A new look for a new time

9/2/2010

The September 2010 issue of The Current is a milestone on a number of fronts.

First, the September issue begins the 15th year of publication since the former Central Illinois Conference’s edition of The United Methodist Reporter and the former Southern Illinois Conference’s Connexion merged into a single publication aimed at providing news and information to the newly-formed Illinois Great Rivers Conference.
 
Under the very capable leadership of Bettie Story and Rev. Paul Widicus, The Current became a valuable part of the conference’s communication system in providing timely, informative and fact-filled stories about the conference and its member churches while still keeping an eye on telling the larger story of the national and global church as well.
 
Our commitment has not wavered from those beginning steps as a new conference. However, times have changed and how people get their news and information continues to be in a state of flux and our latest move is in keeping with the times in which we live.
 
Beginning in August 2006, the conference’s communication system was heavily invested in print media. In fact, $1 of every $2 of the operational part of the communications budget was spent producing a newspaper every two weeks.
 
At that time, news stories and information were held until it was first published in the newspaper. If the item was breaking news, then it might have been published on the conference List Serv, a large email mailing list.
 
The communications team also needed to find a way to expand its video ministry. Beginning with video stories at the 1999 annual conference, this ministry, under the volunteer leadership of Rev. Bruce Weiman, continued to grow and demand for production of in-house video increased exponentially.
 
So as our audience begin to ask for a more diversified communications product without spending significantly more money, we began turning the ship in August 2006.
 
With the assistance of the U.S. Postal Service’s change in Second Class bulk-rate rules, we made the decision to go to a monthly newspaper . The Postal Service’s rule change resulted in a 10 percent surcharge for mailing the newspaper for sorting our printer previously did at no charge.
Realizing that such a move would leave a vacuum in the information flow, we opted to start publishing news in real time, posting it on the web as it was occurring. In order to bolster the new news cycle of web first, then newspaper, we began publishing a weekly e-newsletter, The Current Week in Review. More than 2,000 readers now subscribe to the e-newsletter.
 
Other ministries and some of the districts have also discovered the value of e-newsletters as more than 20 different publications are now produced from IGRC ministries on a monthly basis.
 
Our savings from this shift was just over $40,000. Our additional expense for the e-newsletter service was less than $1,000, meaning 10 percent of our communications budget and 40 percent of our operations budget could now be reallocated for the much-needed video ministry and the emerging web technologies needed to keep the IGRC on the cutting edge.
 
In mid-May, we launched another major improvement to our system when, collaborating with Brick Rivers Technology in Exeter, N.H., we unveiled the new IGRC website. Replacing a website and system that resembled a patchwork quilt, the new site has provided an integration of online event registration, posting of audio and video files with new features such as volunteer mission opportunities, an area where churches can share how something worked for them (It Worked for Us), a clergy locator and a church locator.
 
Navigation has been simplified and made more redundant, so that visitors can find what they are looking for from a number of different ways.
 
The result has been a significant spike in website traffic.
 
The last vestige of the old system was the newspaper format of The Current.
 
As the news cycle had made much of The Current less timely and more a means of providing a single place where folks can get their information, we asked ourselves, “Is there a better format for sharing this information than a newspaper?”
 
As we thought, we realized that in many ways, The Current still had a role to play in providing a digest of news and information but not in a timely manner. This is the role that magazines still play in the mass media market.
 
So we started developing a redesign where we will retain the newsprint for cost effectiveness but the focus and type of stories will be more features and less time-sensitive information.
 
Employing a strategy used by many newspapers, the monthly cover story will be a “First in Print” story that will only be published to the website after its print publication.
 
Such a strategy, however, relies upon our readers. We invite you to tell your story. As you can tell from this issue, we have an abundance of stories that have come in through the summer hiatus.

But we envision with your help, our stories are infinitely many and we want to tell them. We may not be able to use all of them but please know it is our desire to continue to tell your story and corporately, our story, even as the ship takes us new places on the journey.