Blogs, Magazines, and Journals

The Bloggernacle is composed of a few dozen people who run weblogs that talk about “Mormon Studies” topics, plus a few hundred people who read the weblog content and sometimes leave comments. The two best-known publications that cater to that sector of the LDS audience that is interested in “Mormon Studies” topics, Dialogue and Sunstone, are likewise staffed and run by a few dozen people plus a few dozen authors, and read by a few thousand subscribers. You would think there would be a lot of overlap between these two communities, bloggers and subscribers, wouldn’t you? In fact, there is no one from the publisher/author side of the subscriber community (with the exception of BCC’s own John Hatch) who has taken an active role in the LDS weblog community, and precious few Bloggernacle regulars who appear to be subscribers or regular readers of Sunstone or Dialogue, much less authors (with the exception of BCC’s own Kristine Haglund Harris). Why is this so?

No doubt several people will chime in claiming to be both subscribers and bloggers, and if you are it would be nice to hear which side of the divide you started on and how you “bridged the gap.” But I think my observation is largely correct and I’m curious why. Here are three possible explanations that spring to mind:

1. The Hidden Bloggernacle. Maybe the LDS weblog community, which after all has only really existed since November 18, 2003, has simply not come to the attention of publishers and subscribers. However, I don’t think this is the case. Blogs and blogging get mentioned frequently in the mainstream press now, the SLC press has mentioned specific LDS weblog sites a number of times, and anyone who does Google searches on LDS topics even once in a while is likely to have visited a few LDS weblogs even if they previously knew nothing about the LDS weblog community. I think the Bloggernacle is known to subscribers, just like the publications are known to bloggers who, nevertheless, don’t generally subscribe.

2. A Generation Gap. Maybe the subscribers are part of the magazine generation and bloggers are all from the Internet generation. But everyone uses computers now, don’t they? And bloggers seem to read plenty of LDS books, so why shouldn’t they be drawn to LDS periodicals?

3. It Just Takes Time. Maybe the two communities will have more overlap in a few years, but it just takes time for people to learn about other options and commit. Blogs take time and subscriptions cost money, so there is a commitment involved. But the cost to subscribe is fairly small, and bloggers see the time they “invest” in blogging as a payoff, not a cost.

Any other ideas?

Comments

  1. More cost. Sunstone and Dialog rarely have articles I’m interested in. Why should I subscribe when I’m not interested in 90% of the stuff? If there is an article I really want I can photocopy it. But generally even the ones I might find interesting aren’t interesting enough so as to pay.

    Contrast this with blogging. I simply don’t read the ones I don’t like and read the occasional one I do like. Further there is enough diversity that I can find the blogs that cater to what I’m interested in. Dialog and Sunstone have to have much broader focus. So you get social commentary, history, poetry, fiction, all from a variety of “religious” views. That just needn’t happen with blogs.

  2. Rosalynde says:

    I’m a Dialogue reader and writer, and I also read Sunstone, though I don’t subscribe. And don’t forget BYU Studies: I’m also a subscriber and contributor to that publication.

  3. Dave,

    Just to add to your data, in addition to those you mention on the author side, Jim Faulconer has published in Sunstone (and in collections published by BYU Religious Studies), Nate has published in the Farms Review, Melissa has published in Dialogue, Rosalynde has been published in BYU Studies, and Russell Arben Fox was part of the old Student Review (and may have published in Sunstone as well), and Ben Huff is a driving force (along with Jim F.) behind the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology — which sponsored the Yale Conference a couple years ago.

  4. Nate Oman says:

    Dave: I currently have subscriptions to Sunstone, Dialogue, and BYU Studies, although I have to confess that I do it almost out of a sense of duty. Like Clark, I am simply not interested in most of the articles. I am far more likely to read most of the articles in an issue of Greenbag or Philosophy and Public Affairs (both of which I also have subscriptions to) than I am to read most of the articles in an issue of Dialogue. I find that I keep letting my subscriptions to Mormon publications lapse (like my FARMS subscription at present) and then I will wait awhile before resubscribing. My point is that being involved in the paper world of Mormon studies is expensive if you live far away from the Wasatch front or don’t have easy access to an academic library. Getting involved in blogging is much cheaper.

