JoMC 711 – Writing for Digital Media

December 10, 2006

Module 15 – Connecting theory to your organization

Filed under: Uncategorized — by cinranker @ 10:35 pm

Using Semiotics for a Better Church Web Site

Semiotics, simply defined, is the study of signs.  The definition may sound simple, but the subject is not.  Signs can be words, pictures, sounds, music and objects.  Some signs have a universal meaning, but many differ according to one’s culture.  An underlying concept of semiotics, then, is to understand the audience and how that audience interacts with signs.

During this semester I wrote an article, a press release and a FAQs page based on an association with a fictitious Lutheran congregation named Grateful for Grace Lutheran Church.  Now I would like to consider how using semiotics might affect the design of a Web site for this organization.

Who is the audience?

Web site users are often interested in how easy it is to navigate a Web site and how fast they can gather information from it.  Signs can be useful tools to accomplish that.  When working with church Web sites, however, there is a balancing act that has to occur between the audience and the signs used.

One might initially assume the audience for a church Web site is the members of the church, but that is not the only audience to consider.  In fact, one of the goals for a church is to increase membership and the Internet gives churches a useful venue for that.  There are basically three types of audiences for a church Web site:

  • congregation members
  • Christians who are looking for a church
  • non-Christians 

Those three audiences are very diverse.  The signs that are meaningful to one group might not mean anything to another.  It is therefore important for a church Web site designer to gear the site to non-Christians even though that group might be the smallest of all three who use the site.  This is because one of the primary goals of ministry for a Christian church is to reach non-Christians.  Those who are already Christians want to accommodate non-Christians.

Hard not to use Christian signs and symbols 

Christians have their own language, icons, symbols, music, pictures, etc.  Oftentimes Christians are unaware that there are those who are unfamiliar with the jargon.  Here are some words that might not be familiar to new or non-Christians:

  • salvation
  • sinner
  • justification
  • Holy Spirit
  • evangelical
  • redeemed

If at all possible, church Web site designers should try to refrain from using these words.

Words are not the only thing that need to be scrutinized on church Web sites.  As I was doing research for this paper, I looked at several sites.  All of them use symbols, but I contend that many of the symbols are unfamiliar to non-Christians:

  • The cross may be the most recognized Christian symbol, but could everyone tell you what it means?
  • A dove appears on many sites, but would non-Christians know it is a symbol for the Holy Spirit?  Would they know what the Holy Spirit is?Dove
  • A flame appears occasionally and also represents the Holy Spirit.
  • An advent wreath is placed on Web sites, especially at this time of the year.  Not all Christians, let alone non-Christians, know how it differs from a traditional wreath.

In addition, some church sites have music play when one accesses the site.  Typically old traditional hymns are played on the organ while the site loads.  Once again, this is familiar to Christians, but may exclude others.

What can be used?

Almost every church site I visited had a picture of a building on it.  While that may be helpful when trying to locate the actual church, it is not helpful when used to represent the church.  One of the first things learned in Sunday School is that the church is not the building, the church is the people.  Pictures of people provide a much more universally recognized mark of the church.

Replacing Christian jargon with basic, easily understood descriptions is also a good idea.  This strategy may be accommodating to many in the church who don’t want to admit they don’t understand the Christian terminology used.

Semiotics helps provide us with a way to think about what we don’t want to use on church Web sites, as well as what we should use.  By doing so, the church can accomplish its goals while helping site visitors accomplish their goals in a timely and efficient manner.

Module 15 – End of semester post

Filed under: Uncategorized — by cinranker @ 2:52 pm

End of Course Reflection

Starting from zero

This course and JOMC 714 are the only journalism classes I have ever taken.  Consequently, I was apprehensive at the beginning of this semester, but the teachers and fellow students have been helpful and patient with me.

How has my writing changed?

The style of my writing is what has changed the most over the last few months.  Until I took this course, I didn’t think about the difference between online writing and print writing, although now it seems quite obvious.  The major changes in my style are:

  • writing as concisely as possible
  • editing and reediting
  • refraining from using “fluff” words
  • paying attention to the audience

There is still one major problem I have with the substance of my writing, though, and that is developing a thesis.  When I start writing, I have lots of thoughts, but I have a problem making them cohesive under one theme.

Most useful knowledge

For me there are two categories of the most useful knowledge from this course.  The first involves the basic nuts and bolts of online writing.  I learned to:

  • make it concise and scannable
  • use the inverted pyramid style to present information
  • use headlines and subheads (something I never did before)

The other category is the varied and voluminous information I have learned through the discussions on Blackboard.  Even though all of it didn’t necessarily relate directly to what we were supposed to be discussing, being able to tap the knowledge of so many technologically savvy people was an invaluable bonus.

