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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : What Would You Change About The Ensign? » What Would You Change About The Ensign?

What Would You Change About The Ensign?

Rusty - December 7, 2010

Part of my design education focused on editorial design. Magazines. I designed three different magazines in undergrad and one in graduate school (it was my thesis, actually). I was nourished with the editorial design work of Alexy Brodovich (Harper’s Bazaar), Fred Woodward (Rolling Stone), Fabien Baron (Italian Vogue), Kalman & Toscani (Colors), George Lois (Esquire covers) and even David Carson (Beach Culture) among others. At the time magazines like Wallpaper and Nest were new and hip and cool. To my young, idealistic mind, concept and aesthetic were king.

So you can imagine as a design student at BYU I didn’t care much for the design of the Ensign (or any other Church publication for that matter). Not only was the typography dreadful, the images were (always) literal (and generally bad), but there seemed to be little consideration for concept. The designers/editors weren’t challenging me, they weren’t giving me anything to think about. It was like the bad Gospel Doctrine class where you only get (the same old) answers and no good questions to actually chew on.

Well, they’ve made a few adjustments since then, as have I. And through years of experiencing the real world I’ve come to understand that managing the design of large brands not only requires a realistic understanding of who your true consumer is, but also a realization that communication is king. Aesthetics and concept are merely tools that assist the communication. Of course, none of this is to say the design and/or editorial of the Ensign is good. Far from it. I mean, if there’s any magazine in the world that should be inspiring, this is it, right?

So, this is where you come in. Let’s say that you’ve been hired by the Church to completely overhaul the Ensign (or any of the Church’s publications). What would you change in the design? And the editorial? Do you like the features and departments as they are? What would you toss? What would you add? And keep in mind, this is the Ensign, not Dialogue or Sunstone.


  1. The last few years The Friend has had several illustrated covers that looked like they were lifted from the Watchtower. So for The Friend I would hire some Mormons and fire the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    Comment by KLC — December 7, 2010 @ 12:12 pm

  2. Above all, I would allow for content — with the exception of the First Presidency message, virtually all articles are under 1,000 words, some as brief as 50. You have to give me more depth than that if you want me to read the thing.

    Related to that, I would also get away from the notion that there have to be illustrations on every page, with maybe a little space reserved somewhere for a few words (as often as not, picture captions and pull quotes rather than anything worth reading on its own). Many of the illustrations are stock photos of temples and church leaders and scenes that have been shown ad nauseum in other issues; many of the remaining illustrations are dreadful Watchtower-style cartoons (although admittedly they have been getting a little better in the past year or two). I don’t need a picture book and more than I welcome a nursery lesson for a sacrament meeting talk or soda pop for the sacrament — I’m hungry for church instruction and history and doctrine and news, not for glossy cotton-candy.

    The features are okay, I guess, in general. As long as we have the New Era and Friend, I do resent them taking space in the adult magazine to explain how an article can be adapted to youth and children, though. I also don’t care at all for the collections of member contributions of one- or two-sentence “how we solved this incredibly difficult problem with a plate of cookies and a cheerful smile” feature. But otherwise, the features (around the church, visiting teacher message, Mormon Journal) are okay. The main improvement needs to be in the major articles, the articles that *should* attract you to buy the magazine after flipping through it at the newsstand, if it were that kind of publication.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 7, 2010 @ 12:20 pm

  3. Honest, I hadn’t seen KLC’s comment when I referred to the Watchtower. Interesting that the Ensign illustrations suggest the same thing to us!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 7, 2010 @ 12:21 pm

  4. When my son was called on a Spanish-speaking mission, all the rest of the family started studying Spanish on Rosetta Stone as a way of demonstrating solidarity with our missionary. I also subscribed to the Spanish-version of the Liahona at that time, as a way to practice our reading skills; at the same time we kept our subscriptions to the New Era and Ensign (we dropped the Friend when our Youngest hit 12).

    My vote would be to ditch the Ensign, New Era, and Friend, and just go 100% Liahona.

    For one, the name just plain makes more sense (besides, it would kill off that Liahona/Iron Rod debate, because they would become ‘one-in-our-hands’). For two, my mailman would be grateful, because there’d be less to put in my mailbox. Three, I like the departmental organization of the Liahona (Adultos, Jovenes, y Ninos). I like that there’s something for everybody under one cover.