  5. Nate Oman says:

    I have also published in BYU Studies. I had a letter to the editor published in Sunstone, but I am not sure that really counts ;->

  6. As others have noted, there is a difference between being a subscriber to Dialogue and Sunstone and being a reader. I have never subscribed to either publication although I’ve read all the worthwhile articles in both and also written for Dialogue. Since both BYU and Yale have all the back copies of both, I read them there and let them use their shelf space to store them. Shelf space is a valuable commodity in a little apartment!

    All five floor to celing bookshelves in my house are already filled to capacity. I’d need to get a bigger apartment with more wall space for more bookcases before I could subscribe. In reality, I probably never will subscribe since I can buy all the back issues on CD from Signature for a couple hundred bucks if I ever happen to live too far away from BYU or Yale for convenient library access.

  7. I suspect there is a generation gap between the average subscriber and the average blogger.

    Dave, I did notice that Levi Peterson, the editor of Dialogue, apparently commented on your blog the other day. At least I think it was him.

  8. Why stick to subscribing when you can jump in and participate in near real time? Speaking of jumping in and participating, though, Sunstone just issued its call for papers for the Sunstone West symposium scheduled in April. Now’s your chance to come together with the magazine types: Sunstone West 2005

  9. Justin:

    I noticed that is well, but didn’t want to make a fuss — it’s definitely him (or at least whoever it was used his e-mail address).

    I’ve noticed this divide as well. And I also have to admit that I had hoped that a few more AML-List participants would read and comment on my blog. So far Clark, Ivan Wolfe and a couple of others are the only ones who have become regular Bloggernacle participants.

    I think part of it is that time is a valuable commodity and people get set in their ways — why jump into something new when what you have is comfortable and fulfilling?

  10. Thanks for posting this Dave. I was thinking there might be a generation gap but since blogging is so new, I think it’s just that it hasn’t been completely discovered yet. Searches are still a challenge for some of the older generation. In reading through the book reviews, topics of interest, and posts on these Mormon blog sites, I personally see much overlap. Many of the authors and scholars reviewed and discussed have written for Dialogue, are subscribers, are on our board, have some affiliation now or have in the past. What I am hearing from some is that subscriptions are expensive, and Dialogue isn’t interesting enough. So what is interesting? We really would like to provide that. Give us specific topics of interest or write an essay about this. I can tell this site attracts writers! Our editors are now dialed in to these sites so let us have it! We have a New Voices program where students can submit articles, essays,and poems to get a FREE subscription. If your article is published-you’ll get $300 cash. As far as shelf space is concerned, we have just finished scanning all our past issues. In a few weeks, all the journals up to the latest issue will be available on one DVD for only $35. That’s not expensive. And…for FREE again… You can currently view and research all issues of Dialogue up to year 2000 through our website http://www.dialoguejournal.com. The Marriott Library at U of U is hosting this for us. The site downloads fast for me, but I have DSL.

  11. I was just discussing this very issue today with a founding member of Dialogue whose friend is currently on the board. He was telling me, and from what Lori wrote this appears to be true, that several people on Dialogue are very discouraged with the lack of the younger generation to stand up and get involved. My personal take is variations of the three issues listed by Dave. I also think Dialogue has gotten a bad name. I think it went very bitter in the mid 90s and lost a lot of support. And even though it doesn’t have that axe to grind feel anymore I think people haven’t come back. It is no longer the journal that an E. Oaks type could sit on the board–though I think that it actually is again. I think the younger generation is a little less prone to publicly grind axes. I think this might be a result of certain changes in the Church where now alternative ideas at least feel like they are more accepted or tolerated than they were in say the 70s (from what I hear). Perhaps I am way off. What do others think?

  12. Nice comments, everyone — and my apologies to the many “blogging authors” that I didn’t highlight earlier.

    I thought of an additional explanation. In the sixties and seventies there were two big social issues hanging over the Church: ERA and “women’s lib,” and racial desegregation and the priesthood ban. Both of these issues were deep enough to reach the “average Mormon” and cause some to explore, even question, LDS doctrine, and the vehicle to do that would be . . . LDS periodicals providing information on those relevant issues from an LDS perspective (whether faithful or questioning, it’s still an “LDS perspective”). This is the period when alternative LDS periodicals emerged and flourished.