Course criticisms

Here I am faced with the proverbial bad news versus the good news.  Since I always opt to hear the good news last, that is how I will present it here.

The bad news

At the beginning of this course you stated that we had to post a minimum of three postings a week on Blackboard.  Throughout the semester, it became obvious that was not exactly true.  A few times you prompted us to post more (and I am guilty of posting less rather than more).  From your comments, it appears three posts a week is not an adequate minimum.  I would just eliminate that expectation from the course material.

Even though you were trying to be accommodating to me, I don’t think you should have allowed me to critique the Web site I did.  To refresh your memory, it was a delicate situation where I didn’t want the Web page address to appear online, fearing that someone I work with might find my critique accidentally.  Although there was much room for improvement on the Web site and it was a useful assignment, I would say that if a student can’t risk having others read it, choose another site to critique.

That, however, brings up another problem I had.  Having my blog “out there” for others to read was also disconcerting.  I am used to having my assignments available for other classmates to read, but I did not enjoy having my assignments on the Internet.  I would have preferred a password protected venue.

Finally, I am not sure if I liked the concept of no points for grading.  In JOMC 714  everything was assigned points, yet in this course nothing was assigned points.  I understand your reasoning for it, and I believe I probably benefited from it, but I am not sure if I agree with it.

The good news

I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciated the leeway given regarding the subject matter for the assignments.  I know that choosing a church-related organization could have been blocked because of any number of reasons, but I was thankful that you permitted it.  By allowing that, you have helped me in other areas of my graduate studies.

There are other things I liked:

  • your quick response to email questions
  • break for Thanksgiving week
  • resource books, such as the study guide, style guide and grammar handbook

Suggestions for improvement

One think I had trouble with was posting to WordPress.  I wrote it off to my inexperience working with blogs, but others who take this course may have limited experience also.  There are two suggestions I would add to your study guide in relation to WordPress.  First, in really big letters, bolded, neon, if possible, I would say never cut and paste from Word.  It actually says that on the WordPress site, but I didn’t find it until we were well into the semester.  Second, I would pass on the suggestion that if anyone is having trouble with posts (mine was getting bullets to work), try changing blog themes.  When I did that, my problem cleared up immediately.

Although the discussion went well, I was wondering if there was some way we could have broken up into smaller groups for some of the discussion.  When there are that many people in the class and a discussion gets going, it can be intimidating and daunting trying to read all the posts and then adding to them.  I haven’t thought this through any further, but just wanted to throw the suggestion out there.

I have taken several online courses using Blackboard and for the most part I like it.  If there was one thing I could change, however, it would be the capability to highlight a posting so that one can go back to that posting at another time.  If there already is a way to do that, I never figured it out.

And one more thing…

It is hard to believe that 15 weeks have gone by.  I have learned more than I ever thought I could about things that are directly relevant to my professional vocation.  Although it was challenging and the workload was intense, it ranks right up there as one of the best graduate courses I have ever taken.

December 7, 2006

Module 15 Assignment – Revise Module 12

Filed under: Uncategorized — by cinranker @ 11:11 pm

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:

Cindy Ranker
Grateful for Grace Lutheran Church
Director of Outreach
1-800-555-1000
cinranker@comcast.net

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

LUTHERAN CHURCH OPENS FAIR TRADE STORE IN TIME FOR HOLIDAYS

Grateful for Grace Lutheran Church opens unique store

Carroll City, MD, November 12 – The Reverend Kathy Miller, pastor of Grateful for Grace Lutheran Church, unlocked the door of 125 Main Street this morning amid cheers from her congregation.  It signaled the first day of business for Grateful Gifts, a church-sponsored store that sells fair trade items such as handicrafts, candy and coffee.  It is the only place in the community where fair trade products will be available for sale.

Grateful Gifts is located next to the church and will be staffed by volunteers from the congregation on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Miller is excited about the timing of the opening, “We weren’t sure we would be able to open in time for the holidays, so opening this early in the season is a real joy.”

The day began with a worship service at the church and continued with a blessing of the store before Miller opened the door.  Many community leaders, as well as congregation members, enjoyed free samples of the candy and coffee.

“Recently the congregation became interested in how they could help stop the cylce of poverty in developing countries,” Miller said when asked about how unusual it is for a church to open a store like this.  “A group of  members researched several organizations and decided to recommend to the congregation that it participate in a fair trade program.  Once that decision was made, the idea took off,”  Miller commented.

The church is trying to be diligent in keeping costs at a minimum, according to Greg Jones, the congregation president.  Michael Rison, a member of the congregation, owns the property where the store is located and offered to let the church use it at no cost.  Congregation members and local businesses donated paint and furnishings to help spruce up the store before the opening.  Since volunteers will also staff it, it is estimated that all profits will be used to benefit the fair trade programs.

