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National 4-H News

The only national magazine devoted exclusively to the 4-H program, National 4-H News, owned and operated by the National Committee on Boys and Girls Club Work, served as an exchange of information and fresh ideals and resources for volunteer adult and junior leaders for 65 years - the first issue appearing in April 1923... and the last issue in April 1988.

Begun as a brief mimeographed circular, entitled "The Boys and Girls Club News," the monthly magazine grew steadily in editorial content, circulation and influence, later becoming the National 4-H News magazine.

Initially distributed to manufacturers, railroads, bankers, farm organizations, the press and Extension Service, it conveyed 4-H news of the day. Through the 20's and 30's, the magazine seemed to carry the singular purpose of presenting the "news" about 4-H activities - national, state and local. The magazine was distributed without charge.

Over the years, the publication evolved into a service publication supporting 4-H leaders, the mailing lists being furnished by the state Extension offices.

The magazine's principal purposes now were to: (1) provide ideas and methods of value to leaders; (2) inspire them to carry on their activities with greater enthusiasm and effectiveness; and (3) acquaint more readers everywhere with the scope and importance of 4-H Club work. 4-H NEWS, particularly at the national level, continued to be covered, but was no longer the main focus of the magazine.

4-H NEWS continued to be distributed at no cost to 4-H club leaders across the country. However, in order to survive the Depression years of the 1930's, the National Committee on Boys and Girls Club Work determined that the magazine should start excepting advertising. As Extension examined this decision, there were concerns that advertising messages did not always reflect 4-H ideals and the mailing lists of leaders furnished by the states represented a captive audience for commercial appeals.

Following considerable debate and several meetings, as a compromise, to reduce the magazine's dependency on advertising, National 4-H News became a monthly subscription magazine in January, 1940. Almost overnight the mailing list dropped from 80,000 to 16,000 volunteer leaders.

During the 1940's and 1950's, the monthly magazine bounced along with little change - heavy into home economics and agricultural advertising, catering to a traditional rural American audience. The emphasis continued to stress news about 4-H under such broad headings as "County, State and National News" and "Leader's Monthly Meeting." Inspiration also remained a strong part of the magazine - games, songs and poems - under such headings as "Sociability Lane." According to The 4-H Handbook published in 1952, "National 4-H News is devoted to the interests of 4-H Club Work and continues useful information for local leaders."

During the late 1950's and the decade of the 60's, one of the major features of the magazine was offering educational brochures and pamphlets from many of the magazine's advertisers, donors and other 4-H supporters. A segment of every issue had such offerings. This became a popular service, distributing nearly 3.5 million educational items annually. This was a tremendously successful program embraced heavily by the magazine's advertisers and the 4-H leader subscribers, as well. According to Elwood Shaffer, editor, during 1964 National 4-H News received 615,700 requests for teaching materials and requests from their subscribers totalling 4,038,600 booklets, film bookings and other teaching aids. Tom Corcoran, circulation manager, reported that the June 1964 issue of the magazine hit an all-time high of 118,561. However, the program was also a tremendous undertaking that was staff intensive and eventually was abandoned. The magazine lost some of its subscribers, never to reach this high circulation number again.

The first real, major change in the editorial thrust of the magazine came in the decade of the 60's, when much of the club news flavor and "cute" inspirational messages were replaced by more "how-to" features - stories with educational value in leader training and ideas for club activities. The magazine remained strong with agricultural and home economics advertising in the 60's. Four-color was used in the magazine for the first time in December, 1964.

During the decade of the 60's, in an historical respect, 4-H News may be thought of as having been in its hey day. It had a staff of up to 10 people. Length often ran 48, 54, and 60 pages... even hitting the 100 page level a time or two. Circulation was 110,000. In 1967, the magazine had a budget of over $400,000 (more than the News budget nearly 20 years later). In 1967, magazine production, travel, promotion, telephone, salaries, and many other costs were all budgeted at figures higher than in 1980, by comparison. The National 4-H News staff often had regular byline columns and were readily visible to their readers. The "Annual Directory of Industry Aids for 4-H Leaders," ran hundreds of free and sale items and was 24-pages long. A private, outside firm had to be hired to handle the huge number of orders for the items. While a tremendously popular annual feature of the magazine, resulting in the distribution of 3-1/2 million items in 1966, the Directory also proved to be a financial disaster when it came to staff time and money. The directory was dropped in the late 1960's.

