A Shaggy Dog Story

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor

Richard Johnstone


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  “good neighbors.”

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.



Home ] Up ] Caught in the Web ] Cover Story ] [ Editorial ] Happenings ] Reader Recipes ] Rural Living ] Say Cheese ] Stories From Road ]