So, more than a week later, David Strand has finally issued a statement as to why Issues, Etc. was canceled. The two reasons being given are that it was losing money and had a very small listening audience.
I have a hard time believing that this statement is completely forthright. He cites statistics from 2004-2005 for the Monday-Friday program (not Sunday night), and admits they don't have any ratings figures since then.
For Sunday nights, and for internet distribution in general, his opinion is based entirely on live streaming audio statistics. Since I don't want to believe he is being disingenuous, I can only conclude he has no idea how people actually consume media today. Live television? Not anymore. Sporting events are often watched live- but many programs are time-shifted, using Tivo, DVR, or an old-fashioned VCR. The few TV programs I watch, I either record, or rent the DVD later. Before the writers' strike, the only programs I watched were "House" and "The Office" - but I have no idea when they were on. It doesn't matter.
Radio? Also time-shifted. Standard satellite radio units now include pause/rewind features. (Why do you think I sometimes slip out of the voters meetings on Sunday afternoons? You guessed it - to go fire up the Sirius radio so I can catch the Vikings game once the meeting is over.)
With Issues, Etc., the programs could be listened to "on-demand," or downloaded to an iPod or other MP3 player. They were listened to when it was convenient for the listener - while exercising, driving ... the possibilities are enormous. But this is completely left out. Why? Because they don't know who was listening through podcasting? Or because they don't want it be known? The numbers we're being given are stunningly incomplete. The 2005 numbers are completely out-of-date; and the live-streaming numbers are not relevant, since they don't take into account the way people actually use internet audio. Are the people calling the shots really that unaware of how a computer and an iPod work?
I first began to listen to the program seriously when I was recovering from a badly-broken ankle a few years ago. While doing my exercises at home, and later at church, I would grab a recent episode through the internet and listen to it - Todd talked me through the pain with the gospel.
Later, when I bought an iPod, I started listening to it when going for walks. Kassie and I listened through speakers attached to my iPod. I am sure we are representative of how a great many people listened to the program. Besides all this, people at my church listened to and passed around the CDs that Issues, Etc. sends out to donors. They were very popular - I know because there were complaints when the table was empty! The transcripts were snapped up quickly as well. There was and remains a deep hunger for solid Biblical teaching that reached into people's everyday lives. It truly boggles the mind that the Synod doesn't realize that - or worse, doesn't want it.
As to the financial problems mentioned in Mr. Strand's latest announcement, I have it on good authority that the show was both popular and financially successful. (A piece soon to be published in a major national newspaper will give the relevant quotation, and I will link to it here as soon as it is publicly available.)
For me, this issue has gone well beyond the loss of Issues, Etc. I am saddened by that - make no mistake - but the problems this is identifying run much deeper. Was it really a "prayerful and contemplative decision" to abruptly fire two employees, without cause or notice, during Holy Week no less? If the decision was "prayerfully and contemplatively made," why was there no opportunity given to put even more money behind the cause? If there was that serious of a need, then hold a fund-drive like NPR does, saying, "We need $XXX to remain viable." Why immediately pull and erase the archives (they must have been deleted, otherwise they wouldn't have to be rebuilt)? This decision seems to be anything but a prayerful and contemplative one. Maybe a third news release will finally give us something substantive?
Brothers and sisters, what can we do?
- First and foremost, as Pastor Cwirla has admonished us, Let Us Pray.
- Donate to help Pastor Wilken and Mr. Schwarz. I gave a small amount when the fund was set up, but I need to give more. We cannot abandon brothers so horribly mistreated.
- Sign the petition if you haven't yet.
- Continue to press leadership for substantive, truthful answers. The issue is not the program alone, but with how the church conducts herself, treating her members and handling the truth.
- Continue to keep informed, and let others know the larger issues at stake. There is a growing number of places to get information; Pastors Weedon and Cwirla always have good counsel, and I will include others in the "Shared Items" on the sidebar of this blog.