Leaving a Changed Magazine Behind

churchmagazinesMy wife and I have subscribed to the church magazines–The Ensign, for our tweens and teen-agers The New Era, and for our younger children The Friend–for all of our married life, more than 20 years. But this year, after some discussion, we simply decided that we were giving up on them entirely. No more subscribing. We’ve saved ourselves $26.

Part of the reason for this decision is changes in our family, and changes in technology: so much is available for free online (recommendations for home teaching and visiting teaching, policy changes, etc.), and plus our oldest is essentially off living her own life now, and our youngest have outgrown making use of the puzzles and stories that the church offers for children. But a larger part of the reason, I suppose, is that we never felt any deep attachment to them–and as their content and editorial styles have changed, that lack of attachment has grown even more pronounced.

For myself, I have no memory of ever getting anything positive out of The Friend as a child or The New Era as a teen-ager. Possibly I did and I just don’t remember it, but in any case, it doesn’t weigh on me now. As for The Ensign, there I do have some fond memories–but they only make my own current lack of affection for the magazines more poignant. Specifically, I can remember finding old copies of The Ensign from the late 1970s and early 1980s in various mission apartments while in serving in South Korea from 1988 to 1990, and I became a real fan of the magazine, cutting out and photocopying old articles right and left. Why? Because it seemed to me to be filled with doctrinal substance–reprinting complete talks by Hugh B. Brown or J. Reuben Clark or Melvin J. Ballard or Lowell Bennion. Plus, long and detailed and actually (though never heavily) scholarly pieces by Hugh Nibley or John L. Sorenson. Not to mention having a fair amount of often genuinely decent (or so I thought at the time) adult essays and fiction. So yes, for The Ensign, that attachment used to be there.

Of course, the fate of that which I appreciated about the magazine was predictable: eventually, whether in the 1990s or in the past decade or more recently than that (I haven’t paid close enough attention to tell just when), Correlation finally caught up with whatever elements of the institutional culture of the old Improvement Era and other earlier church magazines, which presumably had somehow managed to hang on for however long, and stamped them out. I page through the magazine now, not just The Ensign but all of them, and I see almost nothing which I feel properly challenges or informs or edifies me. Lots of homilies and exhortations (many of which, I don’t deny, are needful!), and almost all of them from general authorities. Whatever happened to that fine stable of writers who once produced good, original, creative copy for those magazines, I don’t know. (Well, except I can guess, anyway–when policies changed such that much fiction was discouraged, and everything they accepted was supposed to 1) be based on “actual events” and 2) be applicable to a particular statement by a general authority, you can imagine how appealing that was to truly talented writers.)

Anyway, the church lost us a diligent readers of the magazines years ago, and now they’ve lost some of our loose change. What about you? Do you still read The Ensign? Do you kids still makes use of The Friend? I’m curious how common or uncommon my feelings are.

Comments

  1. Whatever happened to this post? I refuse to believe it was Dear Censorship that took it down.

    M. Patricia Laughlin

  2. Nope, sourggw2, just a scheduling error. Now it’s back.

  3. As a teenager the New Era articles were too simple to capture my interest. As an adult, I have had the same reaction to the material in the Ensign. In the last few years the only issues I’ve spent much time on are the months with conference talks.
    When last month’s magazine came bundled with an advertisement and sample issue of a conservative newspaper, I decided not to renew my subscription. I’ll read conference transcripts online from now on.

  4. I used to love the Ensign, but over the last few years the content has become less interesting, more preachy, and less relevant for me. And I found the visiting teaching messages more and more frustrating (the same topic every month for a year as though we lack the intelligence to grasp a message without a condescending level of repetition). So I gradually stopped reading it. I tried picking it up again sometime last year, but the first thing I read was a kayaking story, the moral of which was apparently that you can’t have hobbies because it’s impossible to balance them with serving the Lord so you should just entirely give up activities you love to do. Sigh. When my subscription ended a few months ago, I did not renew (that was very cathartic), and I haven’t missed it one jot. If I do need to refer to it for some reason (typically only for a bloggernacle post), I can find it online. But I live a happier, less frustrated life when I just stay away from the Ensign.

  5. I generally find an article or two in each issue that is interesting and helpful.

  6. Utahhiker801 says:

    I haven’t read the Ensign in years but it is still delivered to my house every month. I think I stopped reading The Friend to my kids at FHE when it struck me so hard how every article seemed like propaganda. I’m sure “propaganda” is too strong of a word, but the articles just seemed so contrived and without any nuance I’d end up feeling angry about them. Yes, it is important to teach children and reinforce principles through stories, but there has got to be a better way to do it.

    The renewal notice just came the other day, and I really like the idea of non-renewing. I should throw it away before my wife sees it; she doesn’t read them either, but I’m sure she’ll feel a religious obligation to subscribe. I would prefer to pay for practical advice that doesn’t feel like shallow manipulation.