    Today, in 2005, I don’t think there are any parallel “mobilizing issues.” Abortion or homosexuality/SSM are probably the best candidates, but there isn’t much rank-and-file consternation with the present LDS stance on these issues, they just don’t run as deep for the average member. There is simply less dissatisfaction with the LDS Church than there was, I think, in an earlier era.

  13. Not to cross-promote, but Nate has had a couple of posts on this topic (what he called “The Greying of Mormon Studies”) at T&S here and here

    And Armand Mauss talked about it at some length also, here (see question 5).

  14. Dave, I noticed Levi’s comment too, and was tempted to be all swoony, but decided cool and diffident was the way to go.

    And now we’ve got Lori (Winder-Stromberg, I presume?) commenting too? We are definitely cool kids now!

    Actually, I’m sort of an old fuddy-duddy. I like paper journals and subscribe to all of them (at least when I remember to actually *mail* the checks!) I cut my teeth on Dialogue, literally–my dad was an early subscriber and wrote an article in the early days, so we have copies of the first few volumes which bear the marks of being chewed by the baby me.

    I hear the “bitterness” or the move away from orthodoxy described as having occurred at various periods, but it’s usually the period that the speaker stopped reading! I think these perceived changes may have as much to do with how orthodoxy has moved around as with how much the content of the independent publications has changed.

    Dave, I like your big issue theory–one additional possibility is that it was possible to imagine a church in which black men held the priesthood, and it wasn’t so very different from the current one. Changes in women’s status were (and are) harder, though still possible, to envision within the structure of the church. And, alas, I think it’s virtually impossible for people to imagine a church more accepting of gays, because that would put us not in the mainstream of (American) society, but really out in the vanguard, where we haven’t been since, oh, say 1890. It’s harder to get people thinking and talking about things that are unthinkable!

  15. I think all the comments have been really good. Generation gap, funds, and control seem to be the big three that all intertwine.

    Heck, I worked for Sunstone and couldn’t always get excited about everything. I think these paper journals feel a duty to publish on a variety of topics and use a variety of creative outlets (fiction, poetry, etc.) Blogs are more or less driven by public demand. If I post something that no one finds interesting, it fades away rather quickly with a few comments underneath it. If someone posts on a hot topic, there can be hundreds of comments that allow posters to feel personally involved.

    I will add, however, that until I worked at Sunstone, I failed to appreciate a great number of articles in most journals. I’d skim for the history articles or the controversial stuff, and ignore the rest. The fiction can really be very good, as can the personal essays. But I doubt I’ll ever like the poetry…

  16. As most of you know by now, I grew up as a Mormon in England. I do not know one person who subscribed to any of the LDS periodicals. I was going to say that it may have been the cost of international shipping that put people off, and that in contrast blogs are (pretty much) free. But I’ve yet to see any Euro-based bloggers or commenters in the ‘Nacle either. Where are all the non-American Mormon intellectuals? The periodicals don’t interest Europeans, nor do the blogs. Luddites.

  17. I don’t think, John, the posts with comments are always the most popular ones. There are quite a few blog posts that I really enjoy reading but never comment on.

  18. DK Landrith says:

    For my part, I’m really only quite passively interested in Mormon Studies. The only thing that really animates me about them is the intellectual snobbery that is evidenced when Mormon Studies mormons get together and begin to talk about how much better the church would be if their favorite hobby-horse became doctrine.

    I post comments in the bloggernacle for fun, because I like to pretend that I’m saying earth-shatteringly smart or funny things and interacting with some of the smartest and coolest Mormons on the planet. But in reality, I’m not doing anything terribly important or memorable. Many of those who publish for Mormon Studies publications actually are.

  19. DKL —

    “But in reality, I’m not doing anything terribly important or memorable.”

    Perhaps not important, but definitely memorable, on occasion.

