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I am writing to get your reaction to a proposed decision coming out of our strategic planning process—eliminate the print version of Popular Government and take a fresh look at the best way to communicate PG-type content with public officials.  The DAC is continuing to consider other impact proposals (another update after next week’s meeting), but I’m bringing this one forward now because it has been considered by the DAC and by the PG Editorial Board.  Timing also is critical for this decision because we can save a significant amount of money if we act soon (approximately $75,000 in annual costs for printing, mailing, and outside editing and design, as well as the ability to redirect associated personnel time).  That is not the only consideration, of course, but it is a consideration.

Various suggestions about Popular Government emerged in the early DAC brainstorming and through the impact proposals.  After naming Chuck Szypszak as the magazine’s new editor, I encouraged him to evaluate its role in advancing the School’s mission.  Chuck has done a careful job of evaluating the magazine, and he recommended to the PG Editorial Board that the print publication be terminated because the magazine’s content and reach no longer are sufficiently compelling to justify its continued consumption of our resources.  According to Chuck, the editorial board members (John Stephens, Bob Joyce, Fleming Bell, Richard Whisnant, Aimee Wall, Karl Smith, Eileen Youens, and Ellen Bradley) “have a variety of views about how to proceed but a majority agree that print publication should be terminated . . . .”  The board “favors exploring a Web-based portal that would deliver to public officials and engaged citizens the kind of general interest content at which PG has been aimed . . . .”  I shared Chuck’s memo to the editorial board with the DAC, and I shared his email describing the board’s views and their recommendations.

At our DAC meeting on July 29 I asked for their advice about the recommendations from Chuck and the editorial board members.  Aimee Wall and Ellen Bradley are members of the editorial board and they were able to share their observations about that meeting during the DAC discussion.  There was a good and full discussion of the issue within the DAC, which apparently tracked much of the discussion within the editorial board.  I asked the DAC members at the end of our discussion if they agreed that we should end the print version and create a committee to consider alternative ways of delivering the kind of content at which PG has been aimed.  Not everyone agreed during our straw poll, but there was a very strong majority of those present who favored that decision.

I confess to having a strong sentimental attachment to PG, especially given its long tenure and direct association with Albert Coates.  That is not a good enough reason to keep the magazine, however.  The appearance and quality of the magazine have improved over the years, and the editorial board’s recommendation is not a criticism of the excellent work done by the past editors, publications staff, and authors.  I simply agree with the recommendation that we can develop a more effective way of sharing information with public officials and others.  Rather than try to work within the limitations of the current model by modifying PG, I believe that we will come up with a more effective way (or ways) of sharing our written information if we begin with a blank slate.  I do not believe that we need to conduct a survey before making this decision.  We can make this call based on our own judgment about the most effective way of reaching our audience, and my sense is that a survey will only delay the inevitable.  Chuck and the board recommend a survey to shape our development of the new delivery model, and that seems like a good way to proceed.  If we proceed with eliminating the print version of PG, I recognize the need to take great care in explaining the change to public officials.

It may be difficult for you to compare the value of PG with undefined, alternative ways of sharing information with public officials.  I am confident that we can create a process for identifying what our objectives have been and should be for the kinds of content we have had in PG, and then we can identify the best outlets for meeting our interests and the needs of public officials.  For example, we might want to link a new “publication” closely with whatever impact proposals go forward.  If we decide to move more intentionally into the public policy field, we might develop a bulletin series that is tied to policy issues and reaches many of the same people who received PG.  We also need to be mindful of the fact that PG has been a useful publication vehicle for faculty members on the road to tenure, but my sense is that there are more effective ways of publishing for junior faculty members that will be just as effective with the campus promotions committee.  It also is possible that we will decide to continue using the PG banner in some ongoing way.

Please take a careful look at Chuck’s original memo to the editorial board and his email summarizing their meeting.  This post is not a substitute for looking at those documents.  After receiving the recommendations from Chuck and the editorial board, and after having them reinforced by the DAC, I am strongly inclined to accept those recommendations.  I am interested in hearing your thoughts—pro and con—so that I can weigh all of the possible advantages and disadvantages before making a final decision.  I would value hearing your perspective on my proposed decision, and I need to hear no later than August 28.

