This just in from the Board of Governors of Episcopal Life Media:
The Board of Governors of Episcopal Life Media strongly opposes the proposal of the Episcopal Church Director of Communications to change the nature, scope and content of Episcopal Life and calls for the withdrawal of that proposal. Our opposition comes from concerns about both content and process:
The board, which was created in 1990 by Executive Council specifically to have oversight and guidance of Episcopal Life, was not consulted at all in this process. We have yet to see the actual proposed budget, even though our Executive Council mandate charges us with reviewing the financial structure of Episcopal Life.
Episcopal Life serves as a ministry resource to the 32 dioceses and parishes that make up the print partnership, without which many dioceses would not be able to produce, print and circulate their own newspaper. We note also that the costs of Episcopal Life’s production and mailing are paid by these partners, and that the number of printing partners has been increasing in recent years.
Ending the longstanding printing partnerships at this time will deprive church members of the news vehicles on which they have relied, giving print partners an inadequate five-months notice.
These are times in which members of the church want, expect and need more, not less, news about their church. This plan will hamstring diocesan and parish communicators, including those not in the printing partnerships, by depriving them of information needed to help keep people informed about what is happening in their church.
The Episcopal Church leadership proclaims a desire for grassroots involvement, transparency and greater collaboration. This proposal flies in the face of that.
The Board of Governors is committed to engaging in strategic planning on matters of communications in the Episcopal Church, but any changes to the existing mechanisms should take place only after a sustained period of engagement that includes all stakeholders, including the Board of Governors, the Episcopal Life printing partners, Episcopal Communicators, the Standing Commission on Church Communications and the communications staff at the Church Center.
We call for a withdrawal of this proposal. We also call for a renewed commitment to continue the Episcopal Life printing partnerships at this time. We also call for an agreement that the Office of Communications will abide by the mandate of Executive Council and will not make any proposal regarding Episcopal Life unless it comes through consultation with and agreement by the Board of Governors.
(One board member has resigned in anticipation of moving out of the province he represents. Another was unable to take part in a conference call.)
There are two resolutions regarding Episcopal Life that either have been or will be filed with the General Convention Office.
Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the Department of Communications undertake a comprehensive survey to determine the most appropriate means of reaching Episcopalians. Such survey would include existing readers of Episcopal Life to determine the effectiveness and reach of the Episcopal Church's monthly newspaper and whether alternative schedules or media would better serve current readers' needs. Readers surveyed would include clergy and laity, individual subscribers and those receive Episcopal Life in conjunction with their dioceses' newspapers. The survey would also include Episcopalians who formerly or have never subscribed to Episcopal Life; and be it further
Resolved, That the survey should include: respondent demographics; which elements Episcopal Life readers or former readers find or found most and least useful in that publication; from which other sources respondents obtain news of the Episcopal Church; whether respondents have access to the Internet; whether respondents utilize social networking technologies; whether respondents now do obtain news via Episcopal Life Online or other digital Episcopal Church communications vehicles; whether respondents anticipate doing so if Episcopal Life switched to a quarterly magazine or ceased to publish; whether respondents would subscribe to a quarterly magazine; and be it further
Resolved, That a report incorporating the results of this survey be distributed to the Church by April 1, 2010; which report would also include information on the number of households receiving Episcopal Life through printing partnerships as well as the number of individual subscribers- how many diocesan printing partners would distribute a quarterly magazine; and a complete statement of income and expense sources for the years 2007 through 2009; and be it further
Resolved, That current Episcopal Life staffing, frequency of publication, printing partner structure and news format continue until completion of the study, whose results will be used to determine the need for changes in any of these areas; and be it further
Resolved, That the Episcopal Life Board of Governors be informed of the survey data and consulted in finalizing the report and determining any changes to be made based on that report.
