9:30 a.m. Read cheerful note from feedback folder suggesting that God would soon be “sending a lightning strike to turn you all to ash.” I sense he doesn’t like the site.
Mostly, though, the readers, or the “users” as we awkwardly call them, have been troupers. The hardcore Beliefnet addicts helped us through chapter 11 by a) showing up and b) buying overpriced T-shirts we designed after they asked for ways to help.
10 a.m. Met with man from one of the women’s magazines. Started conversation around partnering with their magazine on “spiritual fitness.” Actually makes a lot of sense given the popularity of yoga and meditation and the studies linking prayer to better health. Now that we’re out of Chapter 11, more of these kinds of meetings are happening.
11:30 a.m. Story meeting. Had scheduled “What’s your poverty IQ?” quiz for tonight’s lead but technical glitches require a change. We’ll go instead with our interview with popular author Neal Donald Walsch of Conversations With God fame. With any prominent author we’re always anxious about how to handle our miniboards. Those are the message boards we run alongside the articles. We’re quite fond of miniboards because the articles directly stimulate conversation. Kind of like instantaneous letters to the editor.
On the other hand, while we censor obscenities and hate speech, we don’t usually censor opinions, which means that some author who’s graced us with an interview may come to Beliefnet and see himself being trashed. Elizabeth Sams, our executive producer, suggests we put up a note in our pre-existing Neal Donald Walsch message boards so his fans can be poised to defend him if things go negative.
Scheduling crunch. The first-person piece by a minister who did an exorcism is good, but I wonder if we can push it off a week. Religion producer Laura Sheahen suggests it might not be appropriate to do the exorcism piece during advent. “It’s really not Satan season,” Elizabeth explains.
Noon. A national Christian non-profit group is advertising an anti-poverty fundraising appeal. Should we put it on the whole site or just the Christian areas?
The fact that we’re multifaith is constantly posing interesting dilemmas for us. Indeed, the conventional wisdom was that being multifaith would be our albatross. Though media executives did understand that religion and spirituality are “hot topics”—even if they happen to think it’s a sign of our nation’s decline—they often predicted that a multifaith approach would never fly because people are “only interested in their own faith.” That was an accurate depiction of the spiritual landscape … 30 years ago. Now, thanks to interfaith marriage, TV, immigration, and a variety of other factors, people are much more comfortable in a multifaith atmosphere. From a business point of view, being multifaith was our salvation because it enabled us to develop strong partnerships with ABCNews and AOL and attract a wider array of advertisers.
By the way, we always say multifaith rather than ecumenical or interfaith because we don’t force an agenda of religious blending. The site is supposed to help people meet their spiritual needs as defined by the user, not by us. This is easer to do on a Web site than in a magazine because people can customize their own experiences. We have folks who just go to the Catholic area, read Catholic articles, do the Way of the Cross meditation, talk to other Catholics, and never dabble in other faiths. Others are spiritual shoppers who explore the whole site.
5:12 p.m. Read a great e-mail from one user explaining how she uses Beliefnet: “I will never forget what this web community has done for me. … To the people on the US Politics [message] board, to Atheism Challenge and Critique, to Deism, to the Jewish boards where I have now found my place in Reconstructionist Judaism, to Life After Death, where I coped with the loss of Justin, you all have done more for me than words will ever know.”
Ultimately, the reason Beliefnet is alive has little to do with the management or investors or business models. It’s simply that the need for spiritual information, guidance, inspiration, and companionship is insatiable. In a tiny, tiny, humble way, we help—ever so slightly—to quench the thirst.