General Synod approves Journal, communications changes

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Bishop William Cliff: "This work has been an enormous task, and we have been assisted over the last three years by members of General Synod, by members of CoGS, by the bishops, by interested parties, by editors, by people from all across the church as we have been asking some very difficult questions." Photo: Geoff Howe

Vancouver

The 42nd General Synod approved changes to the organization of the two committees that have overseen the communications and storytelling efforts of the Anglican Church of Canada, unifying two committees into one and adopting changes related to the mandate, governance and editorial policy of the Anglican Journal.

Resolution A090 – Communications Coordinating Committee,” moved by Chancellor David Jones and seconded by Cynthia Haines-Turner, prolocutor of the church, passed virtually unanimously on July 15. In a vote by orders, only two members of the Order of Laity voted “No,” (1.9%) while two lay members and one member of the Order of Clergy abstained. All bishops voted “Yes.”

The three components of the resolution—which were all adopted by the Council of General Synod (CoGS) in March and commended to General Synod for ratification—direct CoGS to amalgamate the existing Communications and Information Resources Coordinating Committee and the existing Anglican Journal Coordinating Committee into a new Communications Coordinating Committee. It also enacts the terms of reference for the new Communications Coordinating Committee adopted by CoGS, as well as the “provisions adopted by Council of General Synod with respect to the mandate, governance, editorial policy and editorial board for the Anglican Journal.”

In short, these provisions, as they concern the Journal, establish an editorial board for the publication; afford greater flexibility to the church in adjusting distribution methods for the Journal and other communications tools; and declare General Synod as the publisher of the Journal, with the editor reporting to the executive director of communications and seeking input from the Communications Coordinating Committee, as well as journalistic input from the editorial board. A refined editorial policy states that the Journal “is a journalistic enterprise, and as such is expected to adhere to the highest standards of journalistic responsibility, accuracy, fairness, accountability and transparency. Its journalism is fact-based, fact-checked and in-depth, tackling important issues, asking and answering difficult questions.”

The policy also commits the Journal to representing the “widest possible diversity of information and opinion across the Anglican Church of Canada,” while it “promotes informed engagement by Anglicans in the life of their church, and nurtures healthy self-reflection, respectful dialogue and constructive debate.”

Reference to “editorial independence” is absent from the revised policy and mandate. The previous mandate of the Journal, as specified in the handbook of the General Synod, was to be “a national newspaper of interest to the members of the Anglican Church of Canada, with an independent editorial policy and not being an official voice of or for the church.” The new mandate reads, “the General Synod shall produce and distribute journalistic content of interest to the members of the Anglican Church of Canada, whose purpose is to connect and reflect the Church to internal and external audiences, providing a forum for the full range of voices and views across the Church.”

The motion was addressed by three people at General Synod: Bishop William Cliff, chair of the Anglican Journal Coordinating Committee; the Rev. Karen Egan, chair of the Communications and Information Resources Coordinating Committee; and Ian Alexander, who served in a joint working group to consider the future of the Journal and strategies for change.

“This work has been an enormous task, and we have been assisted over the last three years by members of General Synod, by members of CoGS, by the bishops, by interested parties, by editors, by people from all across the church as we have been asking some very difficult questions,” Cliff said when introducing a presentation on the resolution. According to Cliff, the resolution represented “an enormous amount of work. When you look at the size of the reports that are in the convening circular, you can have some idea. I think we were the ‘meeting-est’ coordinating or standing committees of the triennium. Numerous, numerous phone calls and conference calls and face-to-face meetings. There’s a lot that lies behind it. More, perhaps, than may be apparent on the surface of the resolution, but much that will have a fundamental impact on how this church communicates to its members and, more importantly, to the rest of the world.”

Alexander then offered a 30-minute presentation on the significant work that led to Resolution A090. He began his presentation by addressing concerns that the committee had been developing a plan to eliminate printed copies of the Anglican Journal. “I think, for a while, some people thought that our working group was set up to take the Anglican Church out of the print publication business,” he said. “I hope they don’t think that any more. As a matter of fact, we were set up because there had been a request from a diocese that the Anglican Journal no longer be distributed in print within that part of the country. That was, as they say, the presenting issue, but it quickly became apparent that there were a lot of bigger issues at stake. Here are some of them: how people are using media in the church and outside the church, the financial challenges that we know the Anglican Church of Canada is facing, … developments going on in dioceses—in some cases actions being taken, in other cases conversations beginning—and also some recommendations about communications that have been offered up in previous triennia, but not in fact acted on.”