  7. My children love getting their own magazine in the mail, but I live in fear of the day they can actually read it.

  8. True confession: I LOVED The New Era as a teen. I decorated my room with Mormonads (along with my Seiji Ozawa posters, of course) and memorized poetry from the poetry contests. The issue in which “You’re Not Alone” was first published is in tatters and was still, last time I visited, in the basket of music next to my parents’ piano.

    #mormonnerdsarethebiggestnerds

  9. ps–my kids don’t read it

  10. I let my subscription lapse a few years ago. Like you, I felt that the articles in the Ensign were simply repetitive and uninteresting. But the clincher was when they started publishing articles about modesty in the Friend. My seven-year-old did NOT need to learn that Jesus wanted her shoulders and knees covered up.

  11. After the publication of the Callister talk in this month’s Ensign. We’re not renewing. It’s all online anyway, why pay for it?

  12. Conference issues of the Ensign get read, and they the other issues do pile up in the library of porcelain fixtures for occasional browsing, but I’ve found less and less that really engages me as much as those older versions of the magazine. And I am increasingly looking at it either through my Gospel Library app or online, than reading the print version.

    We also got the sample copy of the Deseret News National Edition, and my reaction is that it has more in common with a JW tract than an actual newspaper, so I intend to shun that.

  13. Meldrum the Less says:

    Many decades ago I imaged myself to be among the talented young Mormon writers whose stories and ideas deserved to be published in the church magazines. I had taken some writing classes at the old AC (now USU) and had been encouraged. I sent the newly correlated church publications several articles, mostly stories beginning when I was a missionary in Japan. The experience of having them rejected because other material was deemed of greater value than my stories was not discouraging to me in the least because I was of the opinion that even if 1% of my work was ever published it was worth it. Writing was a hobby not a discipline or profession.

    What frosted me was when my mother noticed one of my articles and called me up to tell me that somebody was putting my name on the wrong article. The article, a short story I submitted had so been altered, distorted, pruned, etc., virtually flipping the message completely around that my mother (who typed all of my college papers) did not recognize the slightest hint of my voice in it.

    I attempted to call the editors of The Ensign and discuss this unprofessional behavior, drastically editing my article far beyond what I would have given permission to publish and I was never able to have even a brief meaningful conversation. I have submitted a couple of editorial comments to those other magazines we are admonished to ignore from time to time and I have always been treated with nothing but professional helpfulness and the utmost courtesy. In one instance, Lavina Fielding Anderson took substantial time to help me rewrite an editorial response and greatly improve it; my voice and near her level of writing.

    That was it for me taking the LDS correlated publications seriously. About once a year I glance at a few articles while visiting relatives and conclude little has changed. They do not take us seriously and treat us like children when we contribute. Why should we take what they produce seriously as anything more than childish drivel?

  14. I was looking at a bunch of proselyting materials from the Jehovah’s Witnesses about 20 years ago, and I thought the saccharine photographs and the editorial tone were embarrassing. I was so glad our own magazines didn’t look like that. A few years later, I felt like our magazines started looking more like JW materials. Not even talking about the content, but just the artwork and something about the writing style that I can’t put my finger on.

    I haven’t renewed my Ensign subscription for several years, but my mother keeps sending me gift subscriptions.

  15. kevinf, I didn’t see your comment before posting mine. I guess I’m not the only one that noticed the similarities to JW tracts.

  16. Yeah I think it’s time to let our subscription lapse. Wait, how will I learn that women get the kind of men they dress for? I’ll just read it online. The only thing I really need is the VT message, which is not only insultingly repetitive, it’s getting skimpier and skimpier. (It was like two paragraphs last time.) Although I admit I usually read the glurgy ‘Latter-Day Saint Voices’ because they are like a train wreck… impossible to look away.

    The free issue of Deseret News, National Edition smacks of desperation. And they’ve definitely shown their hand too soon for me. The more I know you *want* me to subscribe to this newspaper to keep it afloat, the less likely I am to do so.

    Come on, its 2014. They have this thing called Internet now.

  17. When I was a kid I thought I was really grown-up and mature for my age because I preferred reading the Ensign to the other magazines. Now I recognize that it was just because the Ensign treats adults like children.

  18. Fiction is discouraged?

  19. The Friend is an FHE godsend around our house. Our kids love the stories, which teach simple life lessons in ways they can understand. It may not be Hans Christian Andersen, but it also isn’t Fairytopia Volume 196 (if you have kids in the US who bring home Scholastic book orders, you know what I’m talking about), for which I am eternally grateful. Sorry, but this time I think you guys are thinking way too hard. I can’t really comment on the New Era, but it strikes me that the Ensign is also pretty well designed for its audience, most of whom are just average church members who rarely read anything, maybe went to college, and would rather catch a football game on the boob tube or play bunco that read Wittgenstein. The topics are all kinds of repetitive, but since so many people likely only really read the magazine once every few years, that would make sense.