5 thoughts on “The Future of Popular Government

  1. I support this decision, and support moving on it with extensive additional consultations. I tend to want to trust those who know this question best – the editorial board and those who have looked at the issue already for months. I would see this as an opportunity to create something new, and that’s an exciting and rare option these days.

  2. I was not part of the PG Editorial Board discussion, but having served as PG editor for five years I can add a couple of things. I think the two most important functions of PG have been (1) to provide an outlet for faculty work for our clients and (2) to create a forum, primarily through special issues devoted to particular themes, for a more thorough analysis of major public policy matters, such as immigration, growth, energy, and poverty to name a few. I am persuaded by Chuck’s analysis that SOG can satisfy the first purpose through other means. The second purpose remains significant. With additional investment of time and resources, PG could become more of a forum to discuss public policy issues. Without a significant investment, however, it would be difficult to move PG much further in that direction. I think the more promising option is to work on developing a public policy presence at SOG. As part of that effort, we would want to think about ways to disseminate our work not only to the technical personnel who are working on the particular public policy matter but also to others in government and to the public. It would be shame to eliminate PG if we are not going to replace it with some sort of vehicle for the discussion of public policy matters.

    If we do more public policy work, I suspect we would not publish our work through the proposed web-based version of PG. I don’t know enough about the implications of a web-based magazine to say whether that would be worth doing for other purposes.

  3. I think it is valuable to keep the PG brand going, but to shift it’s purpose and delivery to an online format. PG in it’s new form should not merely be an electronic version (i.e. PDF) of the former print version. Instead, more like an online blog-like magazine, it would cover issues in more depth as John Rubin suggests. The new multi-author local Govt Law Blog is a noteworthy big step in that direction (http://sogweb.sog.unc.edu/blogs/localgovt/).

    Importantly, to be successful and have an impact, I think PG Online needs to invite open discussion from its readers. In its online form, PG will also have multiple ways of connecting to existing SOG blogs, websites and resources (pubs), and in having those same sites connect back to the PG Online. As to the content, I have little input there, other than models exist for online peer-reviewed journals as well as more traditional online magazines–either way, engendering a healthy discussion is key, and IMHO, the magazine format has a stronger chance of doing that.

    In reference to some of the DAC or Chuck’s analysis, it is not appropriate to judge a future online PG format by web statistics from the existing online archives–these would be significantly different products. Finally, the new online format will NOT save the SOG $75K annually. It will continue to require some lesser degree of resources to be of value to the SOG and it’s readers.
    -Joel G.

  4. I agree with Joel’s points very much. I think keeping the PG brand is valuable, but that it be reinvented online. I can imagine a PG Online with original articles and themed-series, with the ability for readers to add comments. It could also be a place where other resources are marketed. I can imagine clients signing up to an RSS feed of the site and if it was done well it could really be a great tool to increase our impact. But I do strongly feel that we need to keep the PG brand and also keep a general-interest outlet like this as a lot of PG content just doesn’t lend itself to a bulletin. Finally, I know the managers have made it clear that they aren’t using PG much and that it seems too academic. But on the other hand, there are PG articles that have many hundreds and even thousands of downloads, which tells me that there has been impact and that there are folks out there reading PG. So completely doing away with it, I don’t think is a good idea. But going online-only, yes, if done well, could be a great move.

    1. Thanks for such a helpful response, Rick. There is likely to be an information initiative coming out of our planning process that will look at this and related issues about how we put out information. I am completely certain that eliminating the print version is a good idea. I also think that we need an outlet for certain kinds of general interest writing, but whether it should mirror PG is unclear to me. The brand is strong and I agree that we should think carefully before doing away with it. There will be an implementation committee that works through that issue and many others related to how we get information out to public officials and others. Many thanks.

      Mike

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