After nearly five decades as a monthly publication, in 1971 National 4-H News began publication 11 times a year, combining the June-July magazine into a single issue and enlarging monthly issues throughout the year. In 1975, in order to hold subscription prices down, the magazine combined the August and September issues, reducing publication frequency to 10 issues per year.

During the decades of the 1970's and 1980's, National 4-H News staff became more committed to providing features and in depth articles of greater relevance to leaders and on issues impacting our daily living. Far from its beginnings as a newsletter, the magazine continued to be a valuable tool to its audience... but for different reasons. Many of the issue-oriented features - perhaps a sign of the times in keeping with the mood of the nation during these years - dealt with areas like conservation and energy, and non-traditional 4-H approaches and coverage... more philosophy and psychology. This was new material for a new publication - where the emphasis wasn't just rural. In the early 70's, the editorial policy was basically dictated by the magazine staff with circulation having dropped to under 90,000. Many articles were being written by outside, freelance writers. The magazine staff numbered seven and was soon to decrease even more.

In the last half of the decade of the 70's, the emphasis of 4-H NEWS shifted still once again... to one of being activity-oriented, based heavily on a private readership study conducted in 1973. Heavy emphasis was placed on crafts and other areas of interest dictated by volunteer leader readers, but not necessarily considered as "important" by the county Extension staffs who were the decision makers regarding group subscriptions.

During the period of America's Bicentennial celebration (from mid-1975-December 1976) National 4-H News sponsored a "4-H Responsible Freedom Contest," in the hopes of stimulating 4-H'ers gut-level involvement with their country... to spark an attitude among young people and adults alike, that this is their country, and like it or not, they must actively pursue its responsible operation... OR lose those special freedoms upon which democracy's principles stand. "Its sole purpose," according to Editor Gordon Bieberle, "was to glean from across America, ideas that the 4-H organization can implement throughout the bicentennial period and thereafter, to develop and nurture responsible citizenship - every American accepting personal responsibility, and as far as he is able, publicly and privately striving to restore America to 'democracy' as the country's founders meant it... to eliminate corruption and greed from all facets of American government, business, labor, education."

Following publication of the report, "4-H in Century III," editorial emphasis was given to major areas highlighted as priority targets in this report and more effort was made in soliciting editorial copy from within the Extension family at all levels. The philosophy of the magazine was beginning to be that of being a magazine belonging to 4-H... and not a magazine belonging to the 4-H NEWS staff.

With Bonnie (Beck) Sarkett as Editor and only one additional full time professional staff member as circulation/advertising manager, the magazine was facing the continued challenges of a much more complex audience. There was no longer a "typical" 4-H volunteer leader. 4-H leaders represented a wide variety of audiences... with a wide variety of interests and needs. Activities that interested one group were not of interest to another. Circulation remained unchanged - between 80,000 and 90,000.

National 4-H News moved into the decade of the 80's with the merger of the National 4-H Service Committee and National 4-H Foundation into National 4-H Council having taken place, and a relocation of the 4-H NEWS offices from Chicago to Chevy Chase, Maryland. Other than Larry Krug with responsibilities of Executive Editor as part of his duties, the entire rest of the National 4-H News staff changed, with new staff hired from the Washington, D.C. area.

The new staff, including Sue Harding as editor and Patti Diener as circulation/advertising manager, brought new ideas and new energy to the magazine. Although the magazine continued to have problems, particularly with circulation, it also continued to have a lot of strengths. It seemed to again be altering its major thrust; the emerging thrust being one of leadership development. Trying to be all things to all people in the decade of the 70's didn't work. Editorial schedules and emphasis areas were set up on an annual basis and included major input from both national staffs at Extension Service, USDA and National 4-H Council, as well as from state 4-H leaders. There also was a name change in 1985 - rather than being National 4-H News, the magazine became 4-H Leader--the national magazine of 4-H.

Although volunteer leaders continued to remain a vastly heterogeneous group with a variety of interests and a variety of 4-H responsibilities, and having different types of leadership roles, they all continued to be in need of leadership development and training in an ever increasing, complex, socio-economic climate in dealing with kids. The magazine's goal became that of being a major, leadership development tool placed at the disposal of Extension agents to help them make their job easier.

Through the 80's the magazine's editorial content remained strong and current with the times. And, although the 4-H Leader continued to have a number of supporters who felt the magazine was, indeed, worthwhile, circulation remained on a plateau around 70,000. Although 4-H leaders were the target audience, the county and state Extension staffs remained the decision makers in providing the group subscriptions which accounted for the bulk of the circulation. Some states provided the magazine for all of their 4-H volunteer leaders, while other states simply let the leaders subscribe to the magazine on their own if they chose to do so.

