When someone begins a report with the Shakespearean expression "Don't shoot the messenger," that's typically the end of its literary beauty. Last March, I received just such a report with just such a preface. I trace to it the beginning of the effort to produce the magazine you hold in your hands today.
The report I received last spring warned of a sharp postal-rate increase by summer (another, smaller one is coming this summer as well). Because it affected mainly publications with strong theological, political, and cultural points of view, the rate hike arguably represented a break from a mandate rooted in the founding of the Republic. Speaking of the nation-building power of public information, George Washington cast a vision for a network of post offices that would "bind [the] people to us with a chain that can never be broken." Congress echoed Washington in 1971 by reiterating that the U.S. Postal Service should "bind the nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people."
The practical effect had been cheap (I'll admit it, "subsidized") postage for periodicals such as WORLD. But in this age of instant news on wireless phones, it is difficult to argue that democracy requires preferred rates to tote pallets of ink on paper from our Pennsylvania printing plant to mailboxes all over the country.
So times change and WORLD must change with them. The role of print in the frenzied world of 24/7 media isn't diminished; I will suggest that print is even more important today than ever. The nature of the print medium supports more thoughtful coverage of the world around us-a perfect role for WORLD magazine.
After receiving the postal report, I met with Marvin Olasky and Mindy Belz-editor in chief and editor, respectively-for two days of discussion about what makes WORLD unique. We concluded that our strength is not our ability to tell you that an event happened, but to place it in a biblical context and try to explain what it means. WORLD is at its best when it faithfully provides biblical worldview perspective on stories that are unreported, underreported, or misreported by other sources of information readily available.
It would be crucial, then, that WORLD not retreat in the face of rate hikes and increased competition from always-on and free sources, but rather find a way to deliver more. As we thought through our next move, we turned to you for your thoughts on a thicker biweekly versus our then-current 48-issue schedule.
As Joel Belz reported in his Oct. 6, 2007, column, a large majority of you urged us to push ahead and make WORLD bigger and better. Many of you more than merely registered a "vote" on a multiple-choice ballot: You left helpful comments that totaled more than 170,000 words. I read each one.
Even some of you who disagreed with the idea expressed genuine love for WORLD; you said you pray for us and you're rooting for us. In general, we heard from readers who (1) lacked the time to keep up with the weekly issues and appreciated a biweekly schedule, (2) looked forward to deeper, richer content, or (3) favored our doing "whatever it takes" to keep your favorite magazine moving ahead.
Reader feedback such as this is another way the digital media revolution is changing print for the better. You may have heard that interactive media have turned news "from a lecture to a conversation." Jay Rosen, a blogger and professor at NYU, helped popularize this notion in 2005. The seed of that journalism-as-a-conversation idea was sown by three academics (one of whom, George M. Killenberg, was a journalism prof of mine back in the day) with a book on the subject as early as 1994.
Going forward, then, I want to call to your attention a seemingly small new feature: At the end of our columns you'll find our names and email addresses. I won't promise a personal response to each email, but I will promise your emails will be read.
We've waited months for this moment-and I don't want to delay your tour of the magazine. So, go on and have a look around, but I'd ask that you come back and share with me your candid reactions to the new WORLD.
If you have a question or comment for Nick Eicher, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.