The announcement in late June that Episcopal Life would change to a quarterly magazine format in 2010 came as a surprise to the Episcopal Life Board of Governors, who were not consulted about the proposed revisions. While there is no question that communications are becoming increasing dependent on cyber media, it remains to be seen how existing church members, particularly readers of the print version of Episcopal Life, can best be served. A quarterly publication by definition cannot be a news source, and it is being touted more as a discussion stimulator than a resource about what is happening in the Episcopal Church. If that is the case, Episcopalians will be left with the option of seeking information from unofficial print sources, or using official and unofficial cyber sources if they have or use the internet, or simply remaining uninformed about things that are happening in the Episcopal Church. This is not a propitious time to leave our people with significantly less access to responsible news. A recent British study indicated that switching to on-line publication is not a panacea. It cited, for example, a Finnish publication that went exclusively on-line which led not only to a 75% reduction in revenue, but also no increase in Web traffic to its site. In this country, the transfer of the Christian Science Monitor to a cyber publication has not led to an increase in readership. It may be that the decision to emphasize Web communication and reposition Episcopal Life is correct, but a major decision of this kind, which has potential enormous impact for the Church, deserves careful study and broad approval before implementation.
The Very Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely, C-1 Arizona
Dr. Louie Crew L-1, Newark,
The Very Rev. Kevin Martin, C-1, Dallas.
TITLE: Continuing Episcopal Life and diocesan partnerships
Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm the Executive Council’s Board of Governors’ oversight responsibility for Episcopal Life (the print publication in newspaper and/or magazine form) as established when the newspaper was founded in 1990; and be it further
Resolved, that the policies and practices of the publication and its relationship with its printing partners be established by the Board of Governors of Episcopal Life; and be it further
Resolved, that Executive Council restore the appointment of an Executive Council liaison to the Board of Governors; and be it further
Resolved, that in order to strengthen its oversight role, Executive Council consider changing the membership of the Board of Governors so that the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies shall appoint three (3) bishops, three (3) priests and/or deacons, and six (6) lay persons; and be it further
Resolved, that Executive Council ensure that a minimum of three (3) members of the Board of Governors are drawn from editors of diocesan printing partners with Episcopal Life; and be it further
Resolved, that Episcopal Life continue to publish and circulate a monthly print publication and strengthen The Episcopal Church as a vital ministry resource for the dozens of dioceses that rely on Episcopal Life for news coverage, mailing list maintenance, and printing and postal collaboration.
Not only is Episcopal Life the newspaper for the Episcopal Church and a vehicle that reaches a quarter of a million readers every month, but also Episcopal Life is the flagship news publication for 32 diocesan newspapers joined in a printing partnership. The printing partnerships constitute 90 percent of the Episcopal Life subscriptions. Any plan to jettison the printing partnership will not only imperil the diocesan newspapers, it could decimate the circulation of Episcopal Life.
The Episcopal Life printing partnership is a clear example of a ministry of the Episcopal Church that is a resource for the whole Church, offering direct and essential support for diocesan communication ministries.
Emerging technologies offer The Episcopal Church new methods of communicating with new and different audiences, and can be complementary and mutually beneficial in a communication strategy that includes a print vehicle reaching a broad cross section of Episcopalians with news of their Church. Furthermore, a thriving and collaborative newspaper offers the community of the Episcopal Church a common point of reference for understanding the variety of life and ministry across the Church.
The Executive Council created the Board of Governors for Episcopal Life in June 1990 (see Executive Council Minutes, June 11-15, 1990, Fresno, CA, pp. 49-50) to monitor the effectiveness, health, and wellbeing of the newspaper. Twice during the recent triennial, efforts have been initiated to supplant the budget of Episcopal Life in consultation with neither the Episcopal Life Board of Governors nor the dioceses that depend upon the partnership to maintain and circulate their diocesan publications.
Episcopal Life offers an essential communication resource to nearly one-third of the dioceses across the Episcopal Church, without which communication with one another and communication within these dioceses will be significantly diminished and in some cases disappear.
The newspaper partnership is both a symbol of our unity and a forum through which we discuss our differences.
Deputy G. Herbert Gunn, Lay-2, Diocese of Michigan
Deputy Rayford Ray, Clergy-1, Diocese of Northern Michigan
Deputy J. Thomas Downs, Clergy-1, Diocese of Eastern Michigan
Deputy Anne Clarke Brown, Lay-2, Diocese of Vermont