Mississauga, Ont.-A team that conducted an operational review of General Synod’scommunication platforms has recommended a “long-term commitment” to thecontinued publication of the print Anglican Journal but called for a review of its format. Italso proposed a re-configuration” of the three websites of theCommunications and Information Resources (CIR) into a “single newschannel.”
The team has also suggested that the CIR focus on “enabling content generation” by Anglicans through various media; continue using The Community (a site within anglican.ca) as a “hang-out for clergy” and other Anglicans; and establish connections with the secular media to facilitate an engagement with the wider public.
Results of the review that looked into the effectiveness of the Anglican Journal, the General Synod communications website, The Community and social media, and Anglican Video, were presented in a report to members of the Council of General Synod (CoGS) during its first fall meeting of the triennium.
CoGS, in response, adopted a motion to receive the report and to refer it to the office of the general secretary, the Anglican Journal co-ordinating committee and the CIR co-ordinating committee “for consideration.” It also requested periodic updates on the status of the report. [Receiving a report does not imply acceptance of the recommendations, said Archdeacon Harry Huskins, prolocutor of General Synod.]
Fifty people were invited to participate in the face-to-face and email interviews that became the basis for the review and 15 responded. They include CIR staff, church house staff (including the primate and the national indigenous Anglican bishop) and three Anglican bishops from across Canada.
Proposed changes for the Anglican Journal
In his presentation to CoGS, the Rev. Canon Neil Elliott, who led the operations review, said the Anglican Journal could likely be “more magazine-like,” and have the same direction of having more reflection and opinion pieces, which was introduced by its interim managing editor, Archdeacon Paul Feheley.
The Anglican Church should not maintain two websites “with overlapping and competing news content,” which is why the team has endorsed the creation of a “single news channel,” said Elliott. This will mean an Anglican Journal website that will have “the freshest news and should include space for professional journalism, citizen journalism, editorial and opinion articles,” it proposed. The report noted, however, that, “there has been significant resistance within the Anglican Journal to the idea of a single web platform for all the news.”
CoGS members respond
The report received mixed reactions from some CoGS members. Jim Sweeney, of the province of Canada, said there were “errors in fact within the report” that need to be corrected before it is made public. He also expressed misgivings about the concept of the “blended news site” saying, “I would not necessarily go to the Anglican Journal website to find out about our canons. My logical point would be to go to anglican.ca.”
Major, the Rev. Marc Torchinsky, of the Anglican Military Ordinariate of Canada, said he has “always enjoyed” reading the Anglican Journal and described it as “an ecumenical tool that reaches out to our partners.” He said Air Force chaplains read it and regard it as a tactile piece of home away from home.
The Rev. Karen Egan, of the province of Canada, said there have been “a lot of conversations [at the CIR and Anglican Journal committee levels] about things that are controversial” in the report and that these would continue.
Structure of communications department
Prescriptions regarding the structure of the department, its working relationships and its leadership were also addressed in the report.
In general terms, the national church and CoGS are “getting great value for their dollar” from “a great team of creative people” from the department who “have a high regard for each other’s capability and welcome opportunities to work collaboratively,” the report said.
But they also tend to have a “silo mentality,” it noted. “There is particularly strong separation between the Anglican Journal and the rest of the department,” which it noted, is reinforced by the newspaper’s principle of editorial independence.
The report also states that projects within the department are “not subject to any empirical benchmarking for effectiveness…. The success or failure of projects is ascertained on the basis of subjective feeling.”
Elliott told CoGS that he has been receiving “a lot of push back” from co-ordinating committee members on the use of the word “silo,” and it has been suggested that “the need to ensure that the department functions with organic unity” was a better summation of the situation.
CIR director, Vianney (Sam) Carriere, in an email interview with the Journal, also took issue with the “silo mentality” assessment, saying the report attacks it “without ever asking why that is bad or whether it might not be a viable way to guide this work.”
Feheley, for his part, said in a statement that, “My experience working with the Anglican Journal and the CIR staff has been very positive and doesn’t match some of the comments that are in the report.”
As a general comment Carriere said the report was “a mixture of insights and strangeness,” and does not “live up to the potential that a thorough, thoughtful and objective review should have offered.”
Feheley said he is “grateful that the report affirms the long-term future of the print version of the Anglican Journal and that it recognizes the unifying factor that it provides for all Anglicans across the country.”
With significant changes being made to the structure of the CIR in the next triennium, the department needs a full-time director “who is able to focus on the changes and who is willing and able to take on the role of proactive communication strategist for the Anglican Church in the social media era,” stated the report.
It called for an end to the current situation where Carriere also serves as director of the Resources for Mission department.
The director must “get the primate into the wider media spotlight” and pave the way for his engagement with a wider Canadian audience, it added.
The report also expressed concern “about the message that is being given by having the primate’s [principal] secretary [Paul Feheley] also act as [interim managing] editor of the Anglican Journal, particularly when he has no professional experience as a journalist.”
Elliott acknowledged, however, that there has been “a favourable response” from Church House staff to the direction of the Journal under Feheley.
But the report said that having someone in an interim position sends out the message that “this is not a sufficiently important or long-lasting job for someone to be appointed full-time or permanently.” The Journal has a budget of over $2.2 million “and many expert professional staff,” the report noted further. “A long-term commitment to the Journal, and to the Journal website, which we are unequivocally suggesting, requires a full-time permanent editor with a wealth of professional experience in print and web journalism.”
The report also recommended that CIR staff should also serve as a resource for implementing the communications strategy of dioceses.
Assessing communication vehicles
The report assessed the performances of each of the communication vehicles, often with mixed and sometimes contradictory results.
The national church’s website, anglican.ca, provides a vital resource to Anglicans, and it should be “a primary resource for refreshing the Anglican Journal website,” the report said. But it is not without issues. It is “trying to do too much, is overcomplicated and hard to negotiate, and is competing with the Anglican Journal website.” There ought to be “new demarcation lines for the anglican.ca website as a much more clearly focused corporate resources website,” it said.
Anglican Video is highly regarded but “some interviewees felt that the cost to their department would make it unusable for them,” said the report.
The Anglican Journal, which is currently distributed to 140,000 households in Canada and overseas, “is the most effective vehicle for communication from Church House to Canadian Anglicans because it reaches so many…,” said the report.
It is also “one of two things that unite Anglicans” from coast to coast (the other being the primate), the report said, quoting interview discussions and results of a recent readership survey. The survey showed that the newspaper has an audience of active Anglicans who are mainly female, over 65 and who are not web users-a demographic that reflects typical church attendance. “These respondents said they feel connected to the Anglican Church through the Anglican Journal.”
This view was, however, not shared by a majority of six staff and officers at Church House who took part in the interviews, who said that the Journal is “the least significant of the communication vehicles” of the national church and expressed concern about its cost.
The Journal is also a significant distribution mechanism for diocesan papers (“without the print Anglican Journal, many of the diocesan papers would not exist”) and its database “is the best measure of the membership” that the church currently has, the report added.
The review committee
The report said the review was in keeping with Vision 2019’s goal of having “a national communication platform, integrated and accessible at the parish, diocesan, and national levels.”
The other members of the operations review team are: Gene Packwood, a priest from Medicine Hat, Alberta; Stuart Mann, director of communications for the diocese of Toronto and editor of its monthly publication, The Anglican; Rebekah Chevalier, who works in communications for The United Church of Canada and is active in the World Association for Christian Communication, and Mel Malton, a priest in the diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward island and two-term member of the CIR committee.