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Thursday, June 1, 2006

Is it time for 'UU Voice' to abandon paper?

Michael Durall writes in the latest issue of the independent UU Voice that the Spring 2006 issue may be the publication's last:

This newsletter is an all-volunteer effort, though it costs about $6500 per year for layout and design, printing, and mailing. If a benefactor or congregation wishes to fund an issue or two of The UU Voice, I'll continue publishing. Please contact me if you're interested.

Even though suspicious types might distrust me on this — I edit the "official" magazine, after all — I would be sorry to see UU Voice join the long line of defunct independent periodicals addressed to Unitarian Universalists. But the Voice might be even more effective for a whole lot less money if it used the next $5000 or so to launch a fully modern periodical on the Web. The truth is that after it's built, the right kind of Web site requires next to no expense for design, publishing, or distribution. For the cost of printing one issue, you could get yourself a mighty fine Web magazine full of state-of-the-art publicity features and run the thing for practically nothing.

Sure, it could be done on the Web for less money. But does that mean it could have as much impact? Durall may not yet have grasped how much the media environment has changed, especially for younger Unitarian Universalists. If he's interested in finding a new way to leverage change, I'd suggest he look more seriously at the Web. (Oh yes, I'm also looking out at other, as-yet-unknown folks who may have their own visions for new publishing alternatives.) After all, the UU blogs are already inclined toward critical examination of denominational and congregational cultures; they resist the "party line"; and they tend to attract cranks — just like niche publications! Go where the action is, I say.

An open-source content management system (like Scoop or Drupal) or a free or fairly inexpensive non-profit license for a highly adaptable high-end blogging application (like Movable Type or Word Press) could provide the technical infrastructure. These low-cost publishing platforms come with RSS publishing, email newsletters, comments, and other highly interactive and useful features built in. That's like getting postage for nothing. Some even have a kind of constituent management component, enabling you to keep track of your supporters.

These tools aren't expensive, although it's worth spending money to have them adapted to your specifications and designed to project your distinctive brand. And, using these publicity tools, an independent periodical could plug itself directly into the conversations among UU bloggers — amplifying its voice and expanding its audience. As you can imagine, I'm keenly interested in how UU World can adapt to the Web, too, even though the print magazine remains a vital service to congregations and their members. (Or so I dearly hope.)

My point is very simple: Don't let a few thousand dollars kill off your interest in an independent periodical. Focus UU Advance's vision through new Web technologies and reach out to a new audience.

In the lead editorial, Durall writes:

I never envisioned The UU Voice to be anything comparable to Zion's Herald [an independent, financially strapped, progressive Methodist magazine that is about to relaunch as The Progressive Christian], but I do yearn for a UU publication that takes into account wider issues of contemporary religion beyond Unitarian Universalism. I wish we had a publication that included the voices of today's theologians; that published pro and con opinions on current religious issues; that contained in-depth book reviews; and that brought the world of religion into the day-to-day lives of UUs across the land.

Me, too! But the reality is that neither UU World nor UU Voice's publishing models can accommodate this vision right now. I hope that uuworld.org can grow to accommodate some of it by opening up space for articles that don't fit within the limited constraints of four 64-page issues of UU World or its mission as a general-interest magazine. But I especially think that the Web can help independent, volunteer publishers economize and focus on attracting an audience to important content rather than worrying over printing and postage costs.

After all, think how inexpensively individual UU bloggers have attracted significant audiences without spending a penny. Did Peacebang have to spend $6,500 every six months to attract a couple hundred readers a day? Nope. She did it for nothin'. There's a lesson there.

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 1 June 2006 at 8:40 PM

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14 comments:

h sofia:

June 2, 2006 12:57 AM | Permalink for this comment

Sounds like UU Voice needs to give Peacebang a column of her own!!!

Samawel:

June 2, 2006 02:44 AM | Permalink for this comment

You could allow the old stylers a PDF file if they still want a print(able) edition.

PeaceBang:

June 2, 2006 06:52 PM | Permalink for this comment

I love your point about how the UU blogosphere specializes in CRANKS! So true, so true.
Loving cranks.

I published an unbelievably cranky, long piece in the UU Voice and have always appreciated its mission. I too hope that it can recast itself as an internet enterprise if it's too expensive to maintain a paper periodical.

StevenR:

June 3, 2006 12:26 AM | Permalink for this comment

So what remaining independent UU periodicals are left?

UU PLANET:

June 3, 2006 08:18 AM | Permalink for this comment

The UU Voice could probably greatly enlarge its readership and impact by making a transition to a collaborative online format. Give that baby and RSS feed and lookout!

Despite a healhty community of blogging UU cranks, I think it is important to have an independent publication like the voice. If you look at Michael Durall's work as editor of the UU Voice and author of The Almost Church, he is working to raise expectations for what our faith can be and what we can accomplish. His self described inclusion of a "heresy or two" in the UU Voice are important reality checks for the UUA.

I think moving to an web based format for the UU Voice would make it easier to include MORE UU voices and allow for quicker response to issues. For example, I agree with the 2006 UU Voice notes on the UUA's logo. Where's the base? But I'm done with the logo already. Though must say that as a former preschool teacher whenever I look at the logo I see the helmet of the White Power Ranger...