Grateful Gifts will specialize in selling fair trade products in cooperation with Lutheran World Relief (LWR).  LWR is a non-profit agency based in Baltimore and is sponsored by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.  The agency began during WWII, addressing the needs of countries devastated by the war.  Since then it has grown to provide relief services to those affected by natural disasters around the world and to help provide long-term solutions to poverty.

One of the ways the agency has decided to tackle poverty issues is by partnering with Equal Exchange and SERVV International to provide fair trade products.  Currently there are three available through LWR: handicrafts, coffee and candy.  By purchasing fair trade products at Grateful Gifts, customers are participating in a system that is trying to combat poverty by promoting fair wages, environmental rights and women’s rights.

According to LWR, the fair trade products are traded under internationally accepted fair trade standards and are monitored by organizations such as TransFair USA.

“The food products we sell are really quite good,” said Jones “and the handicrafts that are sold are very unique and reasonably priced.  We hope the community will think about purchasing some of their Christmas gifts here and help fight poverty at the same time.”

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Module 15 Assignment – Revise Module 10

Filed under: Uncategorized — by cinranker @ 10:52 pm

Congregation Asked to Participate in Fair Trade Program

Members of Grateful for Grace Lutheran Church have contributed to many worthy causes and now the congregation is being asked to participate in Lutheran World Relief’s (LWR) Fair Trade programs.  These three programs give the members an opportunity to live out their faith by making consumer choices which ultimately help improve the economic conditions of third world producers.lwr_logo.jpg

Lutheran World Relief is a non-profit agency supported by both the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS).  The agency was formed during WWII to help European countries recover from the devastation of war.  It has since developed into an organization that helps those in need all over the world.

LWR often responds to emergencies like the tsunami in December of 2004.  It also tries to provide long-term solutions to poverty.  The agency developed the fair trade programs to help address poverty issues in third world countries.

The fair trade movement is an international movement

The fair trade movement also grew out of the devastation caused by WWII.  Churches were instrumental in beginning the movement in Europe. In order to help the ravaged communities recover, the churches sold the artisan’s handicrafts.  By the 1970’s Alternative Trade Organizations (ATO) were importing and selling small quantities of handicrafts to churches and social organizations.  In the 1980’s the fair trade label Max Havelaar expanded its products to include food items such as coffee and chocolate.

In order for the fair trade concept to work, there has to be a connection between the artisans and farmers of developing countries and the large markets in North America and Western Europe.  Organizations on both the international and national levels oversee compliance to fair trade standards.  These standards not only help to ensure that a fairer price is paid for products, but also address other issues including:

  • Reasonable credit programs for farmers and craftspeople     lutheran-world-relief.jpg                            
  • Environmentally sound guidelines for production
  • Equal rights for women in the workforce

Two of these organizations are associated with the LWR products:

  • The Fairtrade Labelling Organization (FLO), on an international level, sets standards and certifies that producers follow those standards.  According to FLO, in 2005 its Fairtrade system helped 1 million people in 58 countries.
  • TransFair USA, a non-profit organization in the United States, certifies fair trade products for the U.S. consumer.

Kattie Somerfeld, LWR’s Fair Trade Products Coordinator, indicated that on a basic level, consuming fair trade products helps those in developing countries by cutting out the middlemen, providing fairer wages, and enabling farmers and artisans to reinvest money into their businesses and communities.

LWR offers three fair trade products

Fair Trade Coffee was the first fair trade program advocated by LWR.  In 1996 LWR partnered with Equal Exchange to provide an easy way for congregations to obtain the fair trade coffee.

LWR receives 20 cents for each pound of coffee sold and uses that money to help improve coffee farming conditions.  In 2003 LWR challenged Lutheran congregations and organizations to purchase 90 tons of coffee that year.  That challenge was met.  In 2005 there were more than 3,000 participants in the Fair Trade Coffee program and all 50 states were represented.

lwr-handcraft.jpgIn 1999 the Fair Trade Handcraft program was introduced in partnership with SERVV International.  Items can be ordered through a catalog or at a Fair Trade Fair at the congregational level.  LWR receives between 7.5 percent and 10 percent of all sales.  Somerfeld said last year’s sales in The Handcraft program doubled, even though there was very little promotion.

Fair Trade Chocolate was introduced in 2003.  LWR once again partnered with SERVV International to sell Divine Chocolate from the Day Chocolate Company, a company owned by the farmers themselves.  As with the Handcraft program, LWR receives 7.5 percent to 10 percent of chocolate sales.  This fair trade product provides an additional opportunity for churches because the congregation can sell the candy bars as a local fundraiser.

Why should Grateful for Grace consider Fair Trade?