    But yeah, the DNews thing that came with the last Ensign was way creepy. As if it weren’t bad enough that so many church members voluntarily choose news outlets (Fox) that intentionally limit their worldview.

  20. “rather catch a football game on the boob tube or play bunco that read Wittgenstein” — there are people like that?

    Steve, I know you told me so but hearing it from an anonymous commenter on the blog has made it so much more real for me.

  21. I am maintaining my subscription to the Ensign for a least another month or two in a hope (admittely long-shot) that a copy of Dialogue is included with a future edition. What can I say? I believe in a God of miracles.

  22. Dave K–truly you are a man of mighty faith. I hope you get your miracle (but do keep breathing normally in the meantime).

  23. The Friend was a great help for FHE, sacrament meeting and just reading at bedtime. We even did a few of the recipes that were included that became family favorites that small children could make almost on their own. But there was an issue a few years back that had an illustration of Jesus, I think, in a flowery meadow with a bunch of children gathered around and a big white building in the background. When it arrived I wondered who had sent me a Watchtower.

  24. We’ve subscribed our entire married life, but do a miserable job of reading them, other than Conference issues. I will say, that when I read stories from the Friend to our four children, it’s generally a good starting point for further discussion on that topic. Also, if the prophet believes we should have these magazines in our home, then that’s good enough for me. However, I think the church has done a fantastic job utilizing the technology that’s available today and understand why many people may choose to save a few bucks.. But it appears from the comments and post, that most who are opting out of church magazines are opting out because of the content, not because they can easily access it online. I don’t mind the repetitive messages, honestly. We hear the same thing over and over in church as well, primarily, I think…because most of us need reminding. (At least I do.)

  25. I, too, have been of the opinion that the Ensign is rapidly approaching the editorial quality of the Watchtower publications. The only thing missing at this point is an article on how to avoid getting dengue fever so we won’t need to visit the hospital and get a blood transfusion.

    I used to try to listen to the audio version, but I got really, realy sick of hearing The Primary Voice urgently pleading with me to change my wicked ways in every article. Now I can’t read the thing without hearing that same tone of voice in my head.

    So, I listen to Glenn Beck instead. Same message, but presented in a more entertaining way.

  26. RAF, totally agree re: Ensign late 70’s, early 80’s. There was spectacular writing there, in particular essays by members that were intellectually challenging, socially revealing, and faith-promoting all at the same time. In the midst of the on-going revolution that was/is American culture, you felt like part of your own LDS revolution, an intellectually-respectable dynamic that was nothing less than the Kingdom making itself increasingly manifest on Earth. It made me feel the way I imagine St. Augustine felt in Hippo writing the City of God.

  27. For what it’s worth, the Friend this year includes articles on career choices for children to consider. January’s was a woman who chose to be a school teacher. I’m honestly half-expecting that a future edition will highlight a woman in a traditionally male career. It will be interesting to see.

  28. Kevin Barney says:

    Russell, my experience has been almost *exactly* the same as yours. To wit:

    – I have no recollection of ever finding anything I cared about in the Friend or New Era.
    – I do have fond memories of the early Ensign. Those dusty stacks of old Ensigns in missionary apartments were a very important part of my Gospel education.
    – Now that only GAs can write for it and everything has been homogenized and dumbed down, I don’t find it useful at all.
    – We gave up our subscription some years ago. They have permanently lost us as readers.

  29. I remember reading the Friend as a child (early 1970’s) until there was an article about a man who was so disappointed that he only had daughters and never a son. I just felt like crying and I was terribly worried that my dad (who has three daughters and no sons) secretly felt the same way. Now I struggle to read the Ensign each month. I want to read it and learn something. But every couple of years seems to bring a redesign and that always seems to equal a dumbing down of content even further. Rather than a mix of articles so that there’s something for everyone, it’s all written for a semi-literate new convert or something. And yeah, that free newspaper and plea last month.

  30. We subscribe to the Friend and the Ensign. My daughter enjoys aspects of the Friend, and my wife and I use the Ensign for home and visiting teaching, but none of the other articles end up getting read. I flip through it each month to see if there’s an article worth reading (usually there isn’t). It’s been said in the other comments, but I’ll add my voice to it; the Ensign is so dumbed down there is nothing for me to gain from it. I found the recent news insert to be a distasteful ploy for more subscriptions to the national edition of the Deseret News, and the timing of the article on Abraham could not have been more timely (and strangely amusing), as I had, earlier that day, listened to a podcast that suggested there are scholarly reasons to disbelieve the existence of a historical Abraham. I wish they would add articles with some scholarly weight, or at least give notice, officially, of the existence of all the new Gospel Topics articles that deal with difficult issues. I will continue to subscribe, out of sense of duty, and so that as my children get older they can read from it, but until the articles have more substance I doubt I’ll get much out of it.

