Reflections and Poll: The Future of Southern Gospel Yankee

[Last call for votes, poll closes today!]

[Note: I will close the poll next Tuesday, so get your vote in now!]

This week I’m taking a mini-break to focus on some other things (come back on Friday oops, I mean Wednesday—looks like I forgot to un-schedule a post!) so I thought it might be a good moment to run a question by all you readers in the form of a poll. But first, some reflections.

As you all know, I love southern gospel music. A great gospel song, delivered well, never fails to stir my soul. It’s one of the only currently active genres where I can count on hearing something I like every year. At the same time, a part of me sympathizes with the choice made by people like Daniel J. Mount, who recently stepped down from his excellent daily blog. Part of his argument was that there are many outlets for southern gospel news, and increasingly, he felt his blog was becoming obsolete. Since then, sites like Lauren’s Views From the Pew have stepped into the gap with excellence, enthusiasm and to-the-minute energy. Meanwhile, Musicscribe’s panel of writers enables them to keep up a constant rotation of news, commentary, history and reviews. The frequent posting and high quality of these outlets sometimes make me wonder what I have to bring to the table that’s fresh and distinctive.

I’ve concluded that it’s my voice. I’m not from the south, and I don’t have a background in this music, so I’m approaching it with a different perspective from somebody who’s grown up steeped in it. People seem to value my opinion partly because I’m not afraid to offer criticism where I see room for improvement, be it in the realm of vocals, writing, or production. Artists know that I have their best interests at heart, and I genuinely love to see them succeed. Fans know that they’re getting an honest opinion when they look at what I have to say.

But the truth is that I don’t just love southern gospel music. I love all kinds of music. (Well, not all. Not metal, or hip-hop, or today’s CCM radio fodder. To re-phrase, I love all good kinds of music.) I love all great singers and all great songs. I love great movies. I love great literature. I love great human stories. I love theology. I love to discuss the role of faith in culture and politics. In short, I love many things. If I could sum up what this little corner of the web has become to me over time, I would say that it’s a repository of my attempts to preserve things. I preserve what is worth remembering. I preserve what is good and excellent and true and beautiful. Southern Gospel music, with its timeless qualities and rich history, is certainly a part of that goal. But it’s taken its place with other things that I feel are also worth preserving. This is partly because my own interests are so varied, but it’s also partly because I don’t want to repeat something that’s already been noted or said better by somebody else.

The difficulty is that I can almost palpably sense the decreased interest from my regular readers when I invest my energies in almost anything other than strictly southern gospel news and views. Meanwhile, over the past year I’ve received hundreds, if not thousands of visiting hits on two pieces that had nothing to do with southern gospel. One of them was about Steve McQueen’s conversion to Christianity, the other one about the late Christian minister Brennan Manning. Now I owe a lot to good timing and good publicity in those particular cases (the former was featured on some heavily trafficked sites, the latter was released in conjunction with the death of a noted Christian figure), so I hesitate to ascribe to my own writing skill what could largely be the happy results of Mr. Google. But it has given me pause.

Trying to expand one’s audience can be a bit of a gamble, but one option I’ve been considering is an offer I received some time ago when I guest-posted on a site called Patheos. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Patheos, it’s a bit like a television set with different channels for different streams of religious thought. My guest post was naturally on the evangelical channel. After looking at some of my writing samples, editor Tim Dalrymple said he liked what he saw and offered me my own blog spot on the channel. At the time, I told him I wasn’t ready to make the shift. It’s still not something I would do lightly. For one thing, with my focus on music and film, my site might be better suited to the network’s Entertainment channel (which is staffed by almost exclusively Christian writers). However, I haven’t been offered anything concrete in that area.