Participating in LWR’s Fair Trade programs provides Grateful for Grace three ways to help others by providing:

  • a fairer wage to those in third-world countries
  • a percentage of sales that LWR reinvests in communities of developing countries
  • an opportunity to raise funds for the congregation

What is the next step?

Encouraging the leaders of the church to participate in LWR’s Fair Trade programs is the most important thing for you to do now.  After the programs are established you are asked to support them financially by buying the fair trade coffee, chocolate and handcrafts. 

When asked what she thinks is most important to remember, Somerfeld said the Fair Trade programs are “a concrete way for people – especially people of faith – to take an active role in making a difference in the world.”

Pictures were obtained from the LWR web site and are reproduced with permission from LWR.

December 3, 2006

Week 14 Assignment – Write a FAQ page

Filed under: Uncategorized — by cinranker @ 11:13 pm

In my Module 10 online writing assignment, I was writing for the fictitious Grateful for Grace Lutheran Church to the members of the congregation.  Realizing, however, that any online content could attract readers from anywhere, I have tried to take that in to account when writing the FAQs.

Frequently Asked Questions about Grateful for Grace Lutheran Church and the Fair Trade Programs

1.  What is Grateful for Grace Lutheran Church?

Grateful for Grace Lutheran Church is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  It is a suburban church located on the outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland.  The pastor’s name is Reverend Kathy Miller.  To learn more about the church, please visit the web site.

2.  What are Lutherans and what do they believe?

Lutherans are Christians.  They believe many things, but a primary belief is that we are saved by God’s grace alone and not by our own merits.  To learn more about what Lutherans in the ELCA believe, visit the information page on their web site.

3.  You talked a little about the fair trade movement.  How can I learn more about it?

There are several web sites that go into detail about the fair trade movement.  WikipediaFair Trade Federation, Global Exchange and Common Dreams.org are good places to start.  In addition, Lutheran World Relief (LWR) has put together a brochure (you will need Adobe Reader to access this) to explain how fair trade helps fight poverty and abuse worldwide.

4.  How do I know that Lutheran World Relief is a good charity?

LWR is a well-respected nonprofit agency that has been in existence for over 60 years, yet it is good to ask this question.

There are several entities that rate nonprofits.  The American Institute of Philanthropy uses a grading system and it has listed LWR as one of its top rated charities, giving it a grade of A.  Charity Navigator, which uses stars to rate charities, gives it a rating of 4 out of 5 stars.  In addition, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance lists it as a charity that meets the standards for charity accountability.

5.  Why do you keep saying that I can help combat poverty by buying fair trade goods?

The purchase of fair trade goods has a ripple effect all over the world.  The extra money that the farmer receives goes back to his farm and can be used to purchase other things such as animals, which help produce more income.  Because of that, the farmer’s children can attend school instead of working in the cities and exposing themselves to HIV/AIDS.

Fair trade also encourages the formation of cooperatives which helps improve the working conditions, especially for women and children.  Often these co-ops reinvest the profits into the communities, improving living conditions by digging wells and building schools.

Your involvement in this may not seem like much, but added to the efforts of others, it helps in many ways.

6.  What else does LWR do?

LWR has many components to its ministry.  It is involved in providing disaster relief, as in the December 2004 Southeast Asia tsunami, the Indonesian earthquake and the drought in East Africa.  It also provides quilts, soaps, layettes, and health, school and sewing kits to people all around the world.  Advocacy is another important aspect to their mission.

 To learn more about their programs, visit their web site.

7.  If I’m not a member of Grateful for Grace, how would I buy the fair trade goods?

Grateful for Grace just opened Grateful Gifts, a store that sells the products.  Anyone can come to the shop to buy the fair trade goods.  It is located next to the church at 125 Main Street and is opened Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am to 4pm and Saturdays from 10am to 5pm.

If you are unable to get to the store, call Cindy Ranker at 1-800-555-1000.

8.  How can I help with the fair trade program at Grateful for Grace?

One way for you to help is by purchasing the fair trade goods that are for sale.  However, there are other ways to help, too.  Volunteers are needed to staff the store, unpack the goods, and stock the shelves.  If you can help in any of these ways, please feel free to call Rev. Miller at 1-800-555-1000.

9.  How do I start something like this at my church?

LWR has resources to help you get started.   You may also call them at 1-800-LWR-LWR-2.  If you would like to speak to someone at the congregational level, please contact Rev. Miller.

10. What if I want to give, but don’t want to buy anything? 

The best way to do that would be to send a check or money order to LWR or Grateful for Grace Lutheran Church.  If you send a donation to LWR the money will go to support their ministries around the world.  Your Grateful for Grace donation will be used for local ministry needs.  Either way, we thank you for your generosity!

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