  31. Russel, my experience largely mirrors yours and Kevin’s. I wrote about my missionary experience of discovering 80’s and earlier Ensigns, as well as older Church magazines here. Somehow, those French church libraries had lots of meaty stuff not found on this side of the Atlantic.

    I encountered a junior-sub-assistant-editor’s-lackey for the Ensign at a gathering here in NYC a few years back, and (as she perceived) pestered her with all kinds of “apostate” and “impertinent” questions about how it worked behind the scenes and her opinions. I thought it was a very respectful and interesting conversation, but the hostess (my wife’s cousin) has not invited me back. /g

    I remember discovering the Ensign when I was a young teenager, and thinking it worth reading. I think the level has dropped since then. No more “I Have a Question” or meat, it’s largely devotional. There’s a real missed opportunity to educate and strengthen faith, instead of modeling faith and scripture reading as simplistic shallow things. (For similar reasons, I prefer Apostolic devotionals at BYU over General Conference talks. They have an hour to develop a topic and a particular audience. ) Perhaps they should start throwing in one of the new Gospel Topics articles every month. It reminds me a bit about Hugh Nibley’s experience writing the 1957 priesthood manual.

    I wrote the priesthood manual for 1957, you know, An Approach to the Book of Mormon. Well, there was a reading committee on it. Adam S. Bennion was the head of the committee… .The reading committee wiped out every lesson
    in that book. Now this is one thing in which I’m greatly obliged to President McKay. They kicked out every lesson in the book. They said it was over peo- ple’s heads. And every time, President McKay overruled them. The book is exactly as I wrote it. They wanted to make hundreds of changes and get rid of the whole thing entirely, and President McKay said, “No. If it’s beyond their reach, let them reach for it.” Adam S. Bennion said, “It’s over their heads.” And President McKay said, “Let them reach for it.” Now there’s a great man. I liked that.”

    To reiterate, I think a very serious problem with the current Ensign is that it portrays adult and Apostolic approaches to scripture, faith, history, and service as short, shallow, and simplistic. It does not create expectations of complexity or nuance, and modeling binary and simplistic thinking is dangerous. It creates a weak faith that is unable to handle gray or complexity or inconsistency.
    he metaphor I use in talking to family about this is that the Ensign is all gospels and no Paul.

    Lastly, one of our stake goals is to have each adult read the Ensign from cover to cover each month. Since I find that doing so undermines my otherwise very good relationship with the institutional Church, I tend to skim the table of contents every few months and read one or two things of interest or if I know the author. (Dan Belnap was a year ahead of me at Chicago, and has a short article this month. He’s a great sharp guy and an up-and-coming at BYU, but it’s amazing how the Ensign process makes him sound so flat and generic.)

    Missed opportunities.

  32. A few months ago, The Onion, one of my favorite on-line sources of satire, reported that the publishers of Time magazine were coming out with a new periodical—one specifically geared for adults. At times I think a similar observation could be made about the Ensign.

    Like so much of the Church’s curriculum, it has been dumbed down to the point of becoming banal, assiduously avoiding any content that might offend, spark a difference of opinion, present a new idea, or, heaven forbid, cause someone to entertain an unorthodox thought. Russell, you are not alone.

  33. “Like so much of the Church’s curriculum, it has been dumbed down to the point of becoming banal, assiduously avoiding any content that might offend, spark a difference of opinion, present a new idea, or, heaven forbid, cause someone to entertain an unorthodox thought.”

    EFF (and Ben S.): Why has this (the above) happened?

    Related question: Was correlation a vast, right-wing conspiracy?

  34. “p,” the questions you ask—which are definitely related—are quite difficult to answer and extremely difficult to answer succinctly.

    Part of the problem, I believe, is societal. Our attention spans have become shorter and we are easily distracted; not surprisingly, the Church has responded accordingly. Witness the shrinking length of the First Presidency messages. We want simple answers that fit on 3 by 5 cards (sorry, I’m showing my age—I should have said in 140 characters or less), not complex explanations that leave us with lingering questions.

    Is this all part of a vast, right-wing conspiracy? I know you were engaging in hyperbole, but, on a certain level, your question can be answered in the affirmative.

    There was a time when there was much greater diversity of thought among the Quorum of the Twelve. B.H. Roberts, James Talmage, John Widtsoe, J. Reuben Clark, and others offered a more nuanced and, for want of a better word, liberal perspective on many gospel topics. By the 1960s, however, the conservative faction led by Elder McConkie and his father-in-law largely succeeded in silencing these progressive opinions and in gaining control of the correlation program. As Matthew Bowman noted in his recent book, “The Mormon People,” the Church Education System is still, to this day, strongly wedded to Brother McConkie’s doctrinal and theological perspectives. I think this lack of intellectual diversity among our leaders has contributed significantly to the decline in quality of the Church’s manuals and publications.