If I did make this leap, I can guarantee you that southern gospel posting would not go away. I would still review CDs and concerts, offer commentary, and live-blog the NQC. However, the ratio of non-SG posts to SG posts would go up, in hopes that these would find a more interested audience. Also, some SG-related posts might be geared towards a broader target audience who is not as familiar with the music. One potentially good result of this is that I might be able to make some new fans by explaining who and what it is about southern gospel that appeals to me. On the other hand, it’s possible that the new audience I would be trying to reach would be uninterested in anything southern gospel-related that I wrote, with the result that I would be working twice as hard to please two sharply divided audiences and lose both for my efforts. This is obviously not the result I am looking for! They don’t say that a bird in hand is worth two in the bush for nothing. Furthermore, I would fear losing my uniqueness and autonomy by becoming a part of the “Patheos package.” On the other hand again, it gives me hope that some of my favorite Patheos bloggers have been able to remain robustly, unapologetically conservative without being censored. Examples from the Evangelical Channel include John Mark ReynoldsDavid French, and Eric Teetsel from the Manhattan Project.

A possible in-between step would be simply re-branding my wordpress site as “Yankee Gospel Girl” versus “Southern Gospel Yankee.” It wouldn’t give me the same platform as a move to Patheos, but it would give a logic to at least some experimentation with the “non-SG to SG” ratio, which might be more appealing to potential new readers while simultaneously retaining my independence.

So now this is the part where you weigh in. I genuinely want your opinion. I value your readership, and I want to take this moment to thank everyone who’s subscribed, commented, and kept coming back to this spot over the few years I’ve been blogging away. Here’s a poll. What do you think? Please take a moment to cast a vote, and if you have further thoughts, I would also love to read any comments.

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “Reflections and Poll: The Future of Southern Gospel Yankee

  1. JSR

    You have no obligation to anybody on this blog. Opportunities don’t show up every day. Go for it! It seems SG blogs are beginning to dry up (along with my interest in SG).

    So, I’ve really enjoyed some of your work, but if you have an opportunity to progress, go for it!

    • Thanks for the thoughtful feedback JSR! Increasingly, I’m sensing the disadvantages of the facts that I a) Don’t get out to concerts with frequency, b) Am not active and connected with the artist community on social media, and c) Don’t have a vast store of knowledge and collected works to draw on when inspiration for what’s “happening” now isn’t striking. Any of those things would definitely help, but unfortunately none of them is a reality for me.

      • JSR

        I think some of the disadvantages you listed are advantages…you’re not so connected to the “machine” that you won’t give an honest opinion or allow open, controversial discussion. While I don’t believe we should gossip or necessarily say things that are personal attacks, I do appreciate the light hand you have in moderating discussions.

      • That’s a good point. I was thinking of it more from the perspective of having something to write about at all. :-)

  2. Lydia

    You might want to be concerned about whether the Patheos site, with an overarching editor, would try to silence your voice on culturally controversial issues. When you have your own blog, you can say whatever you darned well please, including what is politically incorrect. You can also deal with commentators as you please. Your commentators here may not be many, but they don’t waste a lot of your time with nonsense. At a Patheos site, my guess is that it would be a whole different ballgame. “Oh, you aren’t being nice enough to this silly leftist who said something really silly. You were expected either to remain silent or to take hours and hours to answer him.” Having been around the blog block a bit myself, I can tell you that it’s very exhausting to have an editor who is trying to make you tone it down.

    • I would have wondered that myself, but check out David French’s site. He’s written some very trenchant critiques of the left, including an open letter slamming liberal “Christians” who sneer about “misplaced priorities.” One of his most recent posts was bluntly titled “The Evil of the Pro-Hamas Left.” His wife has also written some politically incorrect articles with respect to race, responding to the vitriol over their adoption of a child from Africa. So that’s one example that gives me hope that I would still have a pretty free hand.

  3. Lydia

    To avoid any misunderstanding, that last comment was _not_ referring to my present group blog editor, who is great.

  4. Thanks for the compliment!! Love what you do here! You have a different perspective to offer and always have great content. I understand wanting to take advantage of a new opportunity, but this blog would definitely be missed!!

  5. Marcia

    Good golly, I am torn! On the one hand, selfishly, I like having you all to “ourselves,” those who make up your faithful followers. I like it that you’re sequestered over here in a little corner of the blogosphere that is uniquely yours.
    On the other hand, your voice, heart, and mind deserve a much broader audience, and the world needs your perspective, communicated in your inimitable and intelligent style.

    Do both? At least for a while, until you see how things go . . .

    Really, as long as you’re writing, and as long as I can find you out there somewhere on the web, all is well. :)

    And congratulations!!

