Welcome to the first issue of the newly redesigned This Rock. As many of you know, in the May-June 2005 issue we included a reader survey. We wanted our readers to give us a report card, and you did! The response was overwhelming. We received more than 1,200 responses—about eight times the expected response to magazine surveys.
But it wasn’t just the number of responses; it was the quality. I read each and every survey, most of them on the day they came in, and they were filled with good ideas and constructive criticism. The good news is that readers are very happy with the magazine as it is: 70 percent said the content is “excellent,” and another 27 percent said “good.”
Based on your recommendations—and ideas of our own—we’ve made some changes to the appearance and content of the magazine. Of course, our mission, focus, and orthodoxy will not change one jot. We’re committed to giving you the best apologetics and evangelization magazine possible so that together we can fulfill the great commission to spread the good news.
Ever Ancient, Ever New
Common wisdom says that magazines need a redesign every few years to keep from looking dated. But in rethinking the look of This Rock we were looking for more than the newest fashion in magazine design—almost the opposite. We wanted the magazine to look more Catholic, and that meant looking to our rich history as much as to the present or future.
For example, in designing a new logo, we wanted to communicate permanence, reliability, solidity. With the help of Devin Schadt, a very talented designer, we came up with the chiseled granite lettering that you see on the cover.
The new department titles make use of illuminated letters reminiscent of medieval illuminated manuscripts. The monks who illuminated—or embellished—manuscripts did so out of a love of the Word. The words of Scripture they copied were intimately connected to the Word himself, and they poured all their creativity into their meditative work.
Some readers expressed concern that we might be spending too much money on the appearance of the magazine. I can assure you that our budget for art is comically (or tragically) low. Our designer, Sherry Russell, does a lot with a little. Like the work of the monks in the scriptorium, hers is a work of love, and I’d like to thank her for this redesign and for her infinite patience with a demanding editor.
It didn’t come as a big surprise that many readers wanted to see more about Church history and more about Scripture. We knew that we could do a better job in these two critical areas, and now we’ve added a department for each.
For Church history, we’ve enlisted the help of two eminent Catholic writers: Robert P. Lockwood and Matthew Bunson. Lockwood will focus on correcting what he calls “Catholic urban legends”—all the dastardly deeds everyone believes the Church has done. He will explain what really happened. In alternate issues, Bunson will focus on filling in the gaps in our historical education. The new department is “Truth Be Told,” and you’ll find it on page XX.
For Scripture, we tapped two of our Catholic Answers staff apologists: Jim Blackburn and Tim Staples. In “By the Book,” they will be tackling issues such as why Catholics call priests “Father” (this issue, page XX), whether purgatory is scriptural, and the accusation that Catholics pray to statues.
We’ve also added a department called “Up a Notch,” especially for our readers who are well-versed in Catholic apologetics already and are ready to “kick it up a notch.” It’s also a place where up-and-coming apologists can publish their writings. It will be a corner where apologists can engage in a higher level of conversation with one another.
Two of our valued columnists, Jimmy Akin and Kenneth Howell, have had changes in job description. I’d like to thank them for “Brass Tacks” and “Step by Step,” which have served our readers well. But I’ve asked each of them now to focus on writing feature stories. This will give them the opportunity to explore topics in more depth and, I believe, will be a better use of their considerable talent in apologetics.
To our delight, Howell has agreed to join Akin as a contributing editor, as has London-based Joanna Bogle, a frequent This Rock writer. Her stories of high-profile conversions in England have taken “Damascus Road” to a new level, and you’ll continue to see her writing there and in upcoming features.
Now Featuring . . .
Features are changing too. The process is more gradual, but over the last year we’ve been trying to give you information in more easily digestible form. That doesn’t mean we’re “dumbing it down.” It does mean more work for our writers and your intrepid editor. A good example was our November cover story about Catholic colleges, which had seven components: Tim Drake’s main story, an excerpt from Bishop D’Arcy’s letter, four sidebars giving background information, and photos of colleges with their captions. Not every article needs that much background or lends itself to that many components, of course, but we hope to make all of our articles more reader-friendly by improving the way we present the information.
The other ongoing change in our features is that we’ve stepped up efforts to bring in new writers. We’re honored to include in this issue Avery Cardinal Dulles, Thomas E. Woods, and J. Budziszewski. Look for more big names this spring.
It is with sadness that we say goodbye to Fr. Ray Ryland, who is retiring from This Rock after having served as a contributing editor for many years. His clarity of style and charity of presentation will be much missed.
One more change to the masthead: James Kidd, our meticulous proofreader, organizer, and publications factotum, has been given a well-deserved promotion to assistant editor.
Let us know what you think of the redesign. You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or post your thoughts on our forums at catholic.com.