I doubt that congregations are going to come forward to sponsor issues of the UU Voice. That means its either going away or to a new online format. If it does morph into a new and improved website, I can see having an annual collection of essays from the UU Voice be printed via on demand technology through cafepress or some alternative.

I hope all of you UU Bloggers who realize the potential for a new online format will email Michael Durall. Share your suggestions. His website is www.vitalcongregations.com

Is PeaceBang up for a column? Who else would you nominate? Philo, maybe you can facilitate the creation a slate of heretics to offer the UU Voice.

Philocrites:

June 3, 2006 08:39 AM | Permalink for this comment

What independent periodicals are left? Good question! Three affiliate groups still publish annual journals: The Unitarian Universalist Historical Society, the UU Christian Fellowship, and HUUmanists.

I haven't seen a copy of "The Universalist Herald" in several years, so I have no idea if it's more like a newsletter these days or more like a small magazine.

A bunch of groups publish a newsletter: The New Massachusetts Universalist Convention "Newsletter" is my favorite 2-pager: always succinct, always on-topic. The Christian Fellowship publishes "Good News." Many advocacy groups also publish newsletters.

But I'm not aware of other periodicals that try to address a cross-section of Unitarian Universalists anymore. There's also not a periodical for ministers' writing (unless I've missed it), although there are several study groups that circulate papers among themselves.

Anyone else know of UU-oriented periodicals?

Scott Wells:

June 3, 2006 10:05 AM | Permalink for this comment

The Universalist Herald is a twenty-page (or so) magazine, bimonthly.

Philocrites:

June 3, 2006 10:20 AM | Permalink for this comment

Here's the Universalist Herald's website, where you can order a subscription for $12.

chutney:

June 4, 2006 12:09 AM | Permalink for this comment

I've wondered before why UU Voice wasn't more focused on its web presence. Seemed like they were making it harder than it needed to be. Get an account with a webhost that takes paypal payments, accept paypal donations on the site, and the whole thing might just pay for itself.

Mambo/Joomla has a new magazine plugin called iJoomla that could be useful for Durall. But Joomla is sort of like buying everything Craftsman makes just to put up a ceiling fan.

I'd really hate to lose the UU Voice's voice. Seems like a situation that could easily be remedied.

fausto:

June 4, 2006 07:31 AM | Permalink for this comment

Speaking of cranks, the AUC was publishing a quarterly print journal. Did they stop?

Philocrites:

June 4, 2006 09:04 AM | Permalink for this comment

The American Unitarian hasn't been published in a year — and I haven't seen a whole lot of activity from the Conference in a while, either.

Someone could do a study of the difference between Richard Trudeau's New Massachusetts Universalist Convention — one guy's crisp and compelling (if not always entirely historically accurate) push to evangelize a modern Universalism among UUs, which I've thought has had perfect pitch — and the push to "revive" "classical Unitarianism" by the American Unitarian Conference. The AUC bit off more than it could chew, seemed to have too many messages at once (no politics in the pulpit! no humanism either! but we're not Christians! we love the late 19th century!) and always seemed to me to suffer from a lack of charisma. Perhaps if they had tried to do less they would have accomplished more.

StevenR:

June 4, 2006 06:39 PM | Permalink for this comment

I note the AUC website says that a newsletter (to be monthly) came out in March 2006 - if so, it isnt dead yet.

Ron Robinson:

June 5, 2006 06:29 PM | Permalink for this comment

I recently received a whole bunch of new AUC Journals. I think the issue date was from last December but I think it is a new one. Articles include Gifts of the Magi by Ken Herman, The Central Teachings of Jesus and the church's failure to make them central by Steve Jones, Grace by Tom Wintle, The ongoing search for renewed hope by Matt Grant, The religious principle in human nature by WE Channing, a sample communion service for Christians and Walking by Faith by James Freeman.

The UUCF Journal vol. 60 will be out later this summer and can be ordered now. Its thematic focus is on Universalism. The next issue will be updated liturgical resources (for those of you who have or remember the red journal Communion Services and Sermons).

And if you haven't gotten your hands on the latest Skinner House Book, Christian Voices in UUism, I wanted to let you know that it is being shipped now, can be ordered online through the UUA; besides the 15 contemporary essays, it includes comments by editor Kathleen Rolenz, a forward by Carl Scovel, and a nice "blurb" by Earl Holt.

I too would hate to lose the Voice; I still have years of back issues; maybe someone will scan them in some time as well as keeping the journal going online.

Donald Wilson:

June 6, 2006 10:47 AM | Permalink for this comment

My worry is this:

There are still a LOT of UUs (including many youth and young adults) who do not have regular access to the internet, and those that DO have access often don't know about sites like FUUSE, CYF, Philocrites, ConnectUU, and any of the other blogs.

Yes, this is coming from a blogger, and IT geek. I know that when I advertise for a Youth or Young Adult con in the Heartland District, the "standard" online places will not get a VAST number of people.

I also didn't know that the UU Voice existed before I read this article.

So I begin to wonder if it's not "money" that's the issue w/ the UU Voice, and rather its mindshare in the UU environments. If more UUs knew about it, would they have more subscribers and money? How many UUs are there online regularly (or irregularly) who don't even know that the UU Blogosphere exists?

~DW



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