  6. Marcia

    We knew it was only a matter of time before the rest of the world discovered you. :)
    If you went to Patheos, would you still be writing lots of SG-related articles in addition to covering all the other subjects that interest you? I’d really, really hate for gospel-world to lose the perspective you bring to it.

    • I don’t know about “lots.” I would still review CDs from artists I’m interested in, and I would write up any concerts I attended (including, of course, the NQC, because everyone just flocks to those posts when I write them up—people like the fast-talking, stream-of-consciousness style, and I enjoy doing it too as long as I can carve out time to watch). I would also continue to write about related topics like harmony singing and hymns, as well as spotlighting favorite singers/songs. My “southern gospel vs. the rest of the world” series would still fit perfectly in that context. But for one thing, I would pretty much stop trying to keep up with news, because there are so many other outlets taking care of that. I also wouldn’t feel like I had to post something southern gospel-related every single week. And I would write fewer posts that could only be appreciated by a small “in-group” of die-hard fans. I hope that’s helpful.

  7. Goodness, of course you will go for it! What a wonderful chance to write for a larger audience. And those who love your style here will certainly move with you, I’m sure (just be sure to give us the link to your new “home”, ;) )

    • Thanks Riete! That means a lot coming from one of my most faithful readers. :-) Don’t worry, I’ll let you all know immediately and give advance notice. I would also pay a little fee to WordPress for a redirect service.

  8. Lydia

    On the WordPress redirect service, what would that mean for your archives here? If you redirect all traffic, where would the archives actually be located, and how could people access them? That’s important for you to know as the owner of the content. Moving content is a huge pain, and I’d be surprised if Patheos offered to host all your old content. Nor is that probably a good idea for you, since there might be old links from elsewhere to _specific_ old articles of yours, and you don’t want to break those links. I had assumed that if you moved you would just keep this blog as an archive (it’s free, after all) and start a fresh set of posts at the new location. But in that case I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want an auto-redirect, because it _seems_ that would affect someone’s trying to get to your old content as well. Just something that has to be figured out.

    • No, all archives are moved and all specific links would be redirected to the new site. I certainly wouldn’t make the move if that wasn’t an option! I hadn’t thought of just keeping this site open for my archived work. Most people move all their old content. It would be kind of a pain to re-create all my categories and such. I like having everything I’ve written on a topic in one place. And I wouldn’t want wordpress to think I had abandoned this site. Plus, of course I want any new readers to be able to see what work I’ve done before. I suppose I could just say, “Hey, if you want to read my other work, go here and look in these categories.”

      • Lydia

        Wow, you mean that if someone clicked on an old link for your article about Steve McQueen, it would auto-redirect to the article about Steve McQueen hosted at Patheos? Are you sure? I got the idea that that is _very_ hard to do from the fact that even First Things and National Review (two large sites) were apparently *unable* to do that for Wesley J. Smith when he moved from FT to NRO. All old links to his work at the former blog Secondhand Smoke were permanently broken by the move. One can search on the new site and find the old content; it’s hosted there. But the old individual links do not redirect to the new locations for individual stories. Joe Carter at First Things told me in e-mail repeatedly that he was sure he could get that set up, but it never happened. Old specific links redirect only to the *main page* at the new site, not to the specific stories in new locations.

      • Ugh. If that’s true it would be a major point against. I’ll see what I can find out.

        Another point that a couple other people have raised when I google “moving to Patheos” to see what other bloggers have experienced is that Patheos has some annoying pop-up ads. Not inappropriate, obviously, but they can just come up in your face when you’re trying to browse, so you have to have some ad-blocking software.

      • Hmmmm. I’ll have to check that out then.

  9. Lydia

    It wouldn’t have to be prohibitive against the move overall but perhaps just a strike against moving all your archives and having everyone who tries to come here auto-redirected. If individual posts don’t auto-redirect to the same post and that is a major negative for you (which I can completely understand), then you might want to maintain this site. You could post here on a very leisurely schedule, maintain archives here, and put up a post at the top telling people where you are now posting more regularly. Perhaps Patheos would _also_ host your archives with their categories, simply copied/duplicated from here. I don’t know if that is an option. Alternatively, your “about” page there could direct people back to here for older archives.

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