New Guide editor Kathy Beagles Coneff talks about changing the magazine to keep it the same and the importance of church departments pooling resources as the church struggles to reach young teens in an age of social media.
Question: It has been a little over a year since you took on the job of Guide magazine editor. So what do you think of the job? What made you say yes?
Answer: I like the job very much. Every job, and every location, has its positives and negatives. At first, I had said “no” when approached about the opportunity back in June of 2015. But several factors in my life came together to cause me to reconsider in November of that year. Going back to my previous occupation opened the door for God to bless in several other areas of my life that I had been challenging Him on.
What is the main message you are trying to get out to Guide's age 10 to 14 audience?
You are the God-family’s adored, only child! Any resemblance you now show to the father of lies, the devil, is because you were born kidnapped and brainwashed by him. Even your everyday thoughts and beliefs are tainted by him.
The Father, Jesus, and primarily the Holy Spirit, are out to unbrainwash you so that you will fit right back into the family of God as an adored only child, now that you have been ransomed.
Guide has been around since 1953, and the last editor served for 16 years. Is there anything you are trying to change about the magazine? Anything you are determined to keep the same?
One of the hallmarks of Guide is the belief that everyone loves it and that it transcends age. I would only want to change it in ways that would keep that the same. But that does require change along the way. Among our very diverse Adventist church membership, it is a challenge to find the solid ground that will offend the least number of stakeholders.
I think the kids are easy enough to satisfy, but it’s the adults who actually pay for it who must be factored in with great care. In this digital age, we want to be able to continue as a largely print publication.
Guide was previously produced at the Review and Herald Publishing Association in Hagerstown, Maryland, but since the Hagerstown printing facility closed in 2014, it is now being published by Pacific Press in Idaho. You used to live in Maryland and now have moved to Idaho for this job. You and Guide have something in common! Do you find the two places very different? How has Guide changed because of its move?
Even though I didn’t move here to Idaho from Maryland, Maryland was one of the places where I lived a significant part of my life. I like Maryland very much, but I am not at all fond of humidity. I was in Michigan between Maryland and Idaho, and there I really missed sunshine! Here in Idaho I have low humidity and lots of sunshine and mountains. The view from our offices is lovely, overlooking a little pond.
The process of producing Guide has stayed remarkably the same, thankfully. Of course, any business organization with a different business model is going to impact a publication that is being absorbed into that model. But for the most part this does not negatively impact the great end product.
What do you like the most about editing Guide? What do you find the hardest?
I enjoy the rhythm of the work; working with the great team that works on it, the fun, light-hearted type of message, with a serious punch line. Those all fit me very well.
What does not fit me so well is the corporate climate that subconsciously promotes the idea that the best and most creatively productive minds are somehow attached to the most location-specific, sedentary rear ends.
How is the job different than your previous roles? How did they prepare you to edit Guide?
For me, everything is part of a big plan, and everything is connected somehow. For me it seems like a natural progression that I should have spent several years in high school education, then moved on to creating and editing Sabbath School curriculum for 10 through 18 year olds, then taught Seminary students how to teach religious things so that everyone can learn them, and then return to the practice of “passing on the faith” in print.
Tell us a little more about your previous jobs.
After teaching, mostly English, in academies, I developed and edited Power Points, Real-Time Faith, and Cornerstone Connections Bible study curriculum as an editor in the General Conference Sabbath School and Personal Ministries department for almost 10 years. After completing my PhD in Religious Education I became an Associate Professor at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, teaching and coordinating the MA and the PhD programs in Religious Education, until coming to Guide magazine.
How difficult is it to reach young readers with a printed magazine these days? How important and integral is Guide's digital/social media presence?
Guide’s digital/social media presence is vital. It needs to grow and expand if the publication is to stay viable to the young people it is trying to reach. This is a very important issue, one I somewhat avoided going into in previous answers.