    Clearly, one of the design parameters currently in place for Church magazines is that the photo/text layouts have to be the same for ALL language editions. But some languages take more linear space to say the same thing than others. This affects the choice of pictures and the layout of sidebar text. I think they do a pretty good job with the Liahona, overall, and that it meets your standard of “inspiring”.

    Comment by Coffinberry — December 7, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

  5. Lol. It’s not often that Ardis and I are on opposite poles of an argument, here with me accepting the need for simplification because of international needs, and with her (and the original poster) looking for more meaty content. Guess we’ll have to agree to disagree (hugs Ardis).

    Comment by Coffinberry — December 7, 2010 @ 12:31 pm

  6. Ah, the Ensign. I used to love it when I was a teenager and made a point of reading it cover to cover. I thought I was so grown up because I could read the adult magazine (tee hee) and not just the fiction stories about dating in the New Era. I was probably a better person then.

    I understand what you’re talking about with the aesthetic concerns — I am not a designer myself, but I come from a family of artists from different fields (literature, art, film, and music — one of my brothers is a professional artist / designer) and we all at least dabble in each other’s disciplines, so I would say I’m at least sensitive to many of the things you are (if not the the same extent).

    At any rate, there isn’t anything that I find compelling / interesting / thought-provoking / uplifting / etc. in the Ensign anymore — speaking in terms of both design and content. I still flip through it every month, but rarely read any article all the way through and try to avoid looking too closely at any of the pictures or illustrations because I end up just having negative, condescending thoughts about them (like when I flip through the Deseret Book catalogue or read Mormon Times), which aren’t healthy even when I’m right. So, yeah, the Ensign does nothing for me.

    However, I also understand the core demographic concern and I have to admit to myself that I probably no longer fit in, so I’m not sure if improving it for me makes a whole lot of practical sense.

    As a tangential thought, is it just me or is the Ensign feeling more and more like the Watchtower (in both content and aesthetics)?

    Oh, and one more tangential topic: When I was a kid I used to love reading Mormon Journal — I was always fascinated by the “miracles” that people wrote about. Is it just me or have these miracles become increasingly less miraculous? It’s almost like they deliberately correlate out anything that might be a little bit extraordinary. Now “LDS Voices,” or whatever they call it these days, is almost exclusively about receiving comfort when you pray or learning how to go ahead with decisions when God doesn’t seem to be answering your prayers (not that there’s anything wrong with that per se… just sayin’).

    Comment by Orwell — December 7, 2010 @ 12:44 pm

  7. Ardis, I didn’t read your comment before I posted mine. I’m glad I’m not the only one that thinks it looks like the Watchtower.

    Oh, and I should have mentioned that I am also extremely sympathetic to the problem of trying to produce a magazine for so many different languages and cultures. That’s a layout nightmare, so I am willing to cut them a little slack for some of their sins in that regard to the degree that they improve their flexibility.

    Comment by Orwell — December 7, 2010 @ 12:47 pm

  8. What, KLC, too? Man, I really should have read the comments first.

    Comment by Orwell — December 7, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

  9. It is funny that we all know the answer to the converse of the question, i.e. What things is the Ensign trying to change about us? In my opinion, it is trying too hard. Imagine having a parent than only lectures you about your 50 weaknesses, or gives you lists of attitudes and actions to change in order to achieve the goals they would have you achieve, but doesn’t engage you otherwise. The Ensign is too much like this imaginary parent.

    Comment by Paul — December 7, 2010 @ 12:59 pm

  10. Earlier this morning, a friend asked me a similar question. My response was something that resonates with some if these comments:

    “Look at anything published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and if anything resemble’s that, cut it.”

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 7, 2010 @ 1:01 pm

  11. I understand some of the problems of needing a format that can accommodate umpteen languages. IIRC, that was the excuse they gave us a few years ago for the widened margins and the increased space between text lines — to give them the flexibility they needed when it took some language twice as many characters to convey the same meaning.

    But that doesn’t explain why they publish six 500-word articles instead of one 3,000-word article that actually teaches or encourages or explains or explores, rather than glossing lightly over the surface. As it is now, there just isn’t anything to read. I regularly skim through the entire magazine in less than three minutes, unless the First Presidency message strikes me as something new and not just a recycled recent conference talk. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can tell that fast whether there is any depth or whether the headline covers the article as well as the text does.

