Episcopal Life editor search is on again
There was much furore a few days ago, when it was announced that the search for an editor for Episcopal Life would be suspended. I serve on the Board of Governors of said publication, so I had some investment in this. I wrote about it twice here.
Today the Board had a conference call with Bob Williams, Director of Communications for ECUSA. We were told that the editor search will resume. I was all tempted to blog it right away, but I wanted to be a good doobie and wait for the release to hit the proverbial wires. Now that this has happened, I’d like to share some thoughts.
The concern about the plan to function with a full-time editor was well founded. In the on-again, off-again saga, the first plan was apparently to scrap the editor job, because the budget got trimmed. It still isn’t clear to me how this happened, but there it is. This plan was roundly criticized, and — to their credit — the staff at 815 heard the widespread concern. In a conference call last Monday, the Board spoke frankly with both Williams and Linda Watt, Chief Operating Officer of ECUSA. We made our point of view known: the Board felt that an editor is essential for a quality publication or a quality website.
Today Williams told us that the search for an editor will resume. This new position will include editorial oversight of both the print publication and the online products. I think this makes sense. Much of the content will be directly repurposed. In other cases, a correspondent might write a piece for a print publication that is re-edited for online use. A single editor is a good idea, as long as there is sufficient staff to assist the editor in her or his job.
Speaking for myself, and not necessarily for the Board, I am concerned that we are still woefully understaffed for churchwide communcations work. This ministry has never been more important than now. We are in an increasingly secular culture, and so the important work of sharing the Good News with the world requires ever more resources. We cannot assume that anyone knows about the Episcopal Church, let alone the details of our work. We need to devote more resources to telling our story, and our experience living in God’s salvation story.
Needless to say, this is also a critical time for communication within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. The extent to which we are able to stay together as a church will largely hinge on our ability to hear one another and to see God’s purposes at work in our diverse body. (This is not code for “conservatives must learn to appreciate progressives.” I mean it both ways, and more.)
We are also producing media in more forms than we were a decade ago. Think about the work of the communication staff now: media relations, Episcopal Life, the Episcopal Church website, Episcopal Life Online, video products, and more. Even just in print terms, we are not only producing a monthtly newspaper, but the staff must adapt to the changing world of diocesan print publications, as more dioceses move away from monthly newsprint. In my own diocese, we now read a quarterly magazine, with Episcopal Life content formatted and edited for a magazine. More products means more production, which should mean more staff.
I think Williams and the 815 staff have done a remarkable job with their allocated resources. I’d like to see more resources in the next budget revision. In some other posting, I’ll write about some concerns I have about the communications products and services now offered. I don’t pretend to understand what solutions may be required, but I do know that working with too few resources and too few staff members is a sure recipe for falling short of greatness.
As a Board, we are newly energized. We have formed several subcommittees to do some strategic thinking so that we can provide some insight, advice, and advocacy for the 815 staff. We are taking seriously the need to adapt to the 21st century, while continuing to serve a readership that skews above average in age. In other words, there’s no appetite, from anyone, for curtailing the print partnerships with the dozens of dioceses that combine their diocesan newspaper with Episcopal Life.
I expect the next few months to be a time of discernment within the Board. I for one am inclined to make some noise. Again, speaking for myself, I think we need a fresh charter from Executive Council. If we had a more more oversight, that could support more journalistic independence with Episcopal Life Media. At present, all we can do is provide advice. The staff, who are beholden to senior management, has no leverage to tell stories that the higher-ups might want to keep quiet. I’d like to see some staff accountability to an independent board, so that someone other than 815 folks are monitoring what gets written and how. We also need a fresh charter because our role has changed. We’ve started calling ourselves the Board of Governors of Episcopal Life Media, but that’s not what the Executive Council resolution says.
Maybe we need to create a new entity, under the auspices of General Convention, to guide and advise church communications. I serve as a Deputy, and I’m intrigued by the possibility of advocating this option. Some will say that we have a Standing Commission on Communications, but their charter is everything. They cannot provide the right kind of oversight and support for Episcopal Life Media. A smaller group might well function as an independent governing board for the products and services that emanate from 815 and the new office in L.A. This could help ensure that, while we’re telling the Good News, we’re also telling the full story about life in the Episcopal Church — even when it doesn’t seem appealing to senior management.
I welcome comments and thoughts on Episcopal Life and communications within the Episcopal Church.