Not a single hand went up when I asked the 36 staff members of 18 Romanian Christian magazines how many were working in publishing before 1990. Once again, I was struck by the courage of dedicated men and women who, without training, experience, or resources, had set out to do the impossible--publish magazines.
At the start of this decade, in the wake of the storm that blasted the gates off the Communist empires of Eastern Europe, the church suddenly found itself free to publicly express itself. Although the political restraints were largely gone, other daunting barriers remained. Only a few Christian magazines had been permitted to exist during the Communist years, their frequency, circulation, and content strictly regulated. For this reason, hardly any Christians had ever written an article; only a handful in all of Eastern Europe had ever edited a magazine. No Christians had received journalistic training.
In the years immediately after the fall of Communism, East European economies went into severe shock; inflation raged at monthly double-digit rates. It was the worst time to start a risky venture. Yet within five years of the Marxist collapse, at least 100 Christian magazines were founded. Although some have gone under, most struggle on, painfully negotiating a difficult obstacle course. Probably the most significant is the uncertainty and sense of inadequacy of the inexperienced and untrained staff members. Because of lack of finances, most are volunteers, usually with full-time jobs elsewhere. In addition, hardly any magazines begin with the required amount of start-up capital. Most new publishers naively expect proceeds from magazine sales to cover all start-up costs. This rarely happens, and unless a denomination or outside organization underwrites the publication, the struggle is long and hard, and, in some cases, futile.
In fact, most magazines in Eastern Europe are published by denominations. Those who try to go it alone in an effort to attract a general Christian or non-Christian audience face nearly insurmountable hurdles. Few can survive without considerable outside help. Yet, in small countries like those of Eastern Europe, only magazines that can reach beyond denominational boundaries can attain substantial circulation. Therefore, until the problems faced by nondenominational magazines are solved, Eastern Europe cannot produce self-supporting magazines that can attract the advertising revenues needed to generate steady income, stability, and ultimately, significant influence in society.
Distribution is one of the knottiest problems confronting magazine publishing in Eastern Europe. Most magazines reach their audience through denominational networks and churches. Distribution is particularly hard for those magazines that try to reach audiences beyond denominational boundaries. Subscriptions are still virtually unknown in Eastern Europe. Most secular magazines are sold on newsstands. Potential buyers balk when presented with the risky and strange concept of paying in advance for issues of a magazine that may never come. Yet, by and large, it is not easy for Christian magazines to use the newsstands as outlets. First, in most countries newsstands are still controlled by the state. Second, newsstand operators are not willing to take magazines for which a very small market exists. Street hawking is also a limited option because governments usually require special licenses and charge high fees.
A few publishers have found ways of getting their magazines into other venues. The editors of Zrno, a magazine for children, have been able to convince stores throughout Slovenia to sell the periodical on commission. The Romanian-language Lydia, a women's magazine with international headquarters in Germany, has set up a distributorship program with individuals, denominations, and organizations which sell single copies on commission. But the program is still in the experimental stage and is not without problems.
However, some innovative magazine editors and publishers are finding creative solutions to other vexing riddles. When Tatiana Hydzik decided to publish a magazine for Polish women in 1989, she asked her denomination for help. Church leaders were sympathetic but unable to offer financial sponsorship. Tatiana was not deterred. With the denomination's permission, Tatiana traveled throughout the country, sharing her vision for a magazine for women. To the surprise of church leaders, women rallied behind the concept and donated whatever they could--sometimes as little as a dollar per month. Tatiana launched the magazine and it continues to this day with little financial difficulty. However, despite efforts to reach a general Christian audience, the magazine's circulation is still largely denominational.
In Romania, Ionaton Pirosca, former editor of the Baptist Mesaj magazine, has launched a nondenominational publication with a creative approach to solving the financial dilemma. Without a church or an outside organization to finance the start-up, Pirosca is attempting to subsidize the magazine with proceeds from a crossword-puzzle magazine, which he is beginning at the same time.
These have become very popular in Romania in the last couple of years and they sell well. For a year or so before launching his publications, Pirosca supplied Christian periodicals with "Christian" crossword puzzles. Editors reported that their sales increased when they began to carry these puzzles in their magazines.
Finding and Training Writers
The lack of trained or experienced Christian writers has also plagued magazines. In many countries, the Evangelical population is small and scattered. In 1990, soon after the revolutions that brought down Communism and released the church, it was virtually impossible to find skilled Christian writers. As a result, editors often turned to foreign-language publications for articles to translate. While it was prudent and necessary in that environment to use translated articles, many editors have recognized the need to develop local writers. Although translated articles still occupy key slots in many Christian magazines, an increasing number of locally written articles now appear in most magazines.
Editors who want to boost the proportion of indigenous material in their magazines have to take deliberate steps to find and train prospective magazine writers. Teodore Dronca, pastor and editor of the Romanian magazine Flacara Rusaliilor, uses contests and workshops to identify and train potential writers. Mustarmag, a Hungarian-language youth magazine, offers writing camps for promising teenagers, combining course material and writing practice with fun outings. Virtually all of the magazine's articles are original. Dozens of potential writers have gone through a correspondence writing course adapted by Jeni Rosian, editor of a Romanian children's magazine. Practical course assignments have yielded scores of good articles for the magazine. Some 20 teenagers from throughout Croatia participated in a writing seminar sponsored by Tarax youth magazine in cooperation with other Croatian-language magazines. Editor Ksenija Magda has held periodic follow-up refresher workshops and works individually with writers. Nevertheless, it has been a struggle to get quality articles written by teenagers.