  20. My idea, but mostly tongue-in-cheek:

    Bloggers enjoy the fact that nobody necessarily will know that they are reading BCC on the internet. It’s a subversive activity that can be easily done at night, in the closet, with the lights off. But if you had a copy of Sunstone on your coffee table when the hometeachers came by- well, … That explains why bloggers don’t subscribe.

    Subscribers don’t blog because there is no need for them to slink around- they proudly display their sunstone. They perhaps think all this blogging is a bit cowardly because it’s not out in the open. They wish bloggers would come out of the closet…

    OK- I’m just kidding.

  21. For DKL:”
    I would say that both venues are important and can effect change. Only a few from either will be memorable. The blog scene has potential and fills a niche. I like it. It’s refreshingly open and honest and easy to contribute to and isn’t stifled by the grammatical rules and etiquette the scholarly publications feel they have to adhere to.

    For Ronan: From 2002 to 2004, Dialogue sold over 300,000 copies of pages from Dialogue overseas. The company that pays us isn’t able to track where the orders come from in Europe or even what articles were copied. All I know is we get these mystery checks from our copyright broker covering the foreign Libraries/Universities. There must be a lot of non-American Mormons somewhere in Europe reading from the Journal. When we start to offer subscriptions electronically, it will make Dialogue more accessible AND affordable.

    In response to Dave’s comment on parallel mobilizing issues…is it just a sign of the times? Most people do appear to be less dissatisfied, (or is it complacent?) whether it be with their Church or within their States. Could it be the trend is to try to work for change within systems rather than fighting against it? And maybe that’s just not as exciting to read or write about? In the 60’s and 70’s, rebelling against all systems, alternative thinking, alternative lifestyles, and questioning was the popular thing to do. Mormon’s were not immune from all that collective energy. Now it seems the current national trend is to go with the flow. I don’t meet too many radicals anywhere anymore. Maybe I’ve been sheltered being in Utah too long. They were a dime a dozen in the 70’s. I lived in Chicago. Did they lose their cool factor or just quietly go underground as Jordan suggests? I really miss them.
    And Kristine-I’m not the ‘Lori’ you refer to.

  22. But Jordan, kidding is usually laced with the truth. I suspect that to some degree you’re right. There is a kind of safe voyeurism in lurking on blogs on the internet. Not to promote an analogy that I think doesn’t apply, but why do you think that addiction to pornography has exploded in the last decade? There was too much work and humiliation involved to get the paper publications. Internet is easy, and relatively anonymous.

    Okay Steve, start the flogging, I suppose I did just compare our blog, the apple of our collective eye, to internet porn…

  23. Karen- I was kidding mostly about the “subversiveness” of BCC. But perhaps there is some truth to that jest… After all, you yourself did just compare it to pornography. ;)

  24. Well, Jordan, you’ve incisively pointed out the flaw in my argument. Kudos! :o)

  25. Dialogue sold over 300,000 copies of pages What exactly do you mean by “pages”, Lori?

  26. Dialogue sold over 300,000 copies of pages What exactly do you mean by “pages”, Lori?

  27. Copies were made of pages from journals. I assume entire articles were copied and used in classrooms. We are paid per page, per copy.

  28. Karen, I don’t think the analogy is unfounded. Blogs can be, to a certain extent, intellectual pr0n. We snark when we want, get instant gratification from half-finished thoughts, and never think about the implications of our acts.

    And that’s how it should be.

  29. Nate Oman says:

    John H. writes: “Heck, I worked for Sunstone and couldn’t always get excited about everything.”

    John,

    I am sick and tired of your constant complaining about how boring Sunstone is? It is like you have some sort of personal vendetta against what can only be described as the most facinating and virtuous magazine on earth. I wish that you and the rest of the orthodox anti-intellectuals would quit your whinning.

    Nate

  30. Nate Oman says:

    ! not ?. Oops.

  31. Davis Bell says:

    I just scanned the comments, so maybe someone already mentioned this: the journals have a lot of baggage that the blogs don’t. While it’s quite possible that Elder Oaks may single out blogs in a future conference address, he hasn’t yet done so, and until he does many don’t feel as conflicted about participating in them as they do subscribing to Sunstone or Dialogue.

