ONE OF THE FREE SERVICES we provide for readers is a Monday-morning newsletter, called the Planner, which publishes a half dozen newsy items each week about spirituality, media and cultural trends. (If you care to subscribe, click here and send us an Email with the word “subscribe.”)
On Monday, we published an unusual edition of the Planner with “5 Tips for Media Survival.” These five newsy items (which we are reprinting today, below) led to a lot of feedback—including a telephone conversation with Edward Grinnan, Editor-in-Chief of Guideposts.
In the Planner, we had praised Guideposts in “Tip No. 3” for launching a flexible new “Widget” that allows anyone to take the essential elements from Guideposts’ very popular “Our Prayer” Web site and “move” them to our own favorite home bases online. Specifically, this little rectangular “outpost” of the Our Prayer site can be tucked into 25 kinds of online homes. There’s a version for Facebook, MySpace, iGoogle, TypePad, Blogger—and 20 other places that serve as online home bases for millions of people.
I tried it myself and had Our Prayer nestled into my iGoogle homepage in just a couple of minutes. The 5 elements within this pastel-hued rectangle are: a daily “thought” that earlier this week was an inspiring line from A.A. Milne, a daily “devotional” that shares little inspirational stories, a yellow box to type up my own prayer, a link I can use to read thousands of prayers from other people and finally a link to read notes people send about “answered prayers.”
On Monday in the Planner, we said that this is a superb example of smart communication: Providing something that millions of people want (prayer)—and then placing it comfortably in their hands.
Grinnan said: “That’s it exactly.”
“We want to be everywhere that people’s faith-based values meet their daily lives,” Grinnan said. “Traditionally for us that has taken the shape of our magazine, but like a lot of other media companies now, we’re viewing our material as format agnostic.”
The exotic phrase means that Grinnan and Guideposts (like ReadTheSpirit) understand that spiritual media is not a specific format—not a book, not a movie, not a web site. It’s all about spiritual connection. And, if you’re among our thousands of readers whose congregations are a big part of daily life—this has major implications for the way people want to experience their faith in communities, as well.
“For years our tagline at Guideposts has been, ‘more than a magazine.’ We’re a nonprofit company and we’ve been fairly vigorous in all kinds of outreach activities over the years. What we ‘do’ is—we touch millions and millions of people’s lives. So, for us, we’re an organization that happens to publish a popular magazine, but we’ve understood that we were more than that since 1945 when Norman Vincent Peale and his wife Ruth founded the magazine.
“Ink on paper was the format they had then, but he started Guideposts because he loved letters people sent him in response to his books and his talks. He loved it that people have the urge to share their stories. Long before the Internet, we understood that Guideposts was a content-sharing endeavor.”
The “Our Prayer” project now is an online extension of Guideposts’ longstanding invitation for readers to share their prayer concerns via U.S. Mail, FAX, telephone calls and other forms of communication.
“Through all the formats, we’re now getting upwards of 2,000 prayer requests a day,” Grinnan said. A quick check online this week confirms that roughly half of that volume now flows through the Our Prayer Web site. Nearly 370,000 prayers now are posted on the Our Prayer site since that particular format kicked off in August 2007. Daily numbers have increased over time on the site.
The “answered prayers” section is a little thinner, most likely because it hasn’t been as widely promoted, Grinnan said. Plus, most people don’t take the time to come back and write up an “answered prayer” response. They’re far more likely to simply voice the initial prayer, trust in the outcome and move on with life.
Only about 9,000 “answered prayers” have been written up by Guideposts followers since August 2007.
Nevertheless, Grinnan pledges that a real person somewhere in the vast Guideposts network of readers and staffers and volunteers pays attention to each prayer—and in many cases multiple people do the praying. “Prayer has been an important part of what we do each week for many years,” he said.
Except that now, it’s easier than ever for men and women to send in those prayers via this flexible Widget. We don’t even have to click away from our online home base.
An iPhone app isn’t ready yet. It requires a different kind of digital programming. “But, an iPhone app is in the works and we’ll let people know when it’s ready,” Grinnan said.
And, when that happens—we’ll tell you here at ReadTheSpirit.
HERE ARE THE ORIGINAL 5 TIPS
PUBLISHED IN MONDAY’S PLANNER …
QUESTION YOU’LL HEAR THIS WEEK: “What works?”
So, all this week, we’re taking a practical look at skepticism, science and spirituality—focusing on important voices that bravely are offering practical, useful responses.
On Monday, we are publishing “10 Important Voices on Skepticism, Science and the Spiritual Challenges We Face.” AND, in keeping with the question—”What works?”—we’re casting our news items in today’s Planner as practical tips to our readers …
TIP No. 1:
DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER
(BUT WE DO, DON’T WE, SUSAN?)
One of the first decisions we made at ReadTheSpirit was hiring a leading graphic artist, Rick Nease, to design our book covers. (Example: Check out Rick’s cover of our James Bond Bible study book.) Other savvy publishers place a similar emphasis on covers. (Check out Skylight Paths.)
Well, in recent days, you’ve probably seen these exact words—”Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover”—in emails about the British singer Susan Boyle. I got quite a few of these from readers, including this YouTube link to her performance and interviews with her.
But, as Mitch Albom points out, the fact is that we did—and still do—judge this book by its cover. Susan Boyle skyrocketed to international fame in one week, precisely because of our bias against her appearance and personal style. Is she a great singer? Who knows? We’ve only heard a few moments of one song. Is she headed for a sad fall? We pray that’s not the case.
But the principle is absolutely crucial in understanding media these days. Like it or not, the cover—the first intriguing flash we see—is everything.