If this issue is not discussed openly and seriously among various church entities, even more of the outreach to our young people in the church is going to die. This is a problem that transcends the silos we presently lock ourselves into.
Guide needs a budget that transcends a print publishing house’s necessary financial approach. Ministries for children and youth will need to partner with the publishing world in order to tie the print medium and the digital medium together. But this sort of co-mingling of financial resources is difficult and scary. I am afraid that the hesitance to face these issues head on is what could ultimately sound the death knell of what is not only a historical outreach to our young people but could also be a beacon for the Adventist identity and mission for them into the future.
You didn't grow up in the age of social media. How do you ensure you stay in touch with issues your readers are interested in and keep them connected to Guide? Is it hard to keep up with the youth of today?
That’s the beauty of being a team. Guide has a young and very social-media-savvy managing editor, Laura Samano, with boundless ideas. I bring the sometimes-suspect skills of corporate tiptoeing to the table.
Are you working to bring Guide to a greater audience, including more readers outside North America? What are the challenges involved with making Guide relevant to a broader readership?
The bottom-line challenge for anything you might mention is this: who pays for it, and do they pay enough to cover the production of it? That is sound and responsible financial thinking. As employees of an institution that must work to the financial bottom line, Guide needs ministry-driven minds outside of our own particular silo to partner with us in order to dream like this. Laura and I dream. But the church is going to have to foster cross-silo funding.
I would love to see English-speaking audiences outside of North America be able to publish from our templates. How would they reimburse Pacific Press for the hours of editing and design that must be recouped? And, if we reach out to a wider belief audience, who will pay for the subscriptions that fund the editorial and design costs? You see the problem? We would need ministry-driven financial partners to reach out very far.
We are willing and ready. Laura and I have all kinds of ideas for products and special issues that would meet real needs in the spiritual nurture and growth of our readership. But our readership does not pay for the costs of production.
So how is Guide funded? Can you explain it a little more?
Guide is simply funded by church subscriptions (and whatever personal ones it might pick up, primarily through the ABC system). There is no church entity subsidizing it, except for the press that “owns” it, should it fall below the break-even point—which doesn't usually happen for Guide but could in the future and has for other publications recently.
What advice would you offer the Adventist church as a whole on engaging young teens? What is the church doing well, and what could it do better?
I am sure there are lots of good ideas that could be expounded on here. But, I will stick with the can of worms I have already opened up: we’ve got to get out of our financial and territorial silos and brainstorm across them for the good of our young people.
And one outrageous idea might be for everyone who claims to be concerned about our youth to go to at least one International Camporee and see the people who really do “get down and dirty” and walk alongside our young people, making a daily difference in their lives.
What did you read when you were a young teenager? Do you remember reading church literature then? How has it changed?
Well, now you are going all historical on me. I came out around the same time that Guide did!
Of course, I read it! Would I read it if I were a kid now . . . ? Yes, I think I would. But, I would want to have it strongly connected with a digital community.
I can remember that the thing I liked best about Guide back then was the pen pals section. I wrote to some of them. Even in those dark ages, the thing that drew me was community. That’s an even stronger driving force today! If we want to keep our young people in the church, we have to provide them community, not just more data!
Tell us a little more about your family. I believe you just got married? Congratulations!
I was married this past April in Colorado to veteran Pathfinder guy, John Coneff, who has faithfully created crossword puzzles to complement the GraceLink PowerPoints lessons for 15 years. I was officially introduced to him by Bonita Shields, who took over my position at the GC, at the last International Pathfinder Camporee in 2014.
My son, Jeb, and his family live at La Sierra University, where he teaches in the School of Business.
Alita Byrd is Spectrum's Interviews Editor. Alita read Guide every week as an earliteen and kept a big box of old Guide magazines to be read and re-read. Kathy Beagles Coneff was her English teacher in 1994, her senior year at Highland View Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland.
Read Alita's interview with previous Guide editor Randy Fishell here.
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