    I do like the increased range of topics they’ve been addressing in the past few years. but they need to actually address those topics, and that takes more words than the average TV Guide article, which seems to be their model with regard to text:picture ratio.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 7, 2010 @ 1:14 pm

  12. They still print the Ensign? Weird.

    Comment by B.Russ — December 7, 2010 @ 1:21 pm

  13. As it is now, there just isn’t anything to read. I regularly skim through the entire magazine in less than three minutes [...]</blockquote

    This describes my monthly Ensign routine perfectly.

    Comment by Orwell — December 7, 2010 @ 1:24 pm

  14. Whoops, messed up a tag.

    Comment by Orwell — December 7, 2010 @ 1:24 pm

  15. I’d definitely change the name to “Liahona.” Too many U.S. members forget we’re an international church, and a name change like that would be a nice monthly reminder. About ten years ago, the German version changed its name; it’s time the U.S. version does the same.

    Comment by Tim — December 7, 2010 @ 1:37 pm

  16. I thought the Ensign back in the 80′s was fantastic. Go back to that style. Less superficial fluff. More real content that is in depth.

    Comment by Clark — December 7, 2010 @ 1:45 pm

  17. I have not subscribed to the Ensign in about a decade. I do not read it, because the articles are vapid and reinforce conclusions rather than explore questions. Moreover, since I often hear the articles repeated verbatim in RS or sacrament talks, I feel no need to read them outside of church.

    So long as we insist on having a magazine that caters to everyone, I doubt that it will be interesting to anyone. Maybe we should return to niche magazines.

    Comment by Natalie B. — December 7, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

  18. Two words: swimsuit issue.

    Comment by MCQ — December 7, 2010 @ 2:40 pm

  19. The Ensign isn’t a magazine. There isn’t advertising of any kind. There really is no good reason for graphics, illustrations or photos.

    I wouldn’t necessarily change it from what it is now, but I wouldn’t try to compare it to something which is graphically superior. It doesn’t have the same readers as Wallpaper.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — December 7, 2010 @ 2:44 pm

  20. I’d love for the magazine to be a true representation and journal of the mormon experience throughout the world. But that gets messy and conflicted sometimes, and could Salt Lake ever put their stamp of approval on it? Should they? After all, no one’s leaving the church over the Ensign content as it is now.

    At this point, the readership has self-selected into a group that gets something out of it, and the kind of radical overhauls needed to appeal to me could turn the current readership away. And besides, I have plenty of places to find the kind of faith-based content I find inspiring.

    Bloggernacle as Fourth Estate!

    Comment by Kyle M — December 7, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

  21. The Ensign could conceivably “merge” with the Church News, and put out a glossier, designier weekly “news” magazine with an inspirational message in each issue.

    Just a thought.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — December 7, 2010 @ 2:52 pm

  22. I’m with Clark. The Ensign was better about 30-40 years ago. And generally, I feel that most of what is in the Ensign is about an inch deep.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — December 7, 2010 @ 3:10 pm

  23. I think in terms of design and editorial, the church needs to decide what the purpose of the Ensign is. Is it a missionary tool we can share with our friends? Is it it help members have better lives? Is it to teach doctrines? Is it to inform about current events in the church? IS it to train the volunteers? I think it tries to do all these things all at once, and so it has challenges doing any of them. So I think the first thing the Ensign needs is clarity of what it’s purpose is. If it is all these things, can we section of those things or must we doing them all at once in each and every article?

    Strictly in terms of design, I think the Ensign is communicating a Christ-centric message very well. But I wonder if this is mainly due to the Ensign being an advertising tool for the church, and if so, to whom are we advertising?

    Comment by Matt W. — December 7, 2010 @ 3:25 pm

  24. One last thing. I think the Ensign would be much more widely read if the First Presidency Message was original content, rather than a reprint from a previous sermon. I’m even okay with the shorter articles, if they can keep it fresh and original.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 7, 2010 @ 3:27 pm

  25. The unsettling thing for me is the possibility that those who make it are quite happy with it and believe that it is doing exactly what it is supposed to do. It’s truly the lowest common denominator, the “dumbed down” church, the perfect complement to the teaching manuals. It is the logical conclusion of correlation. What in the church’s public presentation of itself would argue for longer more thoughtful articles? They just made them shorter! And more pointless-graphics loaded! They are, as far as I can see, running as fast as they can in the opposite direction. It is designed to meet the needs of those who like it, the rest of us are on our own.

