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INSIDE STORY: When computer crashes, writer left scrambling

I love technology.
I hate it, too.
I was reminded of that 10 days before this issue of The Christian Chronicle went to press when my computer’s hard drive died. By die, I mean that my Apple laptop — so friendly and easygoing through the first 2½ years of our relationship — konked out and could not be revived by Mac geniuses.
On the positive side, my valuable piece of modern machinery remains under a three-year extended warranty, so my new hard drive was installed at no charge. On the negative side, I lost hundreds of e-mails, text files, photographs and music I had downloaded on iTunes.
Most of what I lost — from story ideas to reader feedback to interview notes from a recent trip to Harding University Graduate School of Religion in Memphis, Tenn. — can be attributed to the failure of one person to back up files properly and print out hard copies of crucial items.
I am not going to identify the guilty party because he feels stupid enough already. (However, his e-mail address is embedded in this column if you need to reach him.)
Seriously, the computer drama made this press cycle much more, shall we way, interesting.
I must say, though, that my sympathetic editor, Lynn McMillon, and my equally supportive wife and colleagues made it much less stressful than it could have been.
My high-tech fiasco came right in the middle of the Chronicle’s “Campaign 2008” survey of readers across the nation (see the RELATED STORIES list below for those links).
Before the mini-crisis, members from 48 states and the nation’s capital had completed the political questionnaires, and I had placed them in an e-mail folder on my desktop. I was waiting only on responses from New Hampshire and Maryland before printing it all out and putting it in a real manila folder.
Obviously, I waited too long.
Fortunately, I had a personal e-mail list saved on an online server. So, I sent an SOS e-mail to that list, explaining my dire circumstances and begging anyone who participated in the survey to resend their responses.
My wife, Tamie, the Chronicle’s online editor, rushed a similar e-mail to the thousands of readers on the newspaper’s breaking news alert list. And within just a few days, I had retrieved most of the original survey responses.
Unfortunately, I could not find everyone who participated in the initial survey. Over a period of weeks, as I tried to include members in all 50 states, I had sent a number of random e-mails to church addresses I found online and in the 2006 edition of Churches of Christ in the United States. There was no way to duplicate that process entirely, so I apologize to anyone whose survey was lost.
Technology aside, one of the great blessings of the survey was the way it forced me to reach out to members in locations where I do not have a lot of contacts — places such as North Dakota, Iowa, Hawaii and the District of Columbia.
If we wanted, the Chronicle could fill the Across the Nation page every month just with items from Texas, Tennessee and Oklahoma, not to mention Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi. But we try hard to report on members all over the nation, not just those in the Bible Belt. The survey compelled me to try even harder.
Rhode Island, a tiny state with only about seven Churches of Christ, was one of the last places where I tracked down a member to fill out our questionnaire.
After e-mails failed to turn up any prospects, I picked up the telephone and called the first Rhode Island congregation listed in the 21st Century Christian directory.
In a matter of seconds, I was on the line with Bruce Bates, minister of the Blackstone Valley church in Cumberland, R.I. Bruce said he’d be happy to answer my questions.
Not only that, but he is a Chronicle subscriber and shared how much he enjoys reading about his fellow Christians and God’s great works in their lives.
Actually, my exchange with Bruce — who ended up being the first person quoted in our survey story — was pretty amazing.
I mean, to think that I can call one of 13,000 congregations nationally at random and immediately feel such a personal connection — that just demonstrates what a close and tight-knit fellowship we have in Jesus.
Technology may fail us. God never will.

Bobby Ross Jr. is Managing Editor of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

Filed under: Inside Story

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