requested articles and features of UCNews will be found in this digest.

Keeping You e-Posted

Last fall the UCC launched the weekly online newsletter "Keeping You e-Posted." The name is a throwback to a monthly print newsletter that was mailed prior to the  development of UCNews. It contains at least one feature story, a ministry highlight, sermon and Bible study resources, stewardship links and news headlines from the UCC and the wider church.

Most national feature stories, event notices and worship resources will be made available in Keeping You e-Posted. In addition to visiting the news portal mentioned above, Keeping You e-Posted is the best way to stay up to date on what is happening at the national setting of the UCC.

You can sign up at www.ucc.org/kyep.

Conference newsletters

What started as a partnership in publishing — the inclusion of Conference newspapers with the national edition — has also ended. Just as each Conference co-published its edition of UCNews a bit different from each other, the ways they will continue to communicate vary.

Most Conferences and Associations are publishing weekly or monthly electronic newsletters or plan to do so in the near future. In some cases, the software being used to distribute these newsletters has a simple "print" button that allows pastors or church administrators to print copies for distribution to members without computer access. If you are not yet getting these communications, please ask your local church, Association or Conference if such a newsletter is available — online or in print.

Online Conference news

The latest development in the news strategy going forward is the inclusion of Conference news on the UCC's national news portal. Conferences soon will be able to use the UCC's electronic publishing tools to create and distribute their  news alongside national news items. The addition of Conference news to the UCC's news portal is one way the partnership between Conferences and United Church News can be maintained. It is also an exciting opportunity for people across the country to read what is happening in other settings of the UCC.

Social networking on myUCC

Social networking invites news gathering, news sharing and relationship building in multiple directions. More than 4,000 UCC members are now posting, commenting, blogging, ranting and sharing at myUCC, which launched just six months ago.

The community is just beginning to tap into the power of "citizen journalism," an exciting possibility for the future of newsmaking in the UCC. Join myUCC at http://community.ucc.org.

Looking forward

The Board and staff of OGM, along with Conference ministers and communicators, realize that for many the transition to electronic newsmaking is a difficult one. Yet collaborative ingenuity — and faithfulness to the many constituents within the UCC — has yielded several options for delivering news to our denomination and the broader world.

As you read the following stories of how church communications have changed, you are invited to reflect on how this pivotal time can be used to continue the UCC's witness of the still speaking God to new and existing generations. 

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