    Like lots of things in the church, I wish it were different, but it isn’t and isn’t likely to be because they are doing this on purpose.

    Sorry for the pessimism.

    Comment by Jim Donaldson — December 7, 2010 @ 4:01 pm

  26. I really hate to criticize the Ensign, but I have to agree that there is less substance and more style (even though I don’t think it is a very appealing style, at least to me). I can remember Hugh Nibley’s meaty articles about the Book of Enoch from some 30 years ago, and Mormon Journal used to move me in a way that the current iteration, LDS Voices, rarely does. It feels a bit awkward to be piling on, but I mostly skim, and read very few of the articles any more. I mostly subscribe out of habit.

    I guess I should make a suggestion to be helpful, which would be to include at least one substantive article each issue to appeal to those who currently find the content lacking.

    Comment by kevinf — December 7, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

  27. I think the Ensign is communicating a Christ-centric message very well

    I think there’s a difference between communicating a Christ-centered message and merely splashing up pictures of Jesus interspersed with affirmations of belief.

    Comment by Dane — December 7, 2010 @ 4:29 pm

  28. And keep in mind, this is the Ensign, not Dialogue or Sunstone.

    And that’s the problem.

    I jest. Kinda. The issue is that in a religion with fairly flexible doctrine (and ours has shifted significantly in our scant two centuries) trying to present a certain theology as fixed and normative necessarily makes you cut things back to absolute bare-bones. Whereas in Mormon-focused — but independent — publications, authors have more room to dig, explore, and say things like “Maybe it’s just me, but…” In the Ensign, any major concepts presented must have already been stated a dozen-odd times by general authorities — usually within living memory. (Goodbye, Journal of Discourses. It was fun while it lasted.) And the general authorities are less likely to be doctrinally daring today than in past years (cf. Elder Poelman. Caveat lector: much of the site is not really Mormon-friendly. I’m just not aware of anywhere else that has the redactions so clearly indicated.)

    It might be possible for them to publish more personal essays, particularly those that do not beat you about the head and neck as though the moral were a broken bottle; something that leaves the conclusions, at least partially, to the reader. At least that’s what I’d try if I were the editor.

    Comment by Latter-day Guy — December 7, 2010 @ 5:42 pm

  29. The art has definitely gone in a JW direction. That was my opinion before I got to this thread. Every picture has to have someone reading the scriptures, or holding them up to someone else and pointing at them.

    When’s the last time you pointed at a verse and someone looked over your shoulder? “See look, it says so right there in Isaiah!”

    My biggest problem with the Ensign is no depth at all. None. I feel that the official magazine aimed at adults should offer SOME depth- one article an issue, or 2-paper summary with a link to a lengthy article by Elder Holland on Atonement or something. Lack of depth creates the impression (which I sometimes fear may be too close to reality) that there IS no depth to the Gospel or the Church, or that there is no serious thinking or engagement with issues of any kind.

    One of our stake goals is for each member to read the Ensign from cover to cover. I confess I’ve quit reading it at all, because my relationship with the institutional Church (as opposed to my local ward) is better when I don’t. Reading it makes me anywhere from discontent to really frustrated and grumbling, like when an anonymous doctrinal piece quoted 1 John 4:1-3 as Biblical support for the Godhead. That passage is a well-known medieval forgery, and few Bibles include it anymore. Did no one at the Ensign or correlation know that? Or did no one care? I can’t decide which option rankles me more.

    Comment by Ben S — December 7, 2010 @ 5:55 pm

  30. Bring back the meaty doctrinal “Ask a Question” feature, and start running 60-page articles spread out over 3 issues.

    Comment by Ben S — December 7, 2010 @ 5:57 pm

  31. Rehire Lavina

    Comment by Hemi — December 7, 2010 @ 7:41 pm

  32. I hate to admit it,but I only read the Ensign twice a year to read the conference talks. Otherwise, it is just not that interesting.

    Comment by joe — December 8, 2010 @ 6:07 am

  33. Fewer correlated articles on the same topics using the same verses over and over and over again. More Random Sampler. More user generated content. Allow GAs to contribute only if the article contains more original analysis than it does direct quotation. Choose good art for illustration (note: just about everything produced by people in Utah County fails to qualify). There are more Bible-themed classical artists out there than Carl Bloch; get to know them.