  35. Letter I wrote to the Ensign recently:

    “It was with disappointment, confusion, and sadness that I discovered today the bundling of the Deseret News with my Ensign, along with a clear marketing push. I realize this is a one-time thing, and I understand the rationale for this decision, but I sure hope it was a mistake.

    Otherwise, I am left with one of two conclusions. Either (a) the Ensign (along with the First Presidency statements that heretofore have been intricately connected with sacred religious obligations, such as home teaching) is now no different than Deseret Book, KSL, or the Polynesian Cultural Center — a technically church-owned subsidiary for which I should feel no obligation whatsoever as a church member in full faith and fellowship. Or (b) there really is no separation whatsoever between the Church’s sacred and obligatory activities and its business subsidiaries. I sure hope the answer is (a), in which case I can unsubscribe from the Ensign and openly speak my mind about its declining quality over the past 10 years without any degree of ill will toward the Church or any insinuation from others about my support of the Church. Otherwise, it is honestly difficult for me to not see how what is happening is akin to “money changers” in the temple. Might I expect vendors from church-owned subsidiaries at the sacrament table or the temple recommend desk in the future? Perhaps I can expect an advertisement for the latest Sheri Dew book to be stapled to my end-of-year tithing report, or maybe I should prepare for advertisements between General Conference speakers to watch The Biggest Loser on KSL?

    Those last sentences are somewhat in jest, but in all sincerity: Can you help me to understand which of these two things is going on? Or maybe this was just a mistake? I would deeply appreciate you taking my comment seriously, and as coming from a lifelong, active, earnest, temple-recommend holding member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I welcome and look forward to your feedback.”

  36. I used to like the ensign a lot more, though I never read all of it cover to cover, just flipped through for topics I wanted to read about. A while ago I was really struggling with life and the ensign came and I thought to myself that since I had been taught all my life that the ensign was scripture that maybe I should give it a try. Found a rather rabid politicized article which talked about a court case in England in ways that showed that the author and/or the editorial board knew next to nothing about the court case which I had bothered to educate myself about because it was making rounds on facebook as the latest doomsday thing. So much for infallible truth of the scriptures as represented in the ensign. Really hurt, but probably only because I was already hurting at the time and I was hoping to be fed something spiritually nourishing.

    As far as their newspaper push- I get it that they are trying to push people to be politically involved by educating themselves and that providing a free newspaper sample is a great way to try to make sure people have a full opportunity to take them up on the idea. That being said, if they really wanted to make this work for people they should have included a sample of whatever the most prominent or two most prominent regional paper was for each area the magazine was sent to with a note saying that although the church didn’t endorse specific papers it did endorse keeping in touch with both national and local issues, which it hoped these newspapers would be a good idea of how to find such information. Being educated for the purposes of public involvement isn’t going to happen at a high quality by reading what they sent out. But, they owned the one asset and not all the others. So we got a dumb advertizement hopefully to educate us and make them money- win win right? I haven’t been able to make myself really look at an ensign seriously in months. Just used it as a source for home teaching lessons.

  37. As an adult convert, I have no attachment emotionally to the publications. When I joined the church, my ward members kindly subscribed for me, and I would dutifully try and read- but to someone not steeped in the in-speak and conference cadence, it was off-putting. I found the blogs about the same time, and the engagement and general quality of the writing made it easy to not renew my subscription when it ran out.

    My children, so far as I know, have never willingly opened a Friend, despite the pile of them available. My daughter prefers New Moon Girl, and frankly, when the counter offering is another Matt & Mandy cartoon about sleeve length, I’m happy with her preference.

    I wonder how much of this is the natural death of print-periodicals/magazines with the democratization of information the internet has brought to our lives?

  38. Left Field says:

    Years ago, I loved the Children’s Friend. As a teenager in the ’70s, I loved the New Era. As a college student and missionary in the late ’70s and ’80s, I loved the Ensign. I still remember specific articles and specific covers. But most of the covers all look alike to me now: general authorities, Watchtower Jesus, and Watchtower Happy Families.

    A couple of years ago, the Ensign did a reader survey. I told them that I enjoyed the meaty articles of the ’70s and ’80s. I liked the graphics, the layout, and the covers from that period. But somewhere, all that had been lost. I told them that for the past couple of decades, the content, the covers, and the overall look and feel reminded me of the Watchtower. I had hoped that after the survey, things might improve. But it has only gotten worse.

    I struggle to find a single adjective to describe the Deseret News sample. Parochial. Political. Insular. Provincial. Shallow. Petty. Gloomy. Partisan. Alarmist. Narrow. Closed minded.

