Tuesday, November 4, 2008

New Church News Beta Website With Searchable Archives: A Review

Yesterday I called Church Distribution (1-800-622-9076) to renew my online subscription to the Church News for twenty dollars. I had been using it to find articles from the Church News from 1988-2008. Since I wanted an online subscription and didn't really care much about the paper copy they forwarded me on to the Media One subscription agent (1-800-710-7141) who told me I had to called the Church News directly since they had nothing to do with the web-based version. When I called the Church News instead of reaching a secretary I was connected to the an editor Gerry Avant. She didn't give me her name I later found out who she was from another staff member. I asked for the secretary who had helped me when I first signed up last year. She told me that they no longer had a full-time secretary and that the Church had downsized their department. Apparently they shared one with the Deseret News.

She told me to call back when Jerry Wellman was in and he could help me. I continued talking to her and was concerned about the downsizing of five people including their librarian since I am very impressed by their work the last few years. I told her I was a librarian and I knew it much be difficult to get background on a story without some research help. She said people today think everything can be found quickly on the Internet. I knew she was right that many uninformed people thought everything was free but the truth is you need commercial databases but many times the uninformed think it is just out there because it is so seamlessly transparent.

The writers and editors of the Church News will really be earning their money in the months and years ahead with little support staff. In economic downturns this is not an uncommon practice. They will have to depend more heavily on the Church Library and Archives in my opinion. I thought about applying to them as an editor but I am not sure I would have the energy at my age to work that hard again.

She told how one editor retired and they only had a secretary that was part-time but she was out this week so she had to be both an editor and a secretary and write her articles. I felt really sorry for her since I have worked in the information field for twenty years and have seen these shortsighted happenings throughout academia let alone the LDS Church. I could totally relate to her busyness.

She finally gave me what she thought was the beta site for the Church News. She said Jerry Wellman could give me the exact URL in a couple of hours when he got in but try it and see. She said I would save twenty dollars since now the Church had decided to let people use their content for free. I kept talking to her about her shortage of staff and finally she gave in and gave me what she said she thought was the correct URL: http://www.ldschurchnews.com/home/ I typed in the URL and it took me an attractive new portal for Church News. There is a wealth of material there.

She also said they would eventually archive the Church News further back then 1988. I know the Information CIO Joel Dehlin has been expanding his domain so I assumed it would be done in that shop but I could be wrong since I don't know how the internal structure of IT works in the LDS Church. Since they have a downsized staff it is doubtful it is being done in house. It seems to me it must either be outsourced or done by the IT group since the Church News staff has their hands busy writing the weekly paper.

The beta site is arranged with six tabs across the top, which includes Home, Articles, Features, Viewpoint, Callings, and Archives. There is a Search Church News box on the top of the page. On the right hand sidebar there are twenty categories: Thomas S. Monson, Conference, Leaders, Temples, Missions, Transcripts of talks, Scriptures, Humanitarian Efforts, World Events, Dedicatory Prayers, Nauvoo, Daily Index, First Presidency letters, Sports, Suggestions for life's challenges, Contact Us, User Feedback, LDS.Org, Provident Living, and Meetinghouse Locator.

In the center are featured articles for 4 November 2008 they included: Tanner Addition Dedicated at BYU, Post-Eagle Excellence (which was a broken link), Be Counted (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf talk at UVU). The right sidebar has three featured categories with five articles per category which include: Church News Most Popular, Deseret News Most Popular, and MormonTimes Most Popular. The Post-Eagle Excellence article worked on the sidebar.

I noticed a quirk also in the Search Church News box which only returns results for 2008. A search of the Argentina Rosario mission returned five results. When I used Archives I was able to return 58 matches which was what I was used to with the old system. I think a power user would want to use the Archives over the Search Church News box if they want a comprehensive list of articles.

The Missions area is nicely done with a list of all Church News articles relating to all 365 Missions of the LDS Church. On the right sidebar each mission is listed. When you click on an individual mission you are shown any article that mentions the mission. I will save hours of searching now that this resource is available. I will still be posting my individual treatment of each mission since there are other sources beside the Church News. This is a great start by the Church of puting resources together.

One criticism I have of the Search the Gospel Library on LDS.Org is that all Church magazines except the Church News can be searched. I really think the Church needs to consider one interface with all its publications. I know this developed since they were two separate entities for years. I have found that the commercial site LDS Library and GospelLink which is sold by Deseret Book and costs $49.95 a year is a better place to comprehensively find all articles on a subject. It has a flaw in that it doesn't list the page numbers for the Church News and several other publications,when it does list the pages they are at the beginning of every paragraph and make it hard to cut and paste. Between the three of them I find what I need but it is cumbersome to go between them and time-consuming. Otherwise I wouldn't have spent dozens of hours doing separate posts of links for all 365 missions.

The Church News will be a valuable resource with its new improved look and content. I am giving you a chance to use it before the masses. Happy gospel study!


Leigh said...

have you seen the new GospeLink? Go to www.gospelLink.com

Anonymous said...

Greetings from the Church News....
May I correct a few errors in the blog post.

When you called Church News, you spoke with Gerry Avant, the Church News editor. Sarah was not in the office (and hasn't been part of last week or much of this week).

You are correct in that some down-sizing at the Deseret News has meant that Church News and the DN share a secretary.

The Church News has never had a librarian; and the DN librarian was one who chose early retirement when the staff of the entire company (Deseret News) was downsized some 30 people several months ago. The Church News associate editor retired, our intern's program ended, another reporter left for law school and another reporter opted to stay home full-time with a new baby. Church News really wasn't downsized. There were only two people in the office when you called because most of us were in training for a new system being installed to publish the print edition of the DN and CN.

Gerry Avant (who is looking over my shoulder as I write this) assures me she is NOT retired. She wishes she'd known her comments were to be used in a blog.

Yes, the address you have for the beta site is correct and it does not require a subscription or registration (but that was stated on the CN traditional Web site).

There is a wealth of information on the new site and there will continue to be additions as we add material and photographs.

It is speculation on your part about adding a lot of material pre-1988 and whether or not the Church IT department is working on it.

Thank you for your description of the site and your evaluation. The quirk is a design feature with regard to searching. That function is currently being tested and refined. After all, this is a 'beta' version and we appreciate all suggestions and ideas!!

Eventually there will be additional information for each mission and each temple. It's a LOT of work and will require a LOT of time.

If you have questions or comments about the changes at our Web site, please use the "feedback" link on the site and it will send a comment directly to me. I do try to reply to all comments (unless they are anonymous -- grin).

Jerry Wellman
Church News Web editor

Dr. B said...

Thanks for the corrections. Gerry Avant said in our phone conversation they might go back so I guess the conditional makes it speculative. I didn't pull that out of a hat. I got the names wrong because she never told me her name. I didn't realize the name Gerry was a female name. Who was it that she mentioned that retired?

Dr. B said...

I love blogs because you can correct them. I did give Gerry Avant my blog name twice. I told her how Emily Jenson of Mormon Times had featured me six times in a year. I never said one way or another whether I would post on the beta site but I decided it was something I should feature since it has good resources. The other stuff about the Church News staff status was tangential to my review of your new site. I am the technology editor of the Multicultural Review. My column is Bridges on the I-Ways which is about electronic resources. Since this is an electronic resource I decided to review it. I appreciate any information you can add to this post.

Dr. B said...


Thanks for the heads up on Gospel Link I already subscribed but didn't use it much last year. It does have a wealth of materials and is reasonably priced. It doesn't totally solve the pagination problem however.