    The current design looks like they assume that I have the attention span and reading comprehension of an over-medicated 6 year old. When they went to all “regular features,” I thought, “Do they think I’m too dim to understand how a magazine works?” The current design demonstrates actual contempt for the audience’s intelligence.

    Comment by John C. — December 8, 2010 @ 6:40 am

  34. Keep the Ensign for the HT/VT who needs to slap together the quick lesson and those who only have time to catch up on their pearls in the bathroom. Instead, add an additional, optional, publication– the Mormon equivalent of Harper’s or the New Yorker. Call it something like Sam Brannan’s Almanac.

    Comment by David — December 8, 2010 @ 8:55 am

  35. John C.,

    Isn’t J. Kirk Richards in Utah County? He is an incredible Christian artist! One of the best the Church has spawned since Minerva and Arnold.

    Unfortunately, Church art has been hijacked by the lackeys at Deseret Book who push Swindle, Parsons, and Dewey on us. The Saviour has been reduced to a feminized baby sitter with every painting containing at least three children and four sheep.

    Where is the incredible abstract or fine art representative of the Fullness and Glory of the Restored Gospel as seen in vision by President Kimball?

    Instead we get the Watchtower lite version.

    Comment by Michael — December 8, 2010 @ 9:59 am

  36. “The current design looks like they assume that I have the attention span and reading comprehension of an over-medicated 6 year old.” Whoa, they make the Ensign just for people life me.

    I now just download it for free to my iPad. BCC is my Ensign.

    Comment by Chris H. — December 8, 2010 @ 10:11 am

  37. 1) A better ratio of female writers and editors.

    2) Since it appeals to everyone, there should be easy,
    medium and advanced articles written at different levels. People will gravitate to the items they can use and need.

    3) Less editing, less correlation. It’s over-edited and needs to be slicker, faster, smoother and freer.

    4) If you’re gonna tell stories, better make them REAL stories of REAL people in REAL settings (times, dates, places). The white-washed names and faces attempting to appeal to everyone appeal to no one.

    5) We need MORE art in LDS culture, not less. More art of various styles, eras, and artists. Print extra pages if you have to accommodate for text and art.

    6) Q& A section with REAL questions about those ‘items on the shelf’ as opposed to ‘how can I read my scriptures more meaningfully?’.

    7)Thank you for keeping it commercial free (unlike the earlier decades).

    8) FRESH brand-new first presidency messages. FRESH and new GA articles every month.

    9) More poetry, short stories, prose, and other literary art submitted from the members.

    10) Publish more hymns and music through the Ensign more often.

    11) Better representation of the diversity within the church, namely- social classes. Also,’real’ Mormons are as a population overweight and a lot of them have British teeth. Where are the crooked teeth, pimples and plus-sizes and K-MART clothes?

    12) Let the PR department have their press releases, but keep them out of the theological magazine. We don’t need another highly polished article on how perfect the newest GA and his/her family are.

    13) Print corrections and criticisms (gasp). Currently there are sometimes printed ‘thank yous’ saying things like ‘your article about XYZ touched me so very much’, but never any criticisms.

    Comment by J.A.T. — December 8, 2010 @ 11:58 am

  38. “Where are the crooked teeth, pimples and plus-sizes and K-MART clothes?”

    Well, K-Mart carries a great selection of larger size clothes. I totally fit in this category. Yet, I do not want to see my fat and poor life in any magazine. I am okay with that.

    Comment by Chris H. — December 8, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

  39. Thank you everyone for your responses so far. There is a lot of great stuff here.

    Regarding this last comment, there seems to be a thematic question in many of the comments: what level of aspiration is appropriate for the Ensign? Right now it seems to be almost exclusively aspirational, all the stories end well, all the pictures are of attractive people making the appropriate gestures, etc. Perhaps it’s a bigger question for the Church, because it seems like the Church is almost exclusively aspirational as well, right? Thoughts?

    Comment by Rusty — December 8, 2010 @ 12:29 pm

  40. Well … I don’t see *my* church-related aspirations reflected very well, so what does that say, either about me or the magazine?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 8, 2010 @ 12:41 pm

  41. I’d like to hear from the people that *like* the Ensign or regularly find some worth in it. Surely there must be some, right? Any testimonials?

    Or are the reactions here because those of us who tend to dislike the Ensign also tend to congregate on faithful LDS blogs?

