Q: Are there UU radio programs and podcasts?

A: Yes!

Sermon podcasts are perhaps the most common type of audio programming produced by our congregations. My conservative estimate is that at least 100 of our congregations are podcasting their sermons; the true number may be far higher!

There are also Unitarian Universalist programs that feature original content designed specifically for the audio format and distributed on the radio and/or online. Here are some notable examples:

First Parish in Duxbury has a radio program called “The Spiritual Life” in which Unitarian Universalists are interviewed about different topics related to our Unitarian Universalist movement today. This radio program is broadcast on Sunday mornings at 6:30 a.m. on WATD, 95.9 FM.

LifeNow! Radio by the First Unitarian and the First Universalist Churches of Rochester, NY, offers reflections and interviews on spiritual issues. LifeNow! is hosted by Rev. Kaaren Anderson, co-minister of the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, and often features other reporters and guests.

A relative newcomer to the Unitarian Universalist podcast scene, “Be Spiritual” features interviews with Unitarian Universalists about their spiritual journeys and other topics. The host is Gary Lerude.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Canandaigua was connected with a radio program called “Liberal Religious Hour.” The host of that program, Rev. Carl Thitchener, died in 2008.

A Different View by the Unitarian Universalist Church in Surprise, AZ, examines religious and political topics in a conversational format. The show is hosted by Rev. Dr. Walter F. Wieder, the congregation’s minister, and Jeff Young.

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Central Midwest District Podcast provides lay leadership resources, including workshop recordings, addressing issues in congregational life. The podcast is produced by the media team of the Central Midwest District.

Another type of audio content is recordings of written publications. Unitarian Universalist examples  include the Church of the Larger Fellowship’s Quest podcast and the UU World recordings.

Q: Does the UUA have a sample “new media policy” for congregations?

A:

The UUA does not yet have a comprehensive sample new media policy for congregations. (Update 12/3/10. We do now have a sample Facebook policy, from Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church, that could be a great starting point for congregations looking to develop similar policies.)

However, I’ve listed below some general principles that may help guide congregations in their new media use.  This list is still a draft; please comment with any questions or suggestions!

Considering the Big Picture

  • Before creating a new media presence on one or more sites, discuss questions like “What is the mission of our congregation and how will that mission be furthered by use of new media tools? What kinds of conversations do we want to have online and what kinds of information do we want to share? What are the larger goals of our new media use?”

Welcoming Visitors

  • Any public site will be seen by people who are new to your congregation, as well as by congregants. Put the congregation’s best foot forward.
  • Your Facebook page, Twitter feed, or other new media site might be the first point-of-contact that a newcomer has with your congregation; help them take the next step to get more engaged. Link to your main congregation’s website and if there’s a place to do so, post basic information like your congregation’s location, contact information, and service times.
  • Avoid the unnecessary airing of “dirty laundry.”
  • Keep your new media presence up-to-date by posting content on a regular basis (whether that’s once a day, once a week, or somewhere in between). Hopefully, people will look forward to reading your blog, listening to your podcast, or otherwise engaging with your congregation online! But if your content dries up without explanation, newcomers may be confused and regular listeners or readers may be disappointed.

Engaging the Congregation

  • Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, blogs, etc. that represent the congregation should be authorized by an appropriate congregational committee or process.
  • Share administrative access to the congregation’s new media tools among relevant leaders and staff within the congregation. More than one person should have full administrative access to the congregation’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, blog, or other new media sites.
  • Announce the establishment of a new Facebook page, Twitter feed, or other congregational new media endeavor. Good venues for such an announcement may include an e-mail to the congregation, a story in the congregation’s newsletter,  a poster on the congregational bulletin board, or a post on the congregation’s existing new media sites.
  • Encourage congregants to participate in the congregation’s new media presence. For example, welcome congregants to post comments on the congregational blog or write on the wall of the congregation’s Facebook page.

Safety and Confidentiality

  • Consider the issue of tone. Use a tone in your text, audio, and video content that reflects the values of your congregation.
  • Establish clear expectations for behavior by both content creators (i.e. the people writing blog posts, wall posts, Tweets, etc.) and commenters (i.e. the people who are commenting on a blog, responding to a wall post, responding to Tweets, etc.) Content moderation policies are a good way to clarify what kinds of comments and feedback will not be allowed on your site. For an example of a content moderation policy, see the UUA’s Facebook page policy:

“The UUA has the right to delete any inappropriate content from this page, including but not limited to: irrelevant content, hateful content, attacks against an individual, financial solicitations, endorsements of a political candidate or party, and content that violates Facebook’s terms of use, code of conduct, or other policies. Content that violates Facebook’s policies may also be reported.”

You may also find it helpful to have a covenant among people who manage and produce content for the congregation’s new media tools.

  • Consistently enforce the stated policies.
  • Err on the side of honoring reasonable expectations of  confidentiality.
  • Do not post photos of children unless you have the consent of their guardian.
  • If an event is being recorded or photographed for the congregation’s blog, Facebook page or other online site, notify participants in advance and at the event, and provide an opt-out option if possible.

How do these suggestions fit with your congregation’s experience? Are there other issues that should be considered as part of a congregation’s new media policy? Please comment to give feedback!