First report on Anglican Journal expected in spring, CoGS hears

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Mississauga, Ont.
A group looking into whether the Anglican Journal should continue to exist in print form and be free to determine its own content is expected to release its preliminary results next spring, Council of General Synod (CoGS) heard Friday, November 10.

Since last spring, a joint working group of the Anglican Journal and Communications and Information Resources co-ordinating committees has been discussing these and other questions regarding the newspaper. The working group was struck after a decision in the fall of 2016 by the diocese of Rupert’s Land that it no longer wanted the print version of the Anglican Journal distributed among its parishioners, citing its desire to focus on online communications and environmental concerns.

(Traditionally, the paper has been distributed together with diocesan newspapers; parishioners in dioceses that produce print versions of their diocesan newspaper receive it together with a copy of the newspaper. But even those without diocesan newspapers receive the Journal.)

The joint working group was formed to come up with a response to the decision by the diocese of Rupert’s Land as well as any similar decisions that may be made by other dioceses in the future, working group member Ian Alexander said in a presentation to CoGS. As members of the working group pondered this question, they also realized it gave them the chance to “test some of the assumptions that various people may have about the Journal itself, particularly given financial realities and given the desire of the church to have a national, co-ordinated and integrated communications strategy,” he said.  As a result, it is also looking into the desirability of keeping the Journal editorially independent—free to determine its own content without external direction.

One major part of the group’s work is conducting surveys of Canadian Anglicans. Currently it is surveying the publishers of the diocesan papers (the bishops); the editors of these papers; and members of CoGS and senior staff, Alexander said. The group would also like to get more details by doing one-on-one phone interviews with some respondents, he said, and is considering also surveying the members of General Synod and a representative sample of church members as a whole. It is also hoping to do research and analysis into areas such as how people are using media today and how other denominations are handling their news, he said.

Table group discussion after Alexander’s presentation focused on what factors should guide the group as it develops options for distributing diocesan papers and the Anglican Journal; and the importance of its editorial independence and its being mailed to all Anglicans free of charge.

On the first point, one table group said cost should be a key consideration; another questioned whether it was sustainable to try to distribute the Journal to everyone. Others said the ease of reading a print version of the paper should be considered, since not everyone in the country has good Internet connectivity and some are not even online. Others pointed out the diversity of reading habits, saying “one size does not fit all.”

Another group said “physical surveys” should be going out on the parish level, to make sure the group has heard from everyone who will be affected.

In the second part of table group discussion, two out of the seven groups said they placed great value on the Journal’s editorial freedom.

“Editorial independence is the most important part to protect because we do not want it to be perceived as the mouthpiece of the Anglican church,” one table spokesperson said.

“It’s important to hear stories we might not want to hear…the truth sets us free,” said another.

Two other groups reported disagreeing strongly—in one case “passionately” on the matter. Another proposed asking in what way the Journal is “a positive value to our overall communications strategy.”

One table group argued that the Journal’s editorial independence was crucial to ensuring it qualifies for the Heritage Canada grant it now receives; another proposed looking into the question of whether the grant in fact requires it to be editorially independent.

The Journal receives an annual grant of roughly $400,000 from Heritage Canada’s Canada Periodical Fund  for magazines, non-daily newspapers and digital periodicals. The grant constitues 20.9% of the Journal’s annual budget. 

Additional sources of income include funding from General Synod (30.4%), the annual Anglican Journal Appeal (25%), advertising revenue (11.2%), distribution income (11.4%) and others (0.59%).

Several table groups also expressed concern that many Canadian Anglicans don’t fully understand the Journal’s editorial independence. Some people are sometimes confused by the way the paper covers church news, since they assume it’s the church’s official voice, one table representative said.

Views on the question of the Journal’s distribution were similarly mixed, with some saying it ought to continue to be distributed with the diocesan papers, and others saying Anglicans should be able to opt out. One table suggested looking into a paid subscription model for the paper.

Currently, everyone who makes a financial contribution to the Anglican Church of Canada, including the Journal’s Annual Appeal, is entitled to receive the Journal and the newspaper of their diocese.

The working group hopes to make an interim report to CoGS when it meets next spring and a final report, including recommendations for the future of the Journal, to CoGS a year from now, Alexander said.

Of the roughly 100 people who have so far been invited to take the survey, about 60 have so far responded, he said. The working group isn’t announcing its preliminary results yet, he said, because it doesn’t want to risk influencing those who have not yet taken the survey.

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

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