    Comment by Ben S — December 8, 2010 @ 1:47 pm

  42. “I thought the Ensign back in the 80’s was fantastic. Go back to that style. Less superficial fluff. More real content that is in depth.”

    Good editions.

    “Fewer correlated articles on the same topics using the same verses over and over and over again. More Random Sampler. More user generated content. Allow GAs to contribute only if the article contains more original analysis than it does direct quotation. Choose good art for illustration… There are more Bible-themed classical artists out there than Carl Bloch; get to know them.”


    “Instead we get the Watchtower lite version.”

    I laughed there.

    It really is true, the Ensign cannot and will not be what everyone needs and wants it to be. (For that, there’s the Book of Mormon, etc.)

    I’d love to see fewer pictures (especially the same ones, as mentioned) et. al. However, the younger generation— which many of us probably aren’t a part of—likely love the new design. They also probably don’t want the 8-page articles. Besides, if you like the article, you’ll love it, but if you aren’t interested in it, that’s a lot of wasted pages… It’s the “don’t put all your eggs in the same basket” thinking. For those seeking long articles, order from the Maxwell Institute, Dialogue, or Sunstone, or search on the internet.

    Interesting that many are calling for long, in-depth articles, but most blog articles are under 1,000 words, and many just 50.

    I disagree with most that LDS Voices is somehow less than Mormon Journal; I find them pretty much the same. Perhaps, as always can be asked, the change is not with the author or text, but with the reader? Or is it that our authors’ (our) experiences just aren’t as spiritual as before?

    Like J.A.T. wrote, could we see some “normal” people, at least once? One issue where people are shown as they are? Just the other night I was looking at a photo in the Friend (which I really like now compared to before, especially since most everything now is at least based on true stories/ experiences) and the painting right next to it: the girl in the painting is much skinnier!

    For very long articles full of interesting experiences, try the fuller early “Mormon journals” found at http://www.boap.org, for example.

    I used to dislike the Random Sampler, now I like it. The best is LDS Voices. I dislike the “what’s in this issue” (I thought that’s what the TOC was??), the page or two on “how to use this issue”/ “adapt for children”/ etc.–a half page should be sufficient for adapting. I love the press releases, and often wish there were more.

    Anyway, I believe part of the Ensign’s purpose is to teach members, especially new members, appropriateness/ how members *should* look, act, etc.

    Comment by grego — December 8, 2010 @ 6:57 pm

  43. Interesting that most comments here have to do with content. Rusty was mostly asking about design changes.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — December 8, 2010 @ 7:12 pm

  44. I would like the design to be more like Rolling Stone.

    Comment by MCQ — December 8, 2010 @ 8:58 pm

  45. Design is driven largely by content. If you aren’t going to print words, you have to fill up the space with something else. The Ensign fills its space with color and sparkle and shiny things.

    They also probably don’t want the 8-page articles. Besides, if you like the article, you’ll love it, but if you aren’t interested in it, that’s a lot of wasted pages…

    That’s exactly what many of us are saying they’re doing with the entire magazine. Every month. Year after year.

    For those seeking long articles, order from the Maxwell Institute, Dialogue, or Sunstone, or search on the internet.

    None of those sources fill the hunger for material from the Church itself, in the voice of the Church, unashamed to blend the spirit with the intellect without academic arrogance or commercialism.

    And nobody is seeking long articles solely for the word count! What we’ve been saying we need is discussion of topics that matter with discussion that goes deeper than the surface. Unless you’re Joseph Smith or Abraham Lincoln, that takes words, and usually quite a few of them. But word count alone doesn’t do it — two pounds of cotton candy would be no more satisfying than one pound.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 8, 2010 @ 9:27 pm

  46. As a reader of the Economist, I’m convinced a magazine can be great even with short articles and despite terrible art. A little new information and intelligent analysis go far.

    My favorite Ensign issues are the conference reports, where the articles at least attempt to present something important. I also like the photography in those issues, though that could just be my untrained eye. Black and white captured portraits year-round might be excessive, but at least an example of a classy-looking Ensign exists.

    In the other ten issues I usually find one or no interesting articles, but that is true for most magazines. I have ideas of articles I’d prefer to read (short, accessible summaries of historical research) and of articles I’d eliminate (readers’ stories with a dramatic experience, a brief, general testimony, and little connecting the two); sadly, my suggestions must not have won out in the survey of readers conducted a year or two ago.