    Also, the Bloggernacle is much more intellectually accessible; even though many contributors are well-educated, posts are shorter, less academic, and more informal. This appeals to many who don’t have the time/interest/background for a longer, academic article in one of the journals.

  32. Levi Peterson says:

    I find myself editor of Dialogue at 71. I am certainly not alone in selecting what goes into Dialogue, but obviously I have a great deal of influence on that process. Admittedly my values were formed a long time ago though I’ll add that I’ve not been entirely negligent of the Internet and its resources, serving still as an instructor of online English classes for Weber State University. I’ve always thought of Dialogue as one voice amid an encouraging number of other voices. Dialogue inclines toward the liberal side of Mormonism, but now as hitherto it endorses the discussion of all sides of an issue. The kinds of things Dialogue publishes can be found in other publications, but none of them offers the precise mix of Dialogue, a mix which includes academic and scholarly articles, personal essays, short stories, poetry, and book reviews.

    I confess that, before becoming editor, I almost invariably skipped some of the offerings in my quarterly issue of Dialogue. Even so, I recognized the value of such pieces. As editor, I sometimes publish articles on topics that do not interest me personally, trusting the judgment of other members of the Dialogue team and of our many peer reviewers that such pieces will make a valuable contribution to serious discourse on Mormon issues.

    Obviously, Dialogue is limited in its offering by what its contributors submit. Both the editorial team and members of the board of directors work at soliciting new material. We are very interested in submissions having to do with the Internet and the ways it can be adapted to Mormon topics. I predict that Dialogue will evolve a considerable online component. Whether it will replace or simply co-exist with the printed journal will depend on subscribers. I personally predict that subscribers will keep the printed journal alive. I for one prefer the solidity of the quarterly issue that shows up in my mail box. In any event, as Lori says, we are awake to the prospect of online publication, and we are very willing to look and listen.

  33. Hello, BCC. This is an interesting discussion, although I recognize that I’m probably coming in just before it dies. In the paper world, I’m a long-time subscriber to Dialogue & Sunstone; I’m now on the editorial board of Dialogue, and a columnist for Sunstone. I like the feel of paper, the fact that it is easy for me to take where ever I go, and the way it helps me to remember interesting things. For those of us involved with academics, it is also true that articles published the old-fashioned way carry more weight in our work than do electronic ones.

    Still, I do value the internet. I have had my own webpage since 1994 (google: nielsen psychology religion). I’ve been a long-time subscriber to email lists, and I’m involved daily in several bulletin boards devoted to Mormonism. As time permits I also read blogs (I visit here every week or two) and I’ve been known to google just for the pleasure of it.

    The two types of forums serve different needs, but both are valuable to me. I like the in-depth, and usually more scholarly treatment of subjects I can find in the paper world. Something good can happen to ideas when they are put to paper after having been reviewed by others who really know the subject matter. But I also like the give & take that is found in the bulletin boards and the blogs. To me, they are different but complementary approaches to exchanging ideas and wrestling with issues.

    There are excellent, stimulating ideas to be found in each type of publication, but each has its quirks. I know several people who lurk here but who don’t get involved because the give & take strikes them as a group of friends talking, even joking with each other. It can seem rude simply to jump in and challenge a point made in a post. (We don’t often do this in real life, so what makes it OK in cyberspace?” the logic goes.) To be honest, that’s one of the things that has kept me from getting involved here or at other sites. Other hurdles are simple things like balancing time demands… it would be easy to spend hours every day reading and commenting on things that interest us, wouldn’t it?

  34. Nate Oman says:

    Michael: I agree. Ultimately, blogs are excellent forums for throwing out and thrashing out half-baked ideas. Peer reviewed journals do a better job of producing more rigorously thought out scholarship.

  35. Jonathan Green says:

    I agree that paper journals will be with us for a long time, and I can confirm that “jumping in and challenging a point” is a rocky way to go from lurking to participating. But we all have to start somewhere, don’t we?

  36. Jonathan, I think you’re right on with that comment. Blogging is, at its heart, a form of micro-publishing. We should treat it as such — a way to get our ideas out there.

  37. Cool website with great content! Keep going!

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