United Church News will end its newsprint edition later this year and move online its delivery of denominational news.
The decision was made on March 20 by the board of directors of the Office of General Ministries (OGM), which has been struggling with skyrocketing costs for the newspaper's production. Postage and printing costs have more than doubled during the past five years, with those costs now surpassing $125,000 per issue.
The National edition will publish three more monthly issues in April, June and September. The Conference editions — or "wrap arounds" — will end in April, although Conferences will have the opportunity to print one additional issue if willing to share the costs equally with the UCC's National setting.
"This was a difficult decision for board members, because it was rooted in significant financial angst," said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, the UCC's communications director and a former editor of United Church News. "But it also paves the way for the development of an expanded online news portal and, most likely, a new and different print publication for the United Church of Christ."
In Spring 2010, the UCC's communication staff hopes to launch a new, magazine-format publication that will be mailed to members' homes twice annually by paid subscription. "We envision an oversized, full-color, coffee-table publication of 80 to 100 pages," Guess said. "Something that will be as 'keep-worthy' and 'share-worthy' as it is news-worthy."
The OGM board decision came after it convened a day-long United Church News consultation on Feb. 23, attended by representatives of the OGM board and Executive Council, four Conference Ministers, a Conference Editor, several national staff and the five-person Collegium of Officers.
"What we heard over and over is that most people said they would mourn the loss of an 'identity publication' for the denomination, even if they went online to read the most-recent news headlines," Guess said. "And I have maintained that newsprint is not the best mechanism for accomplishing that particular goal if we're wanting a publication that evokes a sense of belonging and has a shelf life."
Guess said other communication tools will be employed to deliver news to church members, including the weekly "Keeping You e-Posted" e-zine — launched in October 2008 — which now reaches 52,000 readers each Tuesday. "We're receiving tremendous feedback about KYeP and the open-rate numbers indicate success," Guess said.
In April, the denomination's new online social networking community "MyUCC" will launch officially. "MyUCC will encourage unfiltered 'citizen journalism' in the UCC since every user can create and maintain a blog to report news and reflections for all to read," Guess said.
A successor publication to A.D. Magazine and the United Church Herald, United Church News was founded in 1985 under the leadership of its then-publisher Beverly Chain and its editor, the Rev. W. Evan Golder. The Rev. Robert Chase became its publisher in 1999. The newspaper produced 10 editions per year, until 2005, when that number was reduced to six.
As part of its action, the OGM board expressed deep appreciation for the editors, reporters, photographers, designers, advertisers and readers who have contributed to the quality of the print publication over the years.
"United Church News remains committed to publishing the news of our churches and the other settings of the UCC," said the Rev. Gregg Brekke, editor of United Church News since 2008. "The move to online news distribution, coupled with a revamped print publication and citizen journalism, provides a bridge to communicate into the future while meeting our current needs."