Six ways to bring the Ensign Magazine into the 21st Century

By: Stephen Marsh
July 27, 2012

There has been a lot of talk about having more meat, more depth, yet not excluding people nor rendering church publications less accessible.  So, why not have an expanded version of the Ensign on-line to provide more depth, and to have an on-line presence worthy of the modern world?

New Ensign Tablet Version

After all, the church is working on an app, at least one for tablets, if not phones.  So starting with that, not just an app for the same content, but what if there was real meat put on-line to expand the Ensign every month, to make real use of the potential of an on-line venue?

If there was, I’d suggest that the following things could go in the on-line addition to expand the material that is in the print edition, and to provide substance — six things:

  • Some history (articles along the lines of Margaret Blair Young’s By Common Consent post on Jane Manning James or otherwise — real, in depth history)
  • some expanded gospel doctrine lessons (along the lines of the series of Gospel Doctrine notes Julie Smith has been posting at Times & Seasons — real, solid, in depth expansion of the lesson material)
  • a couple historical sermons in their complete text (instead of excerpts as we get in the “Teachings of” we could have two worthwhile sermons from history).
  • a policy/practice reminder — but more formal/structured than the print edition versions  along the lines of the yearly or so article on how mental illness is not sin and is cured by doctors, not faith; — articles such as:
    • how failure to pay child support [or taxes, etc.] renders someone unable to get a temple recommend;
    • how to deal with verbal abuse;
    • how if there is violence in the home you need to flee the situation in most cases;
    • how the Church 12 step program works;
    • how depression related suicide is the result of illness, not moral weakness;
    • how … (you get the idea — and can probably suggest topics).
  • “I have a question” — bring back the old column.
  • A forum for discussions of the additional material.

What would you like to have added to the Ensign on a monthly basis — especially if page count was no longer an issue (as would be the case with an on-line edition)?

Do you think the idea of more depth, in a centralized location, is a good idea to draw people into a deeper approach to the gospel or do you think it wouldn’t be worth the effort?

Would you submit an article if there was a broader and deeper Ensign available?

25 Responses to Six ways to bring the Ensign Magazine into the 21st Century

  1. Bro. Jones on July 27, 2012 at 6:41 AM

    What I’d love to see:

    1) More of the occasional “Saints in non-Utah regions” profiles. Something meatier than the “I’m a Mormon” campaign, that really sought to introduce the Saints of the world to each other. In-depth interviews as “bonus content.”

    2) Links to digitized primary sources would be great.

    3) No forums or comments. Sounds great in principle, but they’d come out completely correlated and dull like the “Q&A” section in The New Era.

    4) Finally–and I’m totally serious–bring back the practical homemaking stuff, but update it and internationalize it. Recipes, home repair tips, computing and educational resources, but for the 21st century audience.

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  2. Andrew S on July 27, 2012 at 7:04 AM

    I love Bro. Jones’ suggestions to bring back and *internationalize* practical homemaking stuff (as well as putting more “Saints in non-Utah regions” things.)

    I like all of your suggestions, Stephen.

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  3. Stephen Marsh on July 27, 2012 at 7:05 AM

    Those are good ideas Bro. Jones.

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  4. Last Lemming on July 27, 2012 at 7:55 AM

    “I have a question” — bring back the old column.

    Yes, but only if they answer questions that real people actually ask.

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  5. ji on July 27, 2012 at 8:12 AM

    I’m a little leery. I tend to prefer for “official” stuff to be simpler, more milk than meat. There are too many among us looking for an argument, or looking to prove a point, or looking to find a quotation they can use to justify their actions or bash someone else’s actions — and there are too many among us who look at something written as, well, it it written. I’m not saying this to criticize us, just as an observation. And the Ensign carries the imprimatur of the Church very heavily among us — it is not a journal for collecting thoughts and ideas in a scholarly way.

    The gospel of Jesus Christ is wonderful and it is simple. That’s what the Church is called to teach. Most of the other meatier stuff tends towards history and cultural Mormonism and so forth. There would be editorial arguments about whose version of a history to print, for example.

    I love the Ensign! In a deep and hectic world, I am refreshed by its beauty and simpleness and meaningfulness in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and serving as our visible ensign to the world.

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  6. BethSmash on July 27, 2012 at 8:34 AM

    I think it’s an interesting idea, but why can’t some of those things be in the actual magazine. We need to remember that there’s still a digital divide in this country (and other countries) and how crappy would it be if all these cool new things were only available to those with internet access.