    But “A trusted source of news for your family”? “Promotes wholesome values and includes perspectives that are harmonious with the gospel”? “A Special Gift”? I don’t think so. The Deseret News National Edition promotes itself as as counterpoint to “the national media’s focus on the controversial and sensational.” But the national media at least pretends to be evenhanded and impartial. Ironically, everything about the Deseret News screams controversial, sensational, and opinionated. I don’t need that in my life. And I *really* don’t need that coming with my church magazines.

  39. Thomas Parkin says:

    ” general authorities, Watchtower Jesus, and Watchtower Happy Families.”

    Heh. What is the remainder when the entire conversation is meant to multiply the human area that you must vacate? A kind of reversal of the gospel calling itself the gospel.

  40. Although I agree with many of the comments here, I have appreciated the new articles on special needs over the past few years. While some have been too simplistic. Others have hiblighted real issues. Thank you to Christopher Phillips for championing this.

  41. The best issue ever was the June 1976 Ensign:

    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1976/06?lang=eng

    Found it before my missions and I still love it.

  42. We continue to take the Ensign. Sometimes there are nuggets–I remember a particularly honest account from a GA of his anger and loss of faith after a child’s illness and ‘failed’ priesthood blessing. I prefer seeing what the church organ is saying (however blah) to writing it off.

    We’ve gotten the Church News by mail for some years. For the last few years they have included that Deseret News “values” section. Sometimes it surprises with fair coverage that goes against the conservative grain. I didn’t care for having it hawked with the Ensign, and don’t remember what the sample they sent contained. But Left Field’s list of perjoratives strikes me as pretty parochial itself.

  43. Re: Jehovah’s Witnesses, referenced above: I notice a sharply increasing number of LDS-JW comparisons in many venues.

    EFF, thanks for your thoughtful reply. I largely agree,and will add that the results of conservative take-overs in most areas are rarely positive. In the intellectual/spiritual/social spheres those results are generally catastrophic “check your brain at the door” events. In our own institution, the results speak for themselves. I am LDS but the LDS leadership no longer represents me. Conference makes me cringe. I either go my own way or leave the church. I am by no means alone.

  44. I think the watch tower comparison’s are unfair. The creativity of JW illustrations remains unmatched. I’ve found a few things of interest in each of the last months ensigns. I approach it as “here’s some random stories submitted by church members.” If I’m aware of the level of editing and selection of pieces while I’m reading the stories feel too contrived as others have mentioned. (I’ve heard it takes quite some time for a submission to be published, and even your bishop’s approval. When I realize that much work goes into each story I really wonder why they can’t choose anything better.)
    The part of the Ensign I’ve read regularly is the first presidency message, and lately it seems to be a collection of quotes or an edited speech, rather than an actual message written by the first presidency. I look at the early church periodicals and the early copy of the deseret news when the editors included the first presidency and wish there was that direct access today.

  45. gillsyk, you’ve put your finger on the exact problem. I’m not too happy about the church promoting a publication where fair coverage is a surprise and conservatism is the grain. Nothing in the sample issue gave me any indication that for my $30, I would ever be surprised. Mostly what I saw was arm-flapping about the usual conservative bugaboos.

    To be fair, the Ensign does sometimes still have a cover (April 2012, for example) or an article that speaks to me. Articles about the international church are often quite good. Occasionally, there will be a historical article (such as the one about Mountain Meadows a few years ago) that goes beyond the superficial. But that kind of content used to be the norm. I selected randomly one issue from the late ’70s (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1979/09?lang=eng) and was reminded why I used to like the Ensign so much more.

  46. One defense of the newer Ensign. Part of the change I believe is the attempt to align the publications for all languages and countries. The Liahona has largely become the Ensign translated into other languages. Many of the articles on subjects that matter to me might have little relevance to people in other countries and cultures. Like articles about the BYUs or their history would be of zero interest to most people in other countries because the BYUs are primarily for North American families (and the equivalent on non-seminary/institute church sponsored education has almost entirely disappeared outside the U.S.) In any event, the editors must consider audiences in many many countries and languages in deciding what to publish and in being sure inadvertently something is not published that is culturally offensive someplace. This homogenization, or correlation, or uniform-ization of the church magazines across languages and cultures is also seen in making scripture and hymn translations more literal word-for-word (even when the translation is awkward or difficult). And even the new official LDS Bible is Spanish reverts to the more archaic translations (I suppose that Spanish speaking members can have as much difficulty reading their bible as English speaking members do reading the KJV ;-) ) I don’t see correlation as a politically conservative force necessarily, but correlation is about tight control and uniformity across countries and languages. In our day, I think tight control and uniformity does tend to favor conservatism in other areas. In any event, the “dumbing down” of the Engish Ensign might also reflect a levelization of church publications across languages and cultures–and in those other languages or countries, the new Ensign/Liahona may well be an improvement.

  47. Oh, for whoever commented that there have been some good articles in the last few years on disability issues, I agree on that. There were some articles I enjoyed on that subject within the last few years.

