What the Church can learn from Newsweek and Tina Brown

Tina Brown

I heard an interesting piece on NPR earlier this week with Tina Brown, the Editor of Newsweek Magazine, who has recently announced that they will shut down their print edition and go fully digital by January. I admire Tina Brown’s risk-taking, her leadership and her bold vision. I think her controversial magazine covers are an example how art and perspective can snag even our information-soaked, buzzing attentions long enough to pause and simply look at them. I’m impressed with her latest move to shut down the old and jump into the new. It’s a gutsy move, and there is no shortage of naysayers that it will work.

I think most church leaders could take some notes from Tina Brown. She’s surrounded by people who have said “We’ve always done it this way” and “It will never work” and “But what about _______.” It’s not easy to block out those voices and trust your intuition, even when you feel pretty convinced that you’re onto something. It’s not easy to try something that hasn’t been done before.

I couldn’t help but think of the parallels of print/digital journalism and traditional/emerging church while I was listening to her interview. She realizes the world has changed, much as she adores the old one. She doesn’t hate print magazines. It’s not anger or indifference running her engine. She’s adapting, she’s willing to notice trends and real world changes and she knows it’s just not going to work any longer to pay for a weekly news magazine. That’s respectable enough. But what’s really impressive is that she’s figured out how to change AND stay true to what Newsweek does best- how to dial it up, expand it, move it around, cut out the excess. The Daily Beast is one example of this. It’s a well-known and widely used website for people looking for their daily (and hourly) news. It reports with immediacy. But it also provides a variety of  levels of interaction. If you want the cheat sheet of the day’s top stories, you’ve got it. If you want a more in-depth look at an issue, here’s a column. You want video, photos, opinion pieces? Sure. I realize lots of sites do this. I happen to think The Daily Beast does it really well. And I’m eager to see them translate their print magazine to digital.

I heard one commentator say that not all print journalism is dead. The New York Times is doing fine, and is projected to do so for a good while. The problem is, not everyone is the New York Times.  In the same way, not every church is the Catholic Church, or the Episcopal Church. They may be able to keep things the same for a while and add a few new things along the way. But for the majority of us, and certainly for those of us in emerging churches, we don’t have any illusions about becoming that “stable.” We aren’t seeking print journalism, so to speak. That train has long left the station. We’re trying to figure out what being church means in the digital age- how to dial up what we do well, how to create multiple points of entry for people at various stages of faith, how to connect through not just talking and not just ideas but creative pursuits and multiple intelligences. And that requires some risk-taking. It certainly requires an ability to listen to your gut more than you do the naysayers. Because let me tell you, few people thought Journey Church would be around 14 years later.

Kathleen Deveny, in a 2009 article at The Daily Beast about earlier changes at Newsweek, said she believed there was a future for the magazine, because “while there is no shortage of information out there, we believe there is a scarcity of insight.” I think that about sums it up for my thoughts, too. There’s no shortage of spiritual information and practice out there. What people are looking for isn’t the round up of weekly news. What we need, and what the community of faith can provide in a unique way, is insight, embodiment, relevance, and meaning-making. With all the noise coming at us nonstop, we  don’t need more information. What we want is some depth, some context, and lots of space for interaction and experimentation.

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