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  7. Bonnie on July 27, 2012 at 8:49 AM

    Just as Richard Bushman has said that the Church really doesn’t belong in the history business, I think there are things that can and should go on in a wider audience that the Church just can’t promulgate. That’s okay. “…do many things of your own free will and choice.”

    I think questioning is a matter of personal drive to access by faith and work the truths of God and many stand by the sidelines and watch. To some extent, it can’t happen that way. I’m so in favor of primary sources being made available for the members to come to their own conclusions, but if the church takes modern scholars and puts them on world display then they have to weigh in on the content of their discussion. That requires a huge responsibility to take everything to the Lord and creates a huge load of correlation. It’s just not practical. It also creates a much, much wider group of people who are quotable, and that’s iffy too. Oh, and the moderation for discussions that are inhabited by people who just want to disrupt. That’s a nightmare.

    On the other hand, wouldn’t it be exciting to have more available for quick search online. The church already puts CHOI material online, but you have to know where to look to find it. Policy stuff is answered there, but either quicksheets or better search and link would, as you say, be very useful.

    And I LOVE the idea Bro. Jones put forward about practical tips and international bios (actually, I agree with all 4 of his comments!)

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  8. NewlyHousewife on July 27, 2012 at 9:21 AM

    If they expand, also improve the search functions.

    I would also like a section on realistic teachings to children split by age group with a heavy worded disclaimer that it is for suggestion only.

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  9. Jettboy on July 27, 2012 at 10:13 AM

    Although these are great ideas, I have to second BethSmash here. My guess is that only one third of (active and even fewer inactive) Mormons have access to the Internet and therefore online content. I can’t say what my suggestions would be, but I have always been impressed with the Watchtower magazines regardless of religious differences. They just seem more focused and relevant, but perhaps at the expense of quickly dated.

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  10. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 27, 2012 at 10:31 AM

    You know, I kind of feel this is what FARMS should be doing and leave apologetics to FAIR.

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  11. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 27, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    Except authoritative reminders on mental health and such need imprinture — which could be done with CHI excerpts for some things.

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  12. Howard on July 27, 2012 at 12:31 PM

    Great idea! I enjoy the Ensign. Also it is well within the church’s power to silence most of what it’s critics have to say. This could be a middle ground forum for that purpose and a blog that actually took on the hard questions instead of white washing and spinning them could do the rest.

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  13. Paul on July 27, 2012 at 12:44 PM

    Stephen, some really good suggestions. The New Era does offer unique online content over and above the printed magazine, so why not the Ensign, too?

    The other alternative is to provide expanded local content for Liahona subscribers, in their own langages and pertinent to their geograhy.

    That said, I’m sympathetic to ji’s comment above. When Elder Packer visited a regional PH leadership meeting years ago in Michigan, he talked about the growing international church and its strain on church resources. He pointed out the desire to simplify what was made available internationally. Someone had asked him when “extra” church books (the Deseret Book variety, I suppose) would be made available in translation to more countries, and his response was “Why would we want to do that?” He went on to explain that for him the value was in the simplicity of the gospel itself. Seems like that’s consistent with the present view of church magazines.

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  14. Nate on July 27, 2012 at 2:15 PM

    The Ensign is really the more commercial extension of General Conference, as an official church publication. I find it’s consistent, correlated voice somewhat comforting.

    Having said that, I think if the Ensign included a few daring articles once in awhile: very occasionally someone of Sunstone ilk, something super-conservative from Meridian perhaps, and an occasional sensationalist tabloid piece like LDS Living might do, it would go along way to helping legitimize the diversity of voices in the church.

    Each time the Ensign branches out onto one of those limbs, they are going to spook everyone of differing proclivities. But as long as they do it infrequently, and take care not to disrupt the balance between conservative, liberal, and populist.

    But don’t sacrifice the orthodox, correlated tone. It is precisely because the Ensign is so controlled and propagandistic, that when they branch out occasionally, it makes a big impression.

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  15. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 27, 2012 at 4:59 PM

    Thanks for the additional comments.

    If you have looked at the links I provided you can see I am not suggesting edgy so much as fulfilling.

    I think there is a hunger for that.

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  16. Kent Larsen on July 27, 2012 at 8:05 PM

    Literature would be nice, but probably not possible due to translation issues and cultural differences.

    Nate, PLEASE, nothing from Meridian and nothing from LDS Living. They are both far worse than anything that appears in the Ensign. They are annoying fluff centered on the same Utah Mormon culture that leads a magazine editor in Utah county to label a picture of white women “women of color” and not see the problem. Please, lets not propagate that junk.