  48. What timing for your post. Just last month as our bundled copies of the Ensign, New Era and Friend arrived with the “Renewal Notice” that this was the last issue, I told my husband that I was not planning on renewing the Ensign. I haven’t actually read any of the articles in, probably, years. The only thing I may have read/referred to in print was the conference editions, and even then not so often. In fact, the only thing that my print copies have been used for is that I give it to my VTee each month as she is a new-ish convert with very limited financial resources. I am planning to keep the Friend and New Era coming as they at least will occasionally keep the kids occupied with something during sacrament meeting. Our oldest is 13 so the New Era still holds some intrigue, but it’s probably read more often/interestedly by the 10yr old (just as Seventeen magazine is probably never read by 17yr olds, but aspiring 14yr olds). But I can’t imagine that we’ll have any problem shutting down the subscription once the novelty and interest wears off for them. It is sorry to see the magazines decline in the way you’ve described. And, even more sorry to see it come wrapped in the Des. News last month. No thanks. I probably should have mailed that particular copy back to SLC with my cancel subscription notice.

  49. When I was a kid in the ’70s, I really LOVED the Friend. It was kind of like a Mormon Highlights magazine, with lots of fun stuff for kids, crafts, recipes, etc., and practically no preachiness. For a while they featured a character named Mrs. McGillicutty in some of the fiction, and those stories were always a joy to read. I also liked the Hidden Pictures feature, and have never found comparable Hidden Pictures since. They even devoted entire editions to a particular culture, like Japanese or Danish, which broadened my horizons about other people in the world. I don’t have an opinion on the current Friend, since I haven’t read it in decades, but if it has changed from my childhood, that is certainly a loss.

  50. The Other Clark says:

    I noticed the declining quality of the Ensign about five years ago. About the time they made everything way too generalizec, and written to someone with virtually no knowledge of the U.S. (marking every geographic location with the set format city, state, country). Every time I see “Salt Lake City, Utah, USA” I shake my head in disgust.

    This is what “Death by Committee” looks looks like in the publishing world.

  51. My kids love that mail arrives at the house addressed to them. They race to find the hidden CTR ring. That’s about it.

    It seems to like about 3 years ago there was some surprising candid and “real” content in the Ensign (story about a woman supporting her inactive husband without judgment, etc). Am I remembering that right? Has that stopped? I don’t read the Ensign very often except conference reports.

  52. I let my subscription lapse the last time it came up for renewal. Most of us are familiar with the phrase “milk before meat.” All milk and [almost] no meat makes it not worth the trouble to receive it when I only read the conference reports.

  53. fleddermaus says:

    I remember being a grad student at BYU in the early 2000′s making a similar comment on an elevator to another graduate student. I too have a fondness for the previous days of more thoughtful doctrinal commentary. Don’t get me wrong, I still find value every month for me personally, but I do lament at the editorial direction the magazine has taken, much more akin to the flashy editorial headlines of ‘Cosmopolitan’. For me, the biggest concern has to do with the heavily editorialized “First Presidency Messages”; they are brief and focused and really lacking in depth. Just take a look at February’s message, since when does a person quote themselves? I’ve never seen a GA quote themselves in Conference or other talks, why would they do that in the First Presidency Message, unless it has been not written by them? Just food for thought.

  54. 1) While the 70’s and ’80’s may have been “glory days” for church publications, (don’t forget the beautiful poems and stories they used to publish from Carol Lynn Pearson!) I remember looking throwing away my grandparents 50 year library collection of different church magazines after they passed. In every decade I can assure you that there has been eye-rolling-worthy content and quasi-doctrinal “likening” of scripture. It is what it is.

    2) The church publications used to be funded by advertisements, just like other other magazines. You used to be able to find sale coupons from ZCMI, or Sears, or ads for garments, bank ads, life insurance, florists, restaurants, etc. The recent pairing of DN was not a first for the Ensign, but a return to its advertizing tradition. (Personally, I think it has been nice in the past few decades to be free of advertisements, but my opinion doesn’t matter.)

    3) I haven’t subscribed to the publications for a few years now, but I do miss the international art, poetry and music competitions. I found those entries to be very inspired, culturally diverse, and just plan inspiring. I also miss a great deal of the fine art that would grace the pages, whether it was Bloch, Dore, great LDS painters, and others. I loved the Friend as a child. There is an art to writing for children, and The Friend hmple gospel principles and engaged me in reading. As a teenager, I read the New Era. I didn’t realize how damaging the unrealistic female models were to my body image and self esteem. (ad a unique aesthetic that was interesting and engaging, yet calming (almost like Mr. Rogers). I loved the “Highlights”-like hunt and finds and puzzles. I remember that the Friend taught me siEvery model was blonde, had perfect teeth, clear skin, a thin dancer’s body, and wore expensive clothes and lived in a perfect suburban house.)

