2013 in Review: Did We Win Yet?

Clicking this link will give you the NFTU Jetpack stats for 2013. In short, NFTU had 180,000 direct page readers in 2013– which sounds like a lot, but in fact is a drop of almost 50% from 2012. (This does not include social media and feed linking, which adds about another 50% to the total number.) We expected this drop to occur sooner or later as the technology and enough interested parties began to pick up the slack and reporting news on their own Synods, et cetera, creating reader bases previously filled by NFTU.

Click here for the Archive of NFTU from 2004-2013

The good news is that most True Orthodox Synods have at least some English-language websites and news with feeds and features and dedicated people running them on a regular basis. The bad news is that after a decade, while traditional Orthodox people know each other better than ever, the open model of reporting– reporting in a non-partisan fashion– still seems like Martian to most. Reportage is often glowing as opposed to critical (unless it’s the other guy). NFTU, in this, has slowly come closer to this style which reflects its decline, as we largely aggregate from an increasing pool of other, usually diocese-sanctioned, news sources.

It certainly hasn’t helped that your general editor was (along as our second largest contributing author and associate editor) selected to be part of a Committee on Inter-Orthodox Relations for our Synod, meaning any reports of the Committee were bound to look “endorsed” by NFTU because of the signatures. Add to that the difficulty of finding writers across True Orthodoxy willing to be critical even of their own people is pretty much near-impossible. (We’ve met many over the years– unfortunately most of them hate writing. Welcome to the age of the text message. If the pen is mightier than the sword, we are a helpless, unarmed bunch.)

But the fact of the existence of such committees is a sign of real progress in True Orthodoxy.  It means we’re forcing ourselves to talk to each other. And sure, there are going to be arrogant snickerers behind the backs of people who are willing to work to bring real brothers back together, but so what. Those idiots paragons of virtue used to be in charge of the True Orthodox Internet, and now they’re just a party, a reactionary faction of folks who liked pretending they were important as opposed to, I dunno, God.

This year the True Orthodox Directory— which I originally started as a hobby book and Diaconissa Xenia turned into a website– shut down for a day (I forgot to pay for the domain). There were immediately worried emails coming up. People cared! I thought “wow, when we started that we used to get hate mail!” That’s progress. (I still need to do the quarterly updates. Sorry!)

The True Orthodox world has opened up a lot techonologically since 2004 when NFTU started. For our part we’ve kept up with tech changes, and will probably change more in 2014. (Our advertising this year was a disaster– moving off Google, where the ads could be controlled, was a huge mistake, and I didn’t realize it until I saw a horrifying ad. I apologize to any scandalized readers. We have put Google ads back on our site.)

In the past year, I’ve probably cited this quote a dozen times in other fora besides NFTU, so I’ll say it here. George Orwell famously wrote: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” For that reason, NFTU’s current direction is one that I like less and less, and frankly one I may well walk away from after our tenth anniversary articles. Over the past two years, I’ve been asking people who volunteer to write to save a copy of the entire archive of NFTU. And yet the volunteers come and go. And of course, there’s always the possibilities the volunteers would censor copies of NFTU for their own interests.

I’ve been doing this wrong.

It’s time to give the archive back to the people who made this what it is as we approach 10 years of doing this. Dear readers, I’m talking about you. I am in the process of uploading the archive to a public location where it can’t be removed by “this” or “that” guy and so it will be accessible and downloadable, and reusable if one day there is no NFTU.net. (That link is here.) God willing, we’ll be around for many years yet. But the Internet is changing. And there is less and less of a need for any specific person “running the show”.

To reiterate: there is still, in this closed-versus-open model of reporting, a challenge between those who want to control the truth of what’s happening and those who just want the truth. We will do our best to continue fighting for the latter. If something is honestly happening that could scandalize readers that needs to be said, we shouldn’t hide it from them– we should be scandalized alongside them. Until we all get that, we won’t get what accountability means. As NFTU’s longest running “guy-in-charge” (there were two other guys in charge in 2005, when I didn’t even have access to the site!) I hope we can spread more than the idea of reporting news about True Orthodoxy to promote it– I hope we can eventually have open and honest reporting across all jurisdictions.

When NFTU finally does die out, I hope it will be because we’re all so honest with ourselves and each other and have enough people who want to report that to the world that we just won’t need NFTU anymore. We’re not there yet, but I see that day coming. I never would have seen today as it is when I was just some layman who wanted to get some ROAC documents out to the public that were being hidden almost a decade ago. Today, the truth will always show up somewhere.

Happy civil new year, readers. As NFTU comes into its 10th year, I want to say thank you to each and every one of the millions of readers (yep, it’s been millions) who have followed us over the decade. We hope to remain at your service for years to come– unless, of course, a better, more open, and accessible service comes along.