    Comment by Brian A — December 9, 2010 @ 8:04 am

  47. Frankly, I think more depth might even be more important for non-English-speaking areas of the world, that hunger for more LDS interaction, particularly since the Church seems to frown on local uncorrelated publications. We have blogs, various print publications, podcasts, books about Mormons in public libraries (from Oxford Press, etc.) and what do they have? Scriptures, manuals, the Liahona and likely some zealous Evangelical anti-LDS material.

    Wilfred Decoo tells this story about Belgium

    “I well remember a leadership meeting at which a local leader asked a visiting general authority if it would be possible for the church distribution center in Frankfurt to make avail- able books from the Deseret and Bookcraft companies, even in English for local English-speaking members, with permission perhaps to translate some of the more popular books into other languages. The visiting authority responded categorically that the scriptures should be enough for any of the Saints. Yet in the foyer I observed his wife reading a book by Hugh Nibley and his daughter a novel by Jack Weyland.”- in “Feeding the Fleeing Flock” Dialogue, 3-1 1996, p. 104.

    Comment by Ben — December 9, 2010 @ 9:59 am

  48. A couple facts:

    1) Most people don’t read the articles entirely. People skim through magazines, read the title, and look at the pictures. If THOSE things grab you, you MIGHT read a highlighted line or two. A small group of people (usually poor smucks having to give talks) will read on. You have approximately 3 seconds to “wow” me. Keep in mind too, that the pictures catch people’s eyes as they flip through the pages carelessly. Most people don’t read every page. So, for the average ‘flipper-reader’ the Ensign has to struggle to give them a ‘take-away’. Sorry, ‘Dialogue’ this ain’t. I’m just saying that’s what they are shooting for.

    If we *used* the Ensign for something more than a coffee table weight we’d probably drive the content change faster. For example, if we were rss’ing it, uploading it to our smartphones, listening to it on podcasts, etc., they’d start focusing on the text more than the magazine hooks.

    Honestly, do YOU read every word or carefully thumb through EVERY page after reading the table of contents? If you do, you are weird. be honest, don’t YOU use the flip method with the Ensign just as you do the magazines at the dr’s office??? Hasn’t everyone heard of the Friend being compared with ‘Highlights’?

    3) A major difference between the Ensign and the bloggernacle: the content of the text in the bloggernacle is sufficient to stand on its own . . . you could hook up an rss feed to it and thrive on the words alone. The Ensign aritlces usually need a piece of art and an important last-name by-line.

    2) The soft-focus b&w’s on the conference issue are actually very symbolic of an idealistic theology. Even though I complain that we ought to be depicted more realistically (think ‘National Geographic), fair is fair. If every GA picture is going to be posed aand all the wrinkles are airbrushed out (even on Hinckley and Monson- men in their 80′s and 90′s!), it’s only fair that we get a heavy soft focus lens.

    3) Content wise- I’d still like to see women writing more doctrinal pieces and men writing more ‘affect’ stories. I think the ratio of women staffers to men is about 2:10. Women’s articles are token at best. Humph. I’d also like to see Deseret Book publish in genres more evenly as well. If wishes were horses. . .

    4) Mmm 3/4 page VT message while the HT message is a multi-page story with art and questions for discussion? That doesn’t seem fair. The RS needs a 3-4 page spread with art. (No the seal and shadow pictures they’ve been using for years aren’t enough).

    Comment by J.A.T. — December 9, 2010 @ 5:52 pm

  49. Last post, I promise . . .

    Do men find the soft-focus pictures, cursive flowing fonts, and muted colors feminine???

    I personally like the cursive flowing fonts as they remind me of our historical roots and old penmanship.

    Comment by J.A.T. — December 9, 2010 @ 5:55 pm

  50. Honestly, do YOU read every word or carefully thumb through EVERY page after reading the table of contents? If you do, you are weird. be honest, don’t YOU use the flip method with the Ensign

    Not sure to whom you are directing this, but yeah, several of us have said this is exactly what we do. And we don’t think it’s a good thing, at all. We want articles to read, to engage with, not to flip past with that sinking feeling that once again we are going to bed without our supper. And as several have said, the art usually turns OFF the interest to look closer, rather than the other way around.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 9, 2010 @ 6:55 pm

  51. I think that part of the problem with design is that the Ensign and the other church magazines have been reduced to advertisements for, and affirmation of, cultural mormonism.