By 1987, under the direction of Warren Pray as Executive Editor of 4-H Leader, internal task forces and discussions came up with the decision that the magazine was no longer a priority for either the National 4-H Council, or the Extension Service.

On January 20, 1988, Russ Weathers, vice president of Council issued a memorandum to Council staff:

"For a number of years 4-H Leader--the national magazine for 4-H has suffered from a lack of nationwide support resulting in declining circulation. This decline has resulted in increased difficulty in selling appropriate advertising. In recent years the magazine operated in a less than desirable financial situation.

"Last week at the ECOP 4-H Subcommittee meeting the subcommittee gave approval to a recommendation by National 4-H Council that the magazine be discontinued based on the lack of national support.

"In the next few months the magazine will be appropriately closed. The subcommittee recommended the formation of an Extension task force to review national 4-H publication needs. National 4-H Council will proceed rapidly to assess and make a recommendation for an institutional publication to meet Council's needs. Warren Pray will give leadership to our internal review committee. This committee will involve a number of council staff as well as appropriate external professionals.

"I wish to commend the work of the staff of 4-H Leader. Their dedication and the quality of the publication they produce is much appreciated.

"I am certain that you join me in the disappointment that a magazine of this tenure cannot continue to survive. However the opportunity for Council to position itself with a new publication is an exciting one."

The final issue of 4-H Leader appeared in April/May, 1988.

The task force headed by Warren Pray made their final report to Grant Shrum, president, National 4-H Council, on April 22, 1988. Basically they recommended two types of publications. First, a publication directed at county and state Extension staff, 4-H volunteers, and non-traditional audiences such as school enrichment, teachers and librarians; that it be a tabloid style (similar to USA Today), that it have a "controlled circulation" method of distribution, free of charge to all of those individuals who desire to receive this publication, that it be issued four to six times a year, and that funding be secured by Council's Development Office to pay for printing and distribution with staffing being split up among various departments within Council.

Second, that a second publication be geared toward the private sector and senior Extension and Land-Grant and USDA officials, plus other VIPs. The National 4-H Council Quarterly publication with Larry Krug as Executive Editor, fulfills this second need, having started in Summer of 1983.

The first recommendation, for a new, general "controlled circulation" magazine for the masses never materialized.

While a number of supporters may have felt saddened and had regret at the closing of this 65-year old magazine, in less than 10 years the Internet would be moving in strong and there would, in all likelihood, have been a change from a printed publication to an electronic vehicle anyhow.

Readership Survey Ranks 4-H NEWS Highly

(from Winter 1985 National 4-H Council Quarterly)

According to a recent readership survey of National 4-H News, more than 80 percent of the volunteer leaders and professionals who responded use the magazine for leader training, share it with an average of two other people and take one or more actions based on the advertisements.

Approximately 50 percent of the 2,000 volunteers and almost 60 percent of the 1,000 Extension professionals queried responded to the survey conducted by Readex, Inc. for National 4-H Council. the survey also revealed that the majority of 4-H NEWS readers are active, concerned, family-oriented adults with many interests. Most volunteer leaders are women who lived in rural and small town communities. The medium age is 39. More than 68 percent are employed full or part-time - the majority of them in professional, technical or educational fields. A large percentage of readers are married, have children and own their own homes. the median household income of NEWS readers is $26,800, higher than the national average.

The magazine was ranked high as a valuable reference by most readers. both leaders and professionals report reading an average of three out of four issues and more than 60 percent read at least selected items in an average issue.

"4-H Leader" Premieres

"4-H Leader--the national magazine for 4-H" is the new name for a 63-year-old tradition. Beginning with the June-July, 1985 issue, 4-H Leader will continue the history of service established by National 4-H News.

Chosen to better reflect the primary function of the magazine as a training tool for the volunteer 4-H leader, the new title gives stronger identity to the only national magazine published for this select audience. The new name also reflects recognition of the vital leadership role of Extension staff in using the magazine as a practical tool for maintaining and strengthening volunteer leadership skills.

The magazine, published nine times each year by National 4-H Council, will give new emphasis to articles by recognized authorities on child development and leadership skills as well as provide leaders practical ideas, projects and activities to make the 4-H experience more meaningful for members.






Compiled by National 4-H History Preservation Team.


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