These factors, Alexander said, will impact how the church handles print distribution; online social media presence; editorial and journalistic mandates; and communications strategy and structure. The group conducted five surveys of stakeholder groups, he explained, along with “detailed financial analysis, a content analysis of the Anglican Journal over the past couple of years, an historical review of the governance of communications—it’s gone back and forth over the years—[and] a review of what other churches are doing and thinking of doing.” The group also consulted with CoGS four times, visited the House of Bishops and had an in-depth conversation with the Anglican Editors Association.

Alexander said the research presented to General Synod was drawn from an “omnibus survey” sent randomly to 1,000 Anglicans from the Anglican Journal mailing list, with 400 people responding by mail or online, a number “enough to be statistically valid, including from all but two dioceses.”

Among the highlights from the survey results, as presented by Alexander:

  • 79% of respondents said that a national publication of interest to the church is important to them, and 84% said a diocesan publication of interest is important
  • The vast majority (95%) of Canadian Anglicans read their church publications in print, though a significant number are willing to consider alternatives.
  • About a quarter of respondents prefer not to receive a print edition, and a third would appreciate a monthly newsletter.
  • Just over half of respondents said they expect to see the Anglican Journal and their diocesan paper in print in 3-5 years, while 80% said they did not expect this in a decade’s time.
  • Canadian Anglicans foresee a long, slow transition from print to digital distribution.

Alexander’s presentation also delved into the three specific recommendations within the resolution and how they were developed. He noted that the plan called for a gradual exit strategy from print, with a consultative approach taken among diocesan papers and improvements to the Journal’s subscriber list and annual appeal.

Changes to the editorial mandate and policy came, Alexander said, after content analysis suggested that editorial independence was not a significant factor in the Journal’s editorial direction and that the majority of Anglicans surveyed—65%—believed the Journal should be the official voice of the Anglican Church of Canada.  The new mandate, he said, would encourage the Journal to be a diverse forum; help it use appropriate and cost-effective technologies; and encourage exchange of information across the church. Meanwhile, the policy would hold the Journal to high journalistic standards, ensure fact-based reporting and bring important issues and difficult questions to the fore. The policy, he said, would also seek a balance of views, offer right of reply, and include explanation of official positions on matters of conflict.

Finally, Alexander said, the provisions would implement recommended changes to organizational structure first published in 2013, reviewing the format and frequency of the Journal, creating a “single news channel” and removing “silo barriers” within the communications department. Thus, the resolution would also re-combine the Anglican Journal and Communications & Information Resources Coordinating Committees into a single, expanded Communications Coordinating Committee, which “shall have strategic and advisory responsibility for the entire communications portfolio of the Anglican Church of Canada.”

After Alexander’s presentation, a few questions came from the floor. Ted Johnson from the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island asked if the opt-in process would reduce costs related to the Journal. “We’re hoping that the cost of print distribution, which a huge part of that is the cost of mailing, might go down if, for example, the number of subscriptions go down,” Egan replied. “It looks like that might be happening, but with that in mind, we also know that there are other revenue sources that might change with that. Maybe people who no longer receive the Anglican Journal in print will begin to reflect on whether they’re going to give to the appeal.”

In addition, Bishop Isaiah Larry Beardy, Indigenous Suffragan Bishop of Northern Manitoba, spoke to General Synod about the need to consider Indigenous language in church communications. “You know, all of us do not speak English. We’re not bilingual,” he said. “Some of us in our communities don’t understand English at all. They understand you can read forms of indigenous language like syllabics, and there is technology available that could help.

“I think that’s a form of reconciliation also with the church, because when I went to residential school, when I came out of that, I couldn’t speak my language. I had to stick around elders that knew the language, and that’s how I recovered it.” Beardy said the church had hymns and liturgy in Indigenous language, and that awareness of language could allow the church “to have the news in the languages of the People of the Land…if that practice could be considered, I think that God is calling us to do that.”

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Matthew Townsend
Matthew Townsend has worked in editorial, journalistic, and web development roles with a variety of organizations, including the The Living Church, the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, NY, and the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida. He is a member of Episcopal Communicators and has consulted with a variety of ecumenical organizations, including Atlantic School of Theology, the Presbyterian Endowment Network, and the Associated Church Press.

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