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New all over again

By David Wilson

I spent far too much time in university leafing through old magazines in the library and not enough time focusing on what I was supposed to read. The bound volumes of periodicals such as Life and Time dated back several decades, and I was drawn to them like an ant to a picnic. Even now, I find myself getting sidetracked when I go looking for something in the old bound volumes of The Observer we keep in our office. Poring through old magazines is like opening a time capsule: they reveal a great deal about the time and place of their creation. So welcome to The United Church Observer, circa 2007.

With this issue, we're introducing a series of changes that I like to think are evolutionary rather than revolutionary -- another step in a long journey dating back to this magazine's origins in the first half of the 19th century. First of all, a word about how we arrived here. For the past year, we've been asking our readers and ourselves a lot of questions, both informally and in a multi-stage reader survey, conducted by Totum Research Inc. The upshot is that you, our readers, are intensely loyal. Eighty percent of you look into every issue you receive and almost 60 percent of you read more than half of the magazine. As well, four out of five agree that they look forward to receiving The Observer every month. Numbers like these would make any magazine editor flush with pride.

You also told us that you want a magazine that measures up to your favourite non-church magazines. So a major order of business has been to build upon design changes we implemented last spring after we introduced better quality (and environment-friendlier) paper. I won't list them all -- you can see them for yourself. But the overall effect, I hope, is to make the magazine brighter, more energetic and contemporary-looking. We've also changed the way the magazine is organized. The opening pages contain many reader favourites -- Letters, Everyday Ethics and Question Box -- as well as a new package of short stories under the heading "First Look," designed to stimulate discussion around the church water cooler (sorry, drinking tap).

Next up are the feature-length stories -- "must-reads" for people of faith and, perhaps, those who are on the edges of Christianity but seeking answers to questions relating to faith, ethics, justice and the journey of life.

The third section, "This United Church," focuses more directly on The United Church of Canada. You'll find features relating to the life of the church, expanded coverage of church news, and how-to articles for congregations, as well as a new column ("At Issue") focusing on challenges facing the United Church, with shared authorship by Rev. Connie denBok of Brampton, Ont., and Rev. Michael Webster of Saskatoon.

As you continue to read, you'll find we've beefed up the back end of the magazine with stories on combining faith with family life ("Your Family"), a new pop-culture column ("faith.culture.now"), an expanded Reviews section and an exploration of faith's big questions ("Decoding the Bible").

It looks different, but much remains unchanged. That's what I mean about the changes being evolutionary. I'll be happy if future magazine junkies see them as part of an effort to engage our time and place. I'll be overjoyed if college kids someday find us a worthy distraction.

Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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