TIP No. 2:
BUILD STUFF PEOPLE WANT
AND PLACE IT IN THEIR HANDS
We’ve written on this theme many times: In our confusing, media-saturated world, the stuff that will thrive is the stuff we actually want—and that winds up easily in our hands. (Here’s one story we published on this theme, about an iPhone app called Instapaper.)
A fresh example popped up this week is the new Guideposts “Time Out Devotional Widget.” To get one, visit this site and click on the blue box in the middle of the page.
Here’s why this is a smart move:
First—prayer is something that hundreds of millions of Americans want. Polls show this over and over again.
But, the Web is becoming a confusing, time-wasting, messy swamp of a neighborhood. Guideposts sites are doing well, overall, but in this new “widget,” Guideposts makes the savvy move right into my Facebook page, or my iGoogle page, or my … Well, they don’t have it available yet for my iPhone, but you get the idea.
Note to print media, especially: As the Titanic of print is crunching into that iceberg and everybody is scrambling to jump into Web pages—the whole weight of community already is shifting toward stuff we can control, sort to our preferences and fit into the palms of our hands.
TIP No. 3:
DON’T GIVE UP ON A GOOD THING
Once again, a great example popped up this weekend, when a lot of Americans celebrated Record Store Day! As in … vinyl records!
Right! Talk about a technology millions of us tossed into Dumpsters or sold off at garage sales! But, vinyl has survived at least in a potent fringe of American culture. And, forgive me vinyl enthusiasts, but we’re talking about fairly bad technology in vinyl LPs.
Here’s the point: Books are too cool to die.
Skeptical? Read Tip No. 2 again. A book is a marvelous piece of technology that puts precisely what I want comfortably into the palm of my hand. Years after my iPhone has become a useless brick of black plastic and even the next generations of hand-held gizmos have become expensive Frisbees—I still can pull an 18th-Century, leather-bound prayer book off my shelf—and that page-flipping technology works as perfectly as the day in 1783 that a little shop in Boston bound my copy.
This is a tricky issue to sort out properly, but consider this forecast: Even small print newspapers may resurface, once overly leveraged media companies crash and burn—and smaller newspapers with modest budgets are reinvented.
TIP No. 4:
MAKE THE FOOD …
IN FRONT OF THE CUSTOMERS
“My blood ran cold” is among the comments by top media and marketing professionals who watched the gross-out video made by a couple of now-fired Domino’s employees. In the worst possible YouTube scenario for a restaurant chain, these two goofballs tampered with food, including stuffing cheese up one guy’s nose and then adding to it a sandwich—real time.
“It’s our special ingredient!” they laugh.
The camerawoman, also helping to prep this food delivery, guffaws: “That sandwich is going to have extra protein!”
It gets even yuckier with the salami, then the narrator warns that “in about five minutes” these will be eaten by unsuspecting customers.
By this morning, various versions of the gross-out video had gone up and down at YouTube as Domino’s played Whack-a-Mole. Here’s a corporate video trying to respond.
The point of all this ickiness?
Grassroots YouTube techniques are expanding at the speed of light. We’re among the many media companies actively teaching and encouraging newbies to produce easy-as-pie videos on YouTube. Our new ReadTheBibleToMe concept already has reached out to many individuals and congregations in just a couple of months—most of whom had never posted to YouTube until we encouraged them to try it.
We’re media small fry. But small fry now can become very influential. A YouTube-based food-tampering scare can bring a corporate giant to its knees. And at the community level? Imagine what can happen if a truly honked-off parishioner in your congregation starts posting attack videos on YouTube from a cell phone.
So, one of our founding principles and a crucial ingredient in building spiritual connections today is right there among our founding principles: “radical transparency.”
Advertising Age magazine pointed to Subway sandwich shops as an ideal. The twisted Domino employees never could have pulled off their gross-out video in a Subway shop.
Want to see what this “making-the-food-in-front-of-the-customers” looks like in online journalism? Check out the way we introduced, then explained the context and even the photographs in our Cold War-era spiritual spy story this past week.
FINALLY, TIP No. 5:
RESPECT YOUR ELDERS …
(Psst, Boomers—WE’RE BECOMING THEM)
I can’t think of a better way to demonstrate this point than adding a heart-felt note of best wishes to aging author Brennan Manning, the beloved priest, writer, recovering alcoholic and all-around saint to so many.
He’s still writing, although he’s facing some serious challenges to his health. His most famous book is “The Ragamuffin Gospel.” His brand-new book is “The Furious Longing of God,” right out of the central theme of his life and letters. Here’s a classic line: “The shattering truth of the transcendent God seeking intimacy with us is not well-served by gauzy sentimentality or a naked appeal to emotion, but rather in shock bordering on disbelief, wonder akin to incredulity, and affectionate awe tinged by doubt.”
As a special salute, we asked Brennan’s publisher to check with him and send us a couple of paragraphs—approved by him—that we can share with readers:
“With the release of ‘The Furious Longing of God,’ many readers are wondering what he’s ‘up to these days.’ This question has been fueled by notifications on his website that several of his scheduled events have been canceled due to health reasons.
“Brennan underwent successful cataract surgery earlier this year. During his recuperative time, adjusting to new glasses, he fell and broke his shoulder. His scheduled speaking engagements have been canceled to allow adequate recovery time. Please know that excellent physicians surround him, as do a circle of friends making sure he has what he needs, when he needs it. He covets your prayers for a quick recovery so the ragamuffin can return to doing what he loves most—traveling and sharing about God’s furious longing for us all.”
At right is a link to the Amazon page for his latest book, “Furious Longing.”
And, here’s a link to Brennan’s Web site.
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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)