How We Did It: Q&A with David Heim, The Christian Century
This is part of a series of interviews with award recipients in the 2015 Best of the Christian Press contest sponsored by the Associated Church Press. The “How We Did It” series offers an inside-look at what goes into the creation of award-winning publications. Here David Heim, executive editor of Best-in-Class winner The Christian Century, talks about the challenges and rewards of his work on the magazine.
The ACP judges praised the quality of writing in The Christian Century, citing the “unique voices, vivid description, great storytelling” and stories that “captivate, inform, and inspire.” How do you find those stories and the writers who can tell them effectively?
We often seek out writers who blog to ask them to revise or expand a piece for the magazine. We work hard to find new writers from any source we can, whether through contacts at conferences, recommendations from friends and colleagues, or our own reading. I think the Century has been willing to risk trying out new writers Not all risks pay off, but it’s crucial to keep expanding the field of writers—and expanding the diversity of writers in age and background. It can also be useful to ask established writers to wander a ways out of their ordinary path—like invite an academic to be more personal and revealing, or ask a theologian to write about fiction—so as to get a fresh approach.
How do you write—and edit—articles to ensure that they engage both the intellect and the emotions of readers?
It has a lot to do with making sure that the telling anecdote, or the narrative element, gets prominent play and helps structure the article. Some writers do this naturally; others need some help in uncovering where the power of story is in their own work. There is lots of interest at the moment in the personal essay, which means many authors set out to engage intellect and emotions through story. Many writers see what to aim for.
In a time when many other print publications, especially church-related publications, are folding, what keeps the Century going?
We have loyal readers and a pretty clear niche among mainline Protestant pastors. We have the advantage of living as a magazine at an intersection of different worlds—academic and pastoral, church and university, public and personal, activist and contemplative—as well as being able to draw from different Christian traditions and from outside the church. Places of overlap and tension are often lively places. We also have the advantage of being explicitly Christian and rooted in the church while free to address virtually any issue or argument that intersects with the life of faith. Almost any topic can find its way into our magazine if addressed in a way that speaks to Christian concerns in a lively way. But we know the future of magazines is highly uncertain and that in the end we will be judged on the strength of the content and whether readers value the magazine enough to subscribe.
As editor, what keeps you going?
Finding a great new writer, publishing a timely article, helping writers uncover their strengths, learning from authors.
The Christian Century won Best in Class/Award of Excellence in the Print: National or International Magazine division.