    “Look how wonderful we are! See, we have good looking models, and cute clip art, and sound bite articles, yaaa for us!!”

    For example, since the Ensign is the same every month, year after year, with the same quotes over and over, who really needs the “In this Issue” on the front, followed by catchy little titles. Just the covers look like they belong at the grocery checkout, right up there with Cosmo.

    I can just imagine,

    “In this Issue-

    Super Sacraments- 5 tips for beginning deacons!”

    “How to get the most for your tithing dollar!”

    “5 GA quotes that will drive her wild!”

    I would be more inclined to read it or have it around the house if it didn’t reek of advertising. When I look through it, I get this creepy amway-mlm vibe.

    Comment by Hemi — December 9, 2010 @ 7:48 pm

  52. However, the younger generation— which many of us probably aren’t a part of—likely love the new design. They also probably don’t want the 8-page articles.

    I think you underestimate the intelligence of my generation.

    Comment by B.Russ — December 10, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

  53. Well, I’ll chime in with a single bit of praise: the Ensign does a lot better these days at featuring the lives of non-American and non-European LDS. I swear for years after I joined the Church in the early 90s, any articles describing people in that demographic were few and far in between. I recall one short piece where a member reminisced how she had moved to Chicago (gasp! hotbed of Babylon) and, after getting lost her first day there, was saved by the local branch who were walking the streets singing hymns to locate the poor lost little Utah woman. Come on.

    But in the past year or so, there have been profiles of Saints in other countries–current profiles, not “In 1865 there were two Elders and 3 members in Poland, now their descendants are all in Provo and have been for 2 generations”–and that’s cool. And they feature actual foreign people, not “Brother Johnson moved from Salt Lake to Costa Rica, read about his terrifying encounters with brown people and jaguars here!” We could use more of that, even if it is just to emphasize that there are lots of folks dressing up and schlepping themselves to Sacrament meeting on Sunday.

    Comment by Bro. Jones — December 10, 2010 @ 3:15 pm

  54. Bravo Rusty for initiating the conversation!

    Comment by Travis — December 10, 2010 @ 8:09 pm

  55. As a member my whole life, I was never really interested in reading the friend, the new era, or the Ensign. It was only now that after I got married and had children where I started to read them. And I love it! I love how it challenges me to be a better mother, friend, teacher, etc. I think that it should challenge a person rather than think about it. Thinkiing about something is the first step, but when it’s a challenge people like me that are always up for a challenge to better my life, makes me want to try it… and complete it…

    I read a lot of the comments on here and many of the comments come from people that have been reading it their whole life or for a very long time. But it is just like the scriptures, it was there before we were born, it hasn’t change to be-fit individual standards on what she wants or he wants but for all. The ensign is designed for all adults, of different statuses, and levels of comprehension in the gospel. And that even though we may sometimes dislike what is said or how it looks or what ever, and we may even compare it to the OTHER magazines out there in the world, but those other magazines are out there and not here. And each article within the magazine is made for maybe just that one person that it relates to, or refer too.

    But we cannot compare the Ensign to any other magazine in the world. We should support the church in how ever they choose to make the ensign, friend, or New Era. They know what they are doing, but it’s us.. do we trust them to just not complain about how it looks and look at what is being said. If we skim through the Ensign how we skim through the scriptures what are we really fulfilling, who is it really benefiting. Are we cheating ourselves through this? We don’t skim through prayers when we need or heavenly father the most, do we.. So we shouldn’t question what the people He (the lord) has put in charge to lead us in what they are doing!

    Comment by Sis. Mokiao — March 15, 2011 @ 11:03 am

  56. I would do nothing to it,the printed word is obsolete. I find every thing I want to read in ebooks and at internet sites.I can not remember when I last read printed material. Read an ebook and save a tree. In the 1960;s startrek predicted this ebook revolution,and once again science fiction becomes science fact.

    Comment by marv thompson — March 18, 2011 @ 6:52 am

  57. [...] Michael, commenting on Rusty’s post “What Would You Change About the Ensign?” at Nine Moons: Unfortunately, Church art has been hijacked by the lackeys at Deseret Book who push Swindle, Parsons, and Dewey on us. The Saviour has been reduced to a feminized baby sitter with every painting containing at least three children and four sheep. [...]

    Pingback by Zelophehad’s Daughters | Nacle Notebook 2010: Funny Comments — March 23, 2011 @ 8:23 am

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