10 Years of Exponent: The Gift of Trust and the Birth of the Exponent Blog
Guest post by Aimee Evans Hickman
When the Exponent II board was considering adding a weblog (yes that’s what we called it back in the olden days of 2005) to its arsenal of media platforms, there were a lot of questions from the board about how that would work: What is the function of the blog versus the paper? Would each blog post go through an editorial review before going live? How would blog posters be chosen? Would comments be subject to editing or removal if they didn’t represent Exponent’s mission to “share their life experiences in an atmosphere of trust and acceptance?” What would we do if a conversation was too critical of an individual’s choices or the LDS Church?
For 30 years, Exponent II had carefully shaped its mission and message through thoughtful discussion and debate by board members, editors and staffers about every piece of content that was published in the paper. Whether it was crafting the Exponent II mission statement, redesigning the logo, or debating the content of the paper during particularly fraught cultural moments for Mormon women, members of Exponent II participated in vigorous and sometimes heated debate before putting anything in print for public consumption. The stakes for conversing in public have always been high for Mormon women working outside correlated LDS channels, but especially so for a group focused on forging a community that is as safe and welcoming for those who are comfortable with their relationship to the LDS Church as those who are wrestling with it. It was that collaborative, deliberate, and reflective spirit that kept Exponent II alive through all those fraught years in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. For members of the Exponent II board, there was a real concern about whether that community and tone could be maintained in the wild-west of the bloggernacle.
And that is why in retrospect I understand the creation of the blog as a revolutionary moment in Exponent II’s history. I think it would be an easy mistake to interpret those initial queries from the board about what purpose a blog would serve as simply a knee-jerk fear of losing control. But when one considers what all the women who birthed Exponent II had lost in both the lead up to Exponent II’s creation as well as the price many paid for creating and participating in it over the decades, any uneasiness about a platform as unwieldy as a blog can be better understood as a need to create trust rather than simply maintain control.
And so it was at a board retreat in Cape Cod in January of 2006 that I put on my Exponent II President’s cap and officially presented the new blog format that Caroline Kline, Jana Remy, Emily Clyde Curtis and Deborah Kris had developed. As Caroline pitched it to me in an email:
“The purpose of a blog is to create community and allow exponent people to converse and bounce ideas and questions off each other. I think a blog is a way to make the exponent a more vital part of exponent readers’ lives. I’m hoping that dozens of women will eventually be coming to the blog daily to read new posts and write new comments and make connections with like-minded women. It could be a powerful way of creating more of an online presence for the exponent, which I think is important since so many people in their 20’s and 30’s use the internet as their primary media.”
In a sense, Caroline’s (correct) idea of the purpose of a blog was like inviting all our readers into a daily Exponent II retreat, a board meeting, a famous Exponent Day Dinner, no matter where they were in the world. But it wasn’t just to give them a view on that world, it was a place they would be invited in to participate, to shape the conversations, to debate the direction we should go in a public sphere.
As Mormon feminists who have worked so hard to carve out spaces where we can control our message, our finances, our own moral agency, it makes sense to be apprehensive about opening up our organizations in ways where we might lose some control of the message. That apprehension was real, both for the Exponent II board members (many of whom had been with Exponent II since its inception in the 1970s), as well as the women creating this new platform, who needed the freedom and control to build this new space that only they could envision. In the end, the success of the blog, as well as the Exponent II’ magazine in 2009, could only come when control was ceded to trust on all sides. Building that trust between the board and the bloggers was not as easy as I assumed it would be on that winter’s day in 2006. But the work that dozens, and dozens of women have put in to building those relationships and the Exponent II organization over the years as bloggers, board members, readers and staffers, has resulted in the vibrant organization you see before you today.
Anyone who has ever attended an Exponent II retreat knows that on our opening night we ritually experience Carrel Sheldon’s words of wisdom for how to get the most out of the retreat. One of the main ideas is that in the short amount of time we have to share that space together, we don’t have time to build trust with each other. Our only hope of productive, meaningful interactions can come if we offer our trust to one another as a gift. I am reminded of that every time I read a heartfelt blog post, or a comment that reveals how much someone needed to read those words that day. Thanks to all of you who continue to trust and are willing to be entrusted for making this space what it is today.