Most people start thinking seriously about the new year as the clock approaches midnight on Dec. 31. We began thinking about 2015 before 2014 was barely half over.
Once a year, usually during a brief summertime lull in our publishing cycle, we take a discerning look at the content of this magazine. What’s working? What isn’t? Could we do things differently? Better? It’s like an annual checkup.
The exercise also involves thinking about context. We don’t live in a vacuum. The world is constantly evolving, so our response to it needs to evolve too. Doing things the way they’ve always been done is not an option.
Among the tangible realities we face: a shrinking universe of mainly United Church readers; the secularization of Canadian society; intense competition for readers’ time. Among the intangible realities: an appetite for stories about the United Church; a reservoir of general goodwill toward the United Church “brand”; a widespread interest in spirituality, social justice and ethical living.
The new content that commences with this issue reflects the questions we considered in planning for 2015. You’ll notice five main changes:
• Spiritual but Secular. This is a monthly department examining the ways in which the spiritual-but-not-religious phenomenon has taken hold in contemporary society. The column, authored by Hamilton writer Anne Bokma, doesn’t seek to promote secular spirituality over traditional religious practice but rather recognizes its growing influence and explores how modern secular and religious values intersect.
• Grassroots Witness. Once a month, we’ll report on the various ways local United churches and organizations are seeking justice and loving mercy.
• Quote Unquote. Alternating authors Very Rev. David Giuliano and Mardi Tindal — both frequent contributors and former United Church moderators — describe how selected written passages have transformed them spiritually.
• Verbatim. This regular feature spotlights noteworthy United Church people, who introduce themselves to you in their own words.
• Currents. Ottawa writer Rev. Trisha Elliott will survey contemporary theology, each month examining a major trend. The department is designed to familiarize readers with cutting-edge theological thinking.
At the same time as we’ve been updating the content of the magazine, we’ve also been thinking about our digital future. With help from the Ontario Media Development Corporation, we undertook a major review of ucobserver.org last year to determine how it’s serving the needs of people in the United Church and, significantly, whether it’s reaching users who do not have a formal connection with the magazine or the United Church but share similar values.
The upshot of the process was a decision to accelerate the development of our digital presence. For starters, ucobserver.org will get a facelift to make it more attractive and easier to navigate on computers, tablets and mobile phones. And while the website will continue to showcase selected content from the print edition, it will also feature much more material produced specifically for digital consumption. We plan to roll out the revamped ucobserver.org within the next six months.
The print version of The Observer will continue to be our bread and butter for the foreseeable future. But the line between print and digital is getting blurrier all the time. In a few years, there will be no distinction between the two. Content will be content, whether it’s online or on a page. But our challenge will be the same as it has always been: to provide quality content, whatever the medium.
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
Sheima Benembarek was born in Saudi Arabia, grew up in Morocco and moved to Canada in 2005. In 2015, she relocated to Toronto. At first, the city seemed so much bigger, impersonal — and even threatening — until a fateful encounter in the subway one day.
Founded in 1829, The United Church Observer is the oldest continuously published magazine in North America and the second oldest in the English speaking world. It has won international acclaim for journalistic excellence and garnered more awards for writing than any other Canadian religious publication. Read more...