Dallas Robbins, Maurine Jensen Proctor
Andrew R. Hall
[MOD: Thanks to Andrew Hall for writing this thoughtful, informative,and -- so far as I know -- unsolicited review. It's items like this thathelp make AML-List an interesting place to be!]
This is a quick review of the LDS-related web magazines that are out there. They have been mentioned in off hand ways on this list at times, but I thought a detailed introduction would be useful. Web magazines have become very popular lately. Most famous, I think, are Slate and Salon, which cover politics as well as other news, and have a lot of commentary, and also contain a lot of movie, book, and other cultural reviews. They also have lots of regular famous columnists, like Garrison Keilor is on Salon, I think. Apparently there are web magazines of all kinds popping up. Over the last year or so, three Mormon related sites have appeared. They are Meridian Magazine, Harvest Magazine, and Beliefnet's Mormon page.
Meridian Magazine is the largest and apparently the most orthodox of the three (www.meridianmagazine.com). It has been around for about a year and a half, I think. It is part of LDS World, the web presence of the group that runs Infobases and LDG Gems. Infobases, of course, was acquired by Deseret Books, which is owned by the Church, so you can say Meridian is now, at least indirectly, a Church-sponsored magazine. It has a lot of the feel of the old This People magazine. In fact it is edited by Maurine Jensen Proctor and published by her husband Scot Facer Proctor, and I think that pair ran This People at one time. When I say it is the largest, I mean it has the most content, with new articles at least every week, and a small stable of columnists. As far as Mormon Letters are concerned, there are two columnists of note, Kieth Merrill, the creator of many Church films, such as "Legacy" and "The Testaments", who writes on contemporary film (and most recently, a lot about the making The Testaments), and our own Steven Kapp Perry, who writes on LDS music (although I haven't seen a column by him in a while). Also there are a couple of guys who review older films on video, and occasional articles on successful Mormon authors like Anne Perry. There are also articles on various issues of importance to Mormons (such as a recent one on the Boy Scout case before the Supreme Court), articles on finance and science from a LDS point of view, political stories by Jack Anderson, inspirational stories, and news updates of interest to Mormons (including both news about Mormons, like LDS Gems, and general news stories about moral issues, like the progress of gay marriage initiatives in various states). The tone tends to be pretty conservative/orthodox, and a common positions among Mormons on certain political questions among is routinely assumed. Maurine Proctor writes a lot of the lead articles, and I just don't think she is a very interesting writer. It is a commercial site, but the advertisements all seem to be "internal ads", for Infobase related products. I tend to check the site every week or two, and read a political or cultural story or two. I like inspirational stories as much as the next guy, but I don't look for that on the web, so I skip over the bulk of the articles in the magazine. Like This People it often has interesting content, but the quality is very uneven.
Harvest Magazine is a newer entry into the web magazine business. (www.harvestmagazine.com). It is run by Dallas Robbins, who I believe is on this list. It just got started late last year, and doesn't appear to have anywhere near the financial backing as Meridian. Therefore it has put out much less content, and so it is harder to judge the nature of the site. While developing a pool of writers, it has depended on reprints of important writings from the past by authors such as Brigham Young, James Talmage, and Lowell Bennion, and reprints from other sites, such as Beliefnet and FARMS. The last two months it has begun to put out more impressive content. There was a very interesting article by (former?) AML President Valerie Holladay on her experiences with Mormon Literature, and a column by our own Edgar Snow, who appears to have signed on as a columnist. This is the first sign of a significant humorist on any of the web sites (excepting the anemic "Latter-Day Laughs" section on Meridian). There was also a book excerpt by Avraham Gileadi. Judging from their new essays and their choice of older writings, Harvest appears to have a more open, unsanitized tone than Meridian, a Sunstone to Meridian's This People (although that may be overstating it). But again, it is too early to tell. It really hasn't published very much new material yet, so we'll have to wait and see. Each page has your average web advertisements.
Beliefnet is a new "spiritual gathering place" for people of all religious backgrounds (www.beliefnet.com). NPR did a story about the site about a week ago, with sound bites from people debating the appropriateness of paid advertisements on a religious themed web page. Besides its main home page it has pages on every major religion. Any of the general news or content that relates to that religion is included its own page. The Mormon page is significant in part because it is maintained by a non-Mormon organization. So while some of the content is created by Mormons, an equal percentage of it is produced by non-Mormons. The amount of new content rates far below Meridian, its overall quality is much greater. The most significant featured columnist is Orson Scott Card, who gives the site almost instant credibility. His columns resemble the ones he wrote for Sunstone in the 1980s (back when he was on speaking terms with them), many of which were collected in his "Storyteller in Zion" book. In his three columns so far, he has criticized those who would criticize Bob Jones III for saying Mormons and Catholics are going to hell, those who want the Church to make a formal apology for past discrimination, and those who tried to organize a movement to vote for President Hinckley as Time's Man of the Century. Agree with him or not, Card's gadfly essays always makes for interesting reading. He appears to be on a one column a month schedule. Linda Hoffman Kimball has also contributed several columns, lightweight pieces taken from her "Saints Well Seasoned" book, and one on the new Relief Society Enrichment meetings. Eugene England, historian Jan Shipps, former Dialogue editor Robert Rees, poet Emma Lou Thayne and businessman/politician Mitt Romney have all contributed one essay each, so it isn't clear that they will be regulars yet. England's piece was a review of "God's Army", and Shipps wrote about the new Apostles Testimony of the Living Christ. If some of these become regular columnists, BeliefNet would certainly have the biggest names involved of any of these three web pages. The site also features non-Mormonswriting about Mormonism. For example Book Reviews of President Hinkley (positive) and Coke Newell's (negative) recent books, and of course Jan Shipps isn't a Mormon. Again, while there isn't quite as much content as Meridian, the quality tends to be higher. Also, it is connected to the larger BeliefNet system, which features a large number of other religious commentators and stories (the main story today is about the faith of the popular musician Moby), as well as movie and book reviews, prayer groups, and sacred texts. This is a very good site, but I only look at it a couple of times a month to keep up on the new material. It has advertisements on each page, but they are pretty unobtrusive, and I'm sure they keep more objectionable ones out, as they try to preserve a religious atmosphere.
Writing this essay today, I came across another magazine, although it straddles the line between a web magazine and a plain old web site. It is LDS.net (www.lds.net), run by John Scot Denhalter. It has a few book reviews by Denhalter, and some articles on Church conferences by Nancy Cureton. There really isn't much here to recommend it.
Andrew Hall Nagareyama, Japan
© 2000 Andrew R. Hall < email@example.com >