Episcopal Life, the Episcopal Church's monthly newspaper, which circulates 250,000 copies, is going to attempt to operate without an editor, a decision that was apparently reached without consulting the paper's board of governors, its numerous diocesan printing partners, or anyone who has ever edited a newspaper.
Jim DeLa, director of communications in the Diocese of Southwest Florida, and President of Episcopal Communicators, is urging reconsideration, and wrote this letter to his membership.
Through sources that shall remain confidential, I’ve learned there will be no search for a new editor for Episcopal Life. A memo from Linda Watt, the COO of the church, informed the Episcopal Life Board of Governors in a memo, which they were planning to make public today.
It is shocking and incomprehensible to think that the 815 management team believes Episcopal Life can be edited effectively by committee as it has been since Jerry Hames’ retirement. The quality of editing and reporting has slipped below what we should expect from our national newspaper. The Board of Governors, whose job it is to serve as advisors and ombudsmen for the paper, was never consulted before the decision was made.
At a time when we need more voices and perspectives on the issues of the day, it is disappointing to see that the management of the Episcopal Church is doing all it can to limit that conversation and dilute what was once a journalistic endeavor to be proud of.
I encourage everyone with similar concerns to write to Ms. Watt at email@example.com and voice them to her.
The memo announcing the decision was forwarded to the paper's board of governor's last night by an administrative assistant at Episcopal Church Center. It was the first time that most of the board learned that suspending the search for an editor was a possibility.
Read Linda Watt's memo by clicking Read more.
Two cents from a diocesan communications officer:
Throughout the church, communications people are frequently treated not as professionals with hard-won expertise, but as clerks with software skills who can cobble together a passable sentence. This is true in many dioceses, and it is true on the national level as well. The leadership of our Church repeatedly makes important decisions about communications--a field in which few of them have expertise--without consulting anyone with a background in the field. Then they get together and wonder why they are having such a hard time getting the Church's message out.
The disrespectful manner in which the Episcopal Life board of governors was treated in this situation sends a clear message that the Church's leadership does not value the work nor the opinion of diocesan communicators. I say this as someone whose bishop treats him well, and whose diocesan newspaper is not printed in partnership with Episcopal Life. I'm unaffected by the decision not to name a new editor, but I am tired of watching hardworking, underappreciated colleagues in other dioceses treated as though they haven't got a thought in their heads worth hearing.
For two more cents, read this letter by Herb Gunn, editor of The Record in the Diocese of Michigan.
Update at 4:40 pm: the news is buried in the sixth paragraph of this article from ELO. Note the language:
In order to operate within the 2008 budget approved in mid-February by Executive Council, ELM has agreed to a request to suspend at this time the current search for a full-time editor for the Episcopal Life monthly newspaper, Williams said.
(Emphasis added) A request from whom? This is a "mistakes were made" kind of construction, and deserves the same sort of skeptical response.
It does raise a question, though: Was the money for an editor in the budget and got cut out? Or was it never in there in the first place?
Update: 5:25 pm.
Melodie Woerman of the Diocese of Kansas has this response to the story:
[C] ontrary to the implication in the third graf of this news story, the Board of Governors had no part in this decision. We were informed of it in an e-mail only late yesterday. We did discuss a number of items at our December meeting, but nothing like this was part of it. We stressed the need for an editor search to proceed in a timely fashion. Frankly, I'm appalled and embarrassed that the Board was included in this story as if we'd been involved. That implication is entirely false.
Province 7 representative, Episcopal Life Board of Governors
UPDATE: February 26
From Scott Gunn, of the Board of Governors, Governors Attempt to Govern"
Statement from the Board of Governors of Episcopal Life Media
February 26, 2008
As was recently announced via Episcopal Life Online, the search for a full-time editor for Episcopal Life has been suspended. The Board of Governors of Episcopal Life Media consulted yesterday with Linda Watt, Chief Operating Officer, and Bob Williams, Director of Communications, to discuss this decision. While there will always be tension between mission and budgetary constraints, as a Board we are committed to maintaining excellence in church communications and journalistic integrity.
Despite the changing nature of communications – between print and online platforms – we believe an independent editor is critical to effective church communications. We will continue to work with the staff at the Episcopal Church Center to craft a solution that both meets the church's budgetary needs and addresses continued commitment to communications.
The Rev. Scott Gunn, Province I
The Rev. Timothy Schenck, Province II
Sharon Tillman, Province III
Eugene Willard, Province IV
Martha Wright, Province V
The Rev. Jamie Parsley, Province VI
Melodie Woerman, Province VII
The Rev. Richard Snyder, Province VIII
From Linda E. Watt, Chief Operating Officer
The work of Episcopal Life Media is currently influenced by three factors:
-- optimal balancing of reporting online and in print, a challenge now engaged by all major newspapers, and also an essential consideration for effective stewardship of contributed church funds;
-- mid-February discussions by Executive Council’s Administration and Finance Committee, and Council's approval of a 2008 budget requiring streamlining of ELM operations;
-- the need to provide The Episcopal Church comprehensive and cost-effective coverage of the Lambeth Conference this summer.
Assessing these factors, and affirming the excellent work now being done by the ELM editorial team, I have asked that the search for a monthly newspaper editor be suspended at this time. We are pleased to announce the management configuration of ELM, a group of talented professionals who are dedicated to ELM's continued excellence.
-- The News Unit is to be managed by Matthew Davies, editor of Episcopal Life Online.
-- The Features Unit is to be managed by the Rev. Lisa Hamilton, who recently joined the ELM team as correspondent with many years' journalistic experience, notably with Trinity Church, Wall Street.
-- The Video/Multicast Unit continues to be managed by Mike Collins; also assisting in the editorial and multicast work is ELM’s executive editor, the Rev. Jan Nunley.
-- The Print Production Unit is staffed by art director Molly Ruttan Moffat.
-- The Business Unit is managed by Lawrence Moore, who currently oversees advertising, circulation, marketing, and printing partnerships.
-- The Operations Unit, including personnel and fiscal coordination, is managed by Bernice David, current operations director for ELM and Episcopal Books and Resources.
These managers will continue to serve collaboratively with the supervision of the current director of Episcopal Life Media and Episcopal Church communication, Robert Williams, who leads the department and works in ongoing consultation with the ELM board of governors.
The board of governors last year endorsed ELM's configuration as "an integrated system of web, print and broadcast resources serving Episcopalians, seekers and observers."
Please join me in supporting these professionals in their dedicated service to The Episcopal Church.