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  17. Paul 2 on July 28, 2012 at 5:24 AM

    There are really awesome online tools for researchers, like WebofScience. I can search any author, date range, publication, etc. When I cite someone in one of my papers, then there will be a link from their citation to my paper and from my paper to their citation. So clicking around in these citation links quickly lets me see what has been done. Because the amount of material printed by the church is so small, and church leaders spend so much time quoting earlier church leaders, it would be easy to put together a hyperlinked database like this. The current online search on lds.org doesn’t have these kinds of useful links. For example, there is a quote by GA X. I would like to see all of the other times that quote was quoted.

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  18. Stephen Marsh on July 28, 2012 at 10:39 AM

    Paul 2, a long time ago someone put something similar to that in print. No one bought it. But you are right, updated computer tools applied to that sort of thing would be nice.

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  19. Reader/Writer on July 29, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    The magazine publication has several distinctive features though there is considerable variance depending on the chosen editorial voice. There may be a personal letter from the editor which is a “hello” After that there will be several small “departments” these are short high- interest segments that appear each month which may appeal to certain sectors of the audience. To save money and build the “brand” the art work in the departments are the same or similar every month. Readers are browsers first, then readers. Longer articles with greater depth and accompanied by the best artwork appear later on in the magazine in a section known as the “feature well.” Above all, the elements have variety in length, depth, tone (personal, whimsical, critical, institutional etc), and breadth (for a small or a wide sector of readers) . There is an emotional arc as you would find where the most important parts of the magazine like in a play are in the third act. In a journal, the elements are more uniform in all the above features. Often the most important article is the first one. There is a place for both types of publications–magazine and journal. The Ensign has more features of a journal than a magazine in my opinion.

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  20. christine randolph on July 29, 2012 at 10:07 PM

    I started receiving the Ensign in June 2012 in printed copy. It is too “devotional” for me. Any info is deeply embedded in what Kent calls “fluff”. If it does not change I will not renew my subscription and will just get the relevant stuff (home visiting message etc.) online.

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  21. Stephen Marsh on July 30, 2012 at 6:54 AM

    Christine: there are many who question why not just use the iPhone app or the android app to read the magazines.

    Reader/Writer: Interesting points, thank you.

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  22. Sherry on July 30, 2012 at 8:00 AM

    Nate – I agree – “daring articles” indeed, would be great. As a older woman, temple marriage divoerced and now married to a NOMO who does not want to become a member, there is little in the ENSIGN that relates to my life. I do not believe I need to expend energy to convert my husband and it simply does not bother me as it used to. I would like articles about REAL Mormons, like me. I grow weary of the supposed “ideal” which few of us live anyway, and who says there is an “ideal”? Even though some of the “I’m a Mormon” ads are sappy, they do show a diversity in our faith and maybe that should show up in the ENSIGN. Also articles about faith transitions and similar concerns, but that is probably asking too much for a church publication. Yet I suspect that many of us are in that boat and an ackowledgment of our real concerns would be good. In closing, more diversity would be good.I don’t buy into the cookie cutter image of Mormonism, nor do I believe there is only one way to heaven so I would like the ENSigN to be more realistic. Also, articles about just doing good, wherever we are, with what resources we have. Do you think there will ever be an ad for the City CReek Mall in the ENSIGN???? Just kidding, but it does tickle my funny bone to think of the absurdity of the materialism of the mall juxtaposed with an article on provident living.

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  23. Sharee Hughes on July 30, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    I agree with the ideas expressed in the OP and also Bro. ones’ comments. Although there are indeed a great many members of the church who do not have the internet on their home computers, most of those who are looking for the “meat” do, and, if they don’t, likely have a library near by where they could have access.

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  24. Geoff - A on July 31, 2012 at 1:33 AM

    I would like to see some way of communicating concerns to the leadership. Whether the Ensign is the place I don’t know. I do know that the leaders must be totally isolated from reality for everyday members.

    Could they not survey, for example, whether we are happy with the church attitude to gay marriage, or women and the P”Hood.

    I would like to see more than the copy book interpretation on anything where there are alternatives, such as the list of things Mike S did that could be changed without doctrinal changes. Could we present both sides of an argument on subjects like adoption/ keeping the baby/abortion? Could we have a discussion about modesty, is it’s purpose ultimately to reduce teenage pregnancy? If so it fails.

    I want there to be feedback to the leaders and a realistic response from them to it. I want them to know why I am struggling, especially when it’s their fault.

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  25. Stephen R. Marsh on July 31, 2012 at 6:09 PM

    Geoff — “especially when it’s their fault.” You can count on hundreds of people writing them every week on that point.

    Of course the voices are all different as to why, which is a huge issue. I’ve written on that before.

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