Many of the challenges faced by Christian magazines today are different from those confronted five years ago. For example, there are now more Christian writers. In some countries, fledgling free-lance writing communities are developing, though denominational badges often hinder the free movement of writers among magazines. Nevertheless, in countries such as Romania, where perhaps 25 Christian periodicals serve an Evangelical population numbering in the hundreds of thousands, a sense of professionalism has developed. Christian publishers are now more willing to exchange advertisements, articles, information, and encouragement across denominational boundaries.
However, the increasing professionalism of Christian writers introduces a new problem for the magazines: the demand for payment for services rendered. This can be a strain on the resources of a struggling magazine.
Another challenge for the magazines is volunteer fatigue. Publishers are finding that as the years go by, the initial enthusiasm of volunteers tends to wane. The lack of equipment and the constant financial pressure wears out the staff. Disillusionment and discouragement often set in. The once exciting task of putting out a magazine begins to feel like a humdrum chore that demands large chunks of time with little reward.
Staying in Business
Despite these problems, Christian magazines in Eastern Europe are holding their own. According to many estimates, over 50 percent of start-up magazines in the United States fail within the first two years. It is therefore remarkable that most of the Christian magazines launched five years ago when Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe are still in business. Magazine publishers are pressing on with dogged determination, taking advantage of whatever training opportunities are available to them, trying to improve the editorial quality of their magazines and slowly building their circulation. Many of these editors and publishers do not consider themselves particularly courageous. In fact, in retrospect, they would be more likely to characterize their initial plunge into publishing as foolhardy. Yet it is the brash courage of that initial leap of faith and the determination to persevere against all odds that has enabled them to keep publishing without perishing.
Revised by Sharon Mumper and reprinted with permission of Cook Communications Ministries International, Colorado Springs, CO 80918, from InterLit 33 (September 1996): 8-10.
Sharon Mumper is director of the Austrian-based Eastern European Magazine Training Institute, which offers training to Christian magazine publishers throughout East Central Europe and the former Soviet Union. Contact: EEMTI, Postfach 33, 2502 Baden-Leesdorf, Austria; 43-2236-540760; fax: 43-2236-52390; e-mail: email@example.com.
Christian Magazines in the Post-Soviet Era
Selected Promising Titles
|Belarus||Kobrin||Krinitsa Zhitsia (Source of Life)||375-172-538249/1642-27522|
|Minsk||Ne ot Mira Sego (Not of This World)||375-172-615493|
|Zagreb||Glas Evandjela (The Voice of the Gospel)||385-1-428-559|
|Czech Republic||Cesky Tesin||KAM (KAM)||420-659-566-56|
|Prague||Zivot Viry (Life of Faith)||420-2-683-3505/3507|
|Germany||Asslar||Lydia (Lydia) - Hungarian and Romanian||49-6443-3011/1707|
|Poland||Katowice||mGr (mGr)||48-32-068-617/586-446 (T/FX)|
|Ustron||3/4 (3/4)||48-335-44330 (T/FX)|
|Warsaw||Chrzescijanin (The Christian)||48-22-248575/204073|
|Warsaw||Samarytanka (The Samaritan Woman)||48-335-32417 (T/FX)|
|Warsaw||Slowo I Zycie (Word of Truth)||48-12-440625/48-22-441600|
|Warsaw||Znaki Czasu (Signs of the Times)||48-826-2506/48-827-8519|
|Romania||Arad||Descoperirea Comorii (The Finding of the Treasure)||40-572-50670/59272|
|Arad||Farul Crestin (Christian Beacon)||40-572-31634/89200|
|Arad||Oastea Domnului (God's Army)|
|Bucharest||Buletin Informativ (Information Bulletin)||40-1-311-0326|
|Bucharest||Crestinul Azi (The Christian Today)||40-1-222-9319/6361|
|Bucharest||Cuvantul Adevarului (Word of Truth)||40-1-638-4425|
|Medias||Prietenul Copiilor (Children's Friend)||40-698-21707|
|Oradea||David si Goliat (David and Goliath)||40-591-132778 (FX)|
|Oradea||Mesaj Evanghelic (Evangelical Message)||40-591-36841/32778|
|Oradea Bihor||Mustarmag (Mustard Seed)||40-591-15424 (T/FX)|
|Timisoara||Jurnalui Meu (My Journal)||40-56-214-487/56-126-861|
|Sebis||Flacara Rusaliilor (Pentecostal Flame)||40-574-21082/20734|
|Russia||Nizhnii Novgorod||Shans (Chance)||7-831-234-3164|
|St. Petersburg||Der Bote (The Message) - German and Russian||7-812-2183635|
|St. Petersburg||Khristianstvo Segodnya (Christianity Today)||7-812-5265427/352-2015|
|Slovenia||Lyublyana||Zrno (Wheat Seed)||386-61-125-2156|
|Ukraine||Kyiv||Blagovestnik (The Evangelist)||3830-444345644/4626042|
|Rovno||Svet Evangeliya (Light of the Gospel)||0362-228314, 228379/266932|
|Rovno||Noya Kovcheg (Noah's Ark)||0362-228314, 228379/266932|
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© 1997 Institute for East-West Christian Studies