    4) I can’t remember if it was The Ensign or The Friend, but about a decade ago, the cover showcased a amateurish painting of Abinidi screaming as he was being consumed by laping flames. I was disturbed by an image of such graphic violence (torture) being shared with even primary children in a family magazine. Both the bible and BoM have “R”-rated sections, and using our abilities to create midrash merely on the pain, seemed so pointlessly violent and attention-grabbing to me.

  55. I haven’t subscribed to the Ensign in years. I read what I want to read (primarily the VT message and conference talks) online. When I was a child, I loved the Children’s Friend. The New Era didn’t exist when was a teen, but I used to devour the stories in my mother’s Relief Society Magazine. The idea that maybe the First Presidency message is not really written by a member if the First Presidency reminds me of when I worked for Mrs. Fields some years ago. I worked in the training department and one of my duties was to edit a newsletter that we put out each month for the employees of the Mrs. Fields cookie stores nationwide. Each issue featured a column by Debbie Fields herself, except that it wasn’t. Debbie would give me a topic and I would write the column. So maybe the Ensign editors write the First Presidency message using previous talks and writings.

  56. While I agree with the opinions that the Ensign has been “dumbed down” (and I basically NEVER read it anymore), I have a completely different opinion than most here about the Deseret News National Edition. I read it as a curiosity, and found the content to be really good. In fact, my thought was–before seeing this blog posting–“This is the kind of information that they can’t put into the Ensign itself, so they are giving us another publication that CAN publish this kind of stuff.” Did anyone who has been dissing the newspaper actually read it? It was REALLY GOOD STUFF. I subscribed immediately, thinking, “Great, now I can get something in the mail that I’ll actually want to read!”

  57. Ricardo,

    I read the national edition, and I thought that some of the articles were quite good. It was certainly a politically conservative take, however, which unfortunately reinforces the (wink, wink) view that the brethren really want us to be Republicans even if they don’t say it over the pulpit. I did like the attention to poverty in an article or two.

    But my main issue was not at all with the content of the paper. It is with the pairing of a for-profit paper with an official church publication that is seen by members as intricately connected with sacred obligations (e.g., home and visiting teaching).

  58. scott roskelley says:

    How cleanly knit together and repaired the lives of the plentiful “Name Withheld” authors have traversed cognitive dissonance, despair, addictive behavior, and loss. This is a summary of the inner struggle of latter-day saints in a culture where atonement and repentance happen behind closed doors with the help of a bishop, and confidential discussions. If the church is a hospital for sinners, why do we enter the church and think it appears like the “righteous club”, “the near to exaltation,” and “HT/VT 100%ers”? Where do I go for questions on church history, teaching teens in the modern era, and training on how to help the less active former bishopric, recently baptized cocaine addict, disaffected african american, and undocumented hispanic families I am hometeaching right now?

  59. I have to say, I am a huge fan of church magazines. We live in an upper-south Bible belt community, with no LDS resources readily available, and I look forward to the Ensign every month. As soon as it comes, I nestle into my couch and read it through cover to cover. I consider my family fairly educated and well-read (I have a BA in philosophy, husband almost finished with his MA in human/computer interaction.) I agree that many of the articles are simple, catering to a different demographic than my own, but there are always a couple that are quite in-depth looking into gospel topics. (Some I keep and reread again and again, like Bednar’s “The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality” from a few years back. Love it!) Maybe I occasionally disagree with the focus or perspective of an article, but that doesn’t particularly bother or upset me. I haven’t read the New Era in a while, but I am a passionate lover of the Friend. I use the Friend nearly every day in our morning family devotional. I feel like at least for my family (kids 7,4,2) it is perfectly suited to read together and invite discussion with my children about gospel topics immediately relevant to their lives. We read the stories over and over and over again at their request, and they remember the lessons taught in the stories remarkably well. Parable/story teaching is incredibly effective for them. I have shared it with a number of Christian friends who also love the resources for teaching children. It’s SO hard to find kids religious resources that aren’t treacly sweet (or doctrinally incorrect) and I think the Friend hits the kid-friendly sweet spot impressively well.

  60. Haven’t found the content on the whole very interesting for quite some time. There’s an occasional tidbit that someone else brings to my attention, but the only reason we have it is because someone gifted it to us.

  61. Henry Eyring says:

    “When they got around to me I told them that the Church magazines would never amount to a damn if they did not get some people with independence is there who had real ideas and would come out and express themselves. If they were going to rehash the old stuff, they would not hold the young people. I gave them quite a bit of advice and I damned a little when I wanted to and when I got through. Brother Evans said, “I do not know anyone who characterizes the idea of independence any more than you do, are you applying for the job?”. I said “No, I’m not applying for the job, but I think I have given good advice”. Everyone was very nice to me.

    Eyring – Mormon Scientist page 206

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,626 other followers