One recurring question that I still occasionally get from readers is, “Why did you get rid of the joke page?”
In the past, The Banner used to have an entire page of reader-submitted jokes, which apparently, was relatively popular. When we did a revamp of the magazine in 2017, however, one of the changes we made was to replace the joke page with something else. Let me explain why.
First of all, when I came on board as the editor-in-chief in August 2016, we were consistently getting fewer and fewer joke submissions from readers. This made it harder and harder for my editorial team to fill that page. Since it was a reader-submitted page, we were at the mercy of readers sending in jokes every month. Routinely, we were only filling up half a page with jokes. We resorted to filling up the other half of the page with a comic, which cost us extra as we had to pay for the rights to that comic.
Even at half a page, our staff often had to resort to soliciting jokes from their friends and contacts. The associate editor told me that sometimes she had to literally walk around the denominational office building asking denominational staff if they had any jokes! This was costing us time and energy that was better spent elsewhere.
Secondly, we were finding that the vast majority of the jokes people submitted often fell into two categories. They were often either the "seniors (grandma or grandpa) mishearing things" or the "kids say/do the funniest things" variety. We felt that these kinds of jokes only encourage people to laugh at our seniors and our children. We are not sure if that was healthy in the long run. Occasionally, we can have a good sense of humor and laugh at ourselves, maybe even at each other. But if that goes on consistently and persistently, it can become demeaning. But since it was a reader-submitted page, how could we curate or control the variety of jokes? Especially when we were getting fewer and fewer submissions to choose from?
Furthermore, the dwindling submissions of jokes signaled to us a declining ownership by readers. If fewer readers were sending in jokes, didn’t that mean readers were less engaged with that page? We will never know for sure, I guess, but the lack of submissions was concerning.
Additionally, many of our readers also did not enjoy the jokes and were, frankly, happy to see them go. In fact, in my first three months as editor, I routinely got complaints about the jokes we published. Some thought some jokes were borderline blasphemous. Others complained precisely about our fears—we were laughing at the expense of seniors and children. Still some simply thought they were not funny, in poor taste, or rehashing of Reader’s Digest jokes. Some outright told us we should remove the joke page.
Finally, during our revamp planning, we were also looking to introduce an apologetics-style column, which is now our Cross Examination column. From my years of campus ministry experience, I felt that young Christians, especially at the high school and university ages, have a lot of pressing questions that need good, thoughtful answers. One of the guidelines from Synod was that the Banner needs to appeal to various ages in the denomination. When I started, I found that we did not really have a column that regularly dealt with questions from this young adult age group. Hence the idea for Cross Examinations. But if we introduced a new standing column, we needed to find space, a.k.a. pages, from somewhere else, as print space is limited, unlike online space. With all the problems facing the joke page, you can see why it became a prime target for replacement.
Given all of that, therefore, it did not seem to us that the joke page was worth the cost, time, effort, and grief to maintain it. I hope that those readers who miss the joke page will, at least, understand why we ended it.