Like a dog romping through new-fallen snow, Cooperative
Living magazine enthusiastically explores social media, and in this world
finds another dynamic way for an established publication to speak with, and
hear from, its readers.
Cooperative Living magazine was born in 1946, the year
the first Baby Boomers entered the world. Like many Baby Boomers, we’ve
changed our appearance, and our name, several times over the decades. And,
like many Boomers, these changes reflected our own financial situation as
well as the fashions of the times, plus of course our earnest desire to
remain relevant and vital and interesting.
We began life in the warm afterglow of World War II, when
three Virginia cooperatives joined together to publish a broadsheet
newspaper for the farm families who constituted almost all electric
cooperative members at the time. Other Virginia cooperatives saw the
benefits of keeping in regular touch with their members, and in just a few
years almost every electric cooperative in Virginia was sending this
newspaper, Rural Virginia, to its members.
The desire for a publication with a longer shelf life led
Virginia’s cooperatives to change Rural Virginia’s format to a magazine in
the early 1960s. More changes, and improvements, would follow, with the
magazine’s original use of spot color expanded to full color in the late
1960s. Name changes would follow as well, first to Rural Living in the early
1970s, and then to Cooperative Living at the dawn of this century.
But through all the changes in
name and appearance, there’s been an evergreen element: to encourage
cooperative members — our readers — to keep in touch, to share thoughts and
ideas, criticisms and critiques, suggestions and story ideas. We’ve primed
this pump by running all manner of contests, asking readers to send favorite
recipes, identify crossroads locations, answer “whatzit?,” figure out a
“history mystery,” and share stories of
In short, we’ve asked you to write us or call us, later
to fax us, then to email us, and now to “text” us. To this list we most
recently added another request: to “like” us, on Facebook. We’ve recognized
for some time that our deeply embedded commitment to interact, and stay in
touch, with our readers could mesh well with the dynamic, real-time
exchanges that are one of the strengths of social media.
We just needed the right launching pad to enter this new
world. Late last year, we came up with an idea: What if we scratch the cover
story we had planned for January, and instead feature a reader-photo contest
of winter scenes? Such an editorial shift is not possible utilizing just the
print medium; lead times to publicize such a change are too long. But what
if we conducted the contest entirely through our Facebook page? Sure, it
would be a gamble, but it would be a great test, too, of how we might meld
the new with the old, the instantaneous with the enduring.
As soon as we announced the contest on Facebook in
November, there was a veritable blizzard of online activity, at least as
compared with the usual response we receive from readers in our print world,
of several dozen letters and emails a month. Over 350 eligible photo entries
were submitted by readers from across the state, from Duffield in Southwest
Virginia to Bloxom on the Eastern Shore.
Well over 300 readers then voted online to pick the cover
photo from the top-three entries, a strong trio featuring a bare tree
against a wintry sky, whitetail deer pausing on a snowy hillside, and of
course the ultimate winner: Dusty the soft-coated wheaten terrier, happily
gamboling through fresh snow, clutching a Frisbee whose bright-red color
forms the perfect counterpoint to his khaki-colored coat, and to the bright
whiteness of the snow.
Thanks, Dusty, for showing us that you really CAN teach
an old publication some new tricks.