Governors attempt to govern

As I wrote a few days ago, Episcopal Life has been the source of much consternation lately. Because I serve on the Board of Governors of Episcopal Life, this is a matter with a personal connection. Recapping, a few days ago it was announced that the search for a new editor was going to be suspended. The plan is to publish the newspaper with decentralized editing. On cruise control.

I’m not a member of Episcopal Communicators at present, but I understand the discussion on their members’ email list as been vicious [update: see note below]. I’ve only seen a few postings on the House of Bishops & Deputies email list, but there’s some angst there too. Lots of people want a quality publication, with journalistic independence, to be produced.

People were angry to learn that the Board of Governors had not been consulted in this decision, despite the implication in the press release that we had been consulted. We were finally consulted, yesterday, in a conference call with Robert Williams, Director of Communications, and Linda Watt, Chief Operating Officer. The Board has now issued a statement (after the jump). I’d like to add my own $.02.

It was clear in yesterday’s call that the Board believes strongly that Episcopal Life must be strengthened, and that it is essential to have a clear, independent, quality editorial voice. I think I can speak for everyone in that we do not believe this can be achieved in the current staffing plan, as it has been announced. Some of us feel that a full-time editor for the print publication is required. I believe, perhaps with other members, that it might be possible to have a full-time editor who would have editorial control over both print and web. Either way, we agree that someone needs to be walking around with a red pen, looking at everything. More important, we need someone who is setting the editorial vision — deciding which stories to go after.

While Bob Williams is capable of doing this work, he is pulled in too many directions as Director of Communications. In the current staffing plan, every staff member seems to wear several hats. Mostly, I happen to think that’s a good thing. It makes good use of resources, and it’s the way 21st companies operate. But there are certain tasks which cannot be divided or shared, and editorial vision is one of them. Mind you, I’m speaking my mind here; I do not pretend to represent the whole Board.

I found one thing very frustrating, and others may have shared that frustration. I asked how this decision had come to be. Who decided that the search would be suspended? We were unable to get an answer to this simple question. Williams said he was surprised to learn that the position had not been funded. Did Executive Council or one of its committees trim the budget? Did the budget get trimmed by someone at 815, after Williams saw it, but before it went to Council? I want to know not so that I can excoriate someone — because until yesterday I was willing to think it might have been a good plan — but because I think we as a Board need to participate in a system with accountability and transparency. Decisions are always made by someone. So who made this one? Why?

It is symptomatic of the 815 culture that no clear answer was forthcoming. I generally agree with the direction of the leadership of ECUSA, but we do have a real problem with the bureaucratic machine at 815 Second Avenue. Every time I ask a staff member there how things are going, they furtively glance around to see who’s listening, and then say something like, “Under memorandum 712, subsection 6, I am authorized to say that things are functioning within spec and according to contingency planning standards.” Just once I’d like to hear someone say, “I’m working hard, but my boss stinks” or “My department is doing some amazing work.” You get the idea.

So, anyway, I have digressed. The Board is having another conference call next week. We’ll continue to advocate for adequate staffing for this important communications work. This is not the time in the life of our church to cut back on communications efforts in any way. We will do our best to work collaborately with 815 staff, and we will express our strong belief that we need to be consulted as major decisions are considered.

In the meantime, I bring you today’s statement, signed by all presently serving Board members (there is a vacancy in Province IX) at present.

Statement from the Board of Governors of Episcopal Life Media
February 26, 2008

As was recently announced via Episcopal Life Online, the search for a full-time editor for Episcopal Life has been suspended. The Board of Governors of Episcopal Life Media consulted yesterday with Linda Watt, Chief Operating Officer, and Bob Williams, Director of Communications, to discuss this decision. While there will always be tension between mission and budgetary constraints, as a Board we are committed to maintaining excellence in church communications and journalistic integrity.

Despite the changing nature of communications – between print and online platforms – we believe an independent editor is critical to effective church communications. We will continue to work with the staff at the Episcopal Church Center to craft a solution that both meets the church’s budgetary needs and addresses continued commitment to communications.

The Rev. Scott Gunn, Province I
The Rev. Timothy Schenck, Province II
Sharon Tillman, Province III
Eugene Willard, Chair, Province IV
Martha Wright, Province V
The Rev. Jamie Parsley, Province VI
Melodie Woerman, Province VII
The Rev. Richard Snyder, Province VIII

UPDATE: I’ve been told my someone else that the Episcopal Communicators’ email list discussion were not vicious, but rather were “spirited and passionate.” Not being a member of EC, I can’t characterize the postings here, except through the words of other witnesses. One person’s “vicious” can be another person’s “passionate.” My principal point was that intense conversation is happening in several circles. My second point is that, like too many of our other ecclesiastical conversations, there may be a lack of charity and generosity as we disagree. I’d welcome further corrections, updates, insights, or opinions in the comments.

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