Thursday, August 06, 2009

TEC Communications

Many of you know that I have ranted about TEC’s diminishing communications (and the diminishing honesty in those communications) over the past year or so. I’ve done some of it on the blog, and some in e-mail correspondence. I have been angry that Linda Watts, the Chief Operating Officer, has let some of our best and brightest communicators depart from Church Center. I have been angry that the Church Center made unilateral decisions, without consulting with other Episcopal Communicators. I have characterized many of TEC’s recent communications as “Pravda.” I ranted when TEC decided to ditch our monthly newspaper in favor of a slick, glossy quarterly magazine without consulting diocesan communicators. I have grieved our church’s lack of support for actual journalists working from our church headquarters. Several bloggers and “Episcopal Communicators” [most of them diocesan communication coordinators] have shared my concerns – a few on their blogs, and more through the relative privacy of the HoBD listserv.

Now, Herb Gunn (editor of The Record and a General Convention deputy of the Diocese of Michigan), who has an insider’s perspective, has said it much better, more articulately than I ever did. Read his essay: “We should tell our own story, Good News and Bad.”

I never bashed TEC’s communications cut-back because of anger at TEC. I bashed them because I love the Episicopal Church and believe we have a powerful message to share. Read Herb Gunn’s essay. Then speak to your bishop and write to our Presiding Bishop.

I don’t know how long Herb Gunn’s essay will remain on the Episcopal Church website, so I am copying it here in full:

[Episcopal Life] When General Convention decided to let plans go forward to switch the Episcopal Church's monthly newspaper to a quarterly feature-oriented magazine without further study, the decision was about more than the loss of a newspaper. In fact, it never was strictly a debate between parchment and pixels, per se.
Undergirding the discussion about dramatically shifting the communication strategy of the Episcopal Church is the question of editorial integrity -- which I quickly grant is neither guaranteed nor necessarily imperiled in any specific vehicle of communication.
With action taken at General Convention, however, the Episcopal Church is embracing a clear priority for branding, marketing, messaging and public relations over news dissemination, and this raises significant questions about the credibility of our story told in a world in which people are letting authenticity guide their religious choices.
How and where do we now tell our stories with revelatory honesty? How and where do we proclaim the Good News even when proclaiming the Good News sometimes involves telling the bad news?
There is much to acclaim in the Good News stories of the Episcopal Church that we must be poised to elaborate. But additionally, from the sad circumstances of ministerial misconduct to the breadth of debate on issues that could sow dissension within and around the Episcopal Church, we need to be in a position to tell our own story with unquestionable credibility. If we are not, others gladly will tell it for us.
The news of the Episcopal Church cannot be left to others to report and explain. And with deep reductions in secular news agencies' religious coverage, we are ceding too much ground to people who do not know our story and don't really care.
But that raises the question: What is the role of objective reporting within the Episcopal Church, or any organization that strives to reveal itself? How do we report on the institution to which we not only belong, but consider beloved?
The Episcopal Communicators, an independent organization of journalists and communication specialists across the church, has wrestled with the dilemma for a generation, and it established some professional goals in its original bylaws (1975): Communication is a trust relationship based on honesty; communication is always, at least, two-way; a sharp distinction is to be made between communication and promotion; and the communicator's ultimate responsibility is to the people served.
In fact, it is the very ethos of Anglicanism to eschew a dogmatic approach to almost anything, to trust scholarship and to allow and encourage the freedom to continue asking questions.
In my own diocese, where I am the chief writer/editor of the diocesan newspaper, I like to say the role of the bishop vis-à-vis the diocesan newspaper is to read it, not write it -- for the sake of the community and the leaders' always-evolving understanding of it.
The commitment to tell the unvarnished truth about our own church invites living and serving faithfully in some degree of tension, without a doubt, and it makes marketing and branding a fixed image more challenging. The commitment to truth-telling also requires refraining from admonishing our communication professionals, "Remember who pays your salary!"
A decade ago, Barbara Crafton spoke to the annual conference of Episcopal Communicators, saying, "We must write to those who reserve the right to make a judgment about the Episcopal Church."
This is a risky enterprise and adds considerable anxiety, especially during anxious times with a lot at stake for our church.But as Crafton said in her presentation, sometimes we must risk injury to self and the institution we love, "and write to the important part within each Episcopalian that seeks the truth upon which rests the genuine integrity of the church."


Blogger Wormwood's Doxy said...

Keep banging the drum, Lisa. This is too important to let slide.

I continue to be shocked that the church would cut funding for communications and evangelism. Talk about penny-wise and pound-foolish!


8/06/2009 10:35 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks, Doxy. I'm with you! For the life of me, I do not understand why Linda Watts has been shucking the real journalists over the past year. She does a disservice to our church.

8/06/2009 10:54 PM  
Blogger Joanna Depue said...

Thank you very much for posting this as well as Elizabeth's piece, Lisa. Cutting evangelism (aren't we baptized in part to evangelize????) and communications in this day and time is outrageous. They axed Womens Ministries as well. Much has gone scrambled @ 815 in the last few years, but this about tops all.

8/08/2009 1:02 AM  

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