“Is it possible to build something bold rather than shrink what we have?”
The two institutions I love the most are: Church and Newspaper (Museums and Baseball are 3 & 4, respectively). I believe in their similar and quite different holy work to tell stories of Truth and Life, especially stories that are undervalued and unseen. I believe both have a critical role in cultivating a thriving civic ecology for all.
I’ve long noticed a similarity in the challenges and need for innovation of these two institutions whose place and authority were once presumed in our culture.
Boston Globe’s Editor Brian McGrory recently sent a memo to the newsroom. Media commentator Dan Kennedy posted it here. https://dankennedy.net/2016/04/07/globe-editor-mcgrory-its-time-to-rethink-everything-we-do/
I read the memo with great interest about the future of the Boston Globe. But, all I could hear were echoes of my own institution. Below is my creative writing exercise. My text is in red. Enjoy.
It’s time to bring everyone up to date on a series of conversations I’ve initiated among senior editors bishops over the past couple of months, conversations intended to lay the groundwork for a no-sacred-cows analysis of our newsroom Church and what the Globe Church should look like in the future. It’s also time to get the room fully involved in the process.
You know it as I know it: The Globe, Church like every other major legacy news religious organization in Massachusetts, has faced what have proven to be irreversible revenue declines. The revenue funds our journalism ministry. The declines have mandated significant cuts over the past dozen years.
There’s far too much good that goes on at this organization on a moment-by-moment basis to allow ourselves to be consumed by what’s wrong with the industry religious institutions. But we can’t ignore hard realities, either, or simply wish them away. My own strong preference is to somehow shed the annual reduction exercise that seems increasingly inevitable here and everywhere. So I’ve asked senior editors bishops to think about how we, at the very least, might get ahead of the declines, and in the best case, work to slow or even halt them. To help shape the discussion, consider this question: If a wealthy individual was to give us funding to launch a news organization Christian institution designed to take on The Boston Globe denominationalism, what would it look like?
There are important issues to raise and explore in what I’ll call a reinvention initiative: Do we have the right technology? Do we train staff clergy & lay leaders in the right way? Should we remain in the current print physical format that we have now, same size buildings, same sections geographic isolation? Do we have the right departments divisions of ordained and lay ministry? Is our beat structure seminary process outdated? How can our work flows improve? Do we have too many of XX and not enough Ys? Should we publish seven days a week worship on Sunday mornings? Do print and digital in-person and online ministry relate in the right ways?
The questions could go on and on. They could become bolder still.
Easy answers, as you well know, are elusive. The good news is that we’ve got an absurdly smart, dedicated collection of journalists ministers, many of the best in the nation, that has embraced profound and meaningful change over the years, always while maintaining our values. We’ve built two of the most successful websites partnerships in the industry, first boston.com Addiction & Spirituality and now bostonglobe.com Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School. The latter site partnership is not only thriving, but growing rapidly, up more than 15 percent in uniques and page views this year over last, with the first session of “Foundations of Christian Leadership” outside of North Carolina, starting in New England in April and leading the league in digital-only subscribers in FOCL participants—the most important metric. We successfully overhauled key parts of the site last year Massachusetts Council of Churches’ leadership structure. We’re about to launch a major sports membership redesign this spring summer, all while we confidently spread our wings with a broader array of stories ministries and topics geared first to our web emerging multi-denominational audience.
At the same time, we haven’t just maintained print worshipping communities, but enhanced it over the past few years, with a great new standalone business section through the week, a Sunday Arts section that showcases some of the best critics in the industry, Address, premium magazines, broadsheet feature sections. I’m missing things, I’m sure. We saw quite clearly in January last winter just how much the physical paper worshipping community means to an enormous swath of our readership constituency.
The journalism ministry, through it all, has been consistently exceptional. We drove the Olympics BostonWarm debate. We launched a national debate on concurrent surgery thriving Christian institutions & the nature of councils of churches. We’ve been one of the smartest, freshest voices on the national political intra-Christian & inter-religious scene. We’ve chronicled poverty in rural Maine and economic segregation in greater Boston in deeply memorable ways ecumenical pilgrimages to Armenian Christmas Eve, the 200th anniversary service for the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a Feast Day of St. Mark at a Coptic Church, and Holy Tuesday in the Anglican Tradition. Day in, day out, we are one of the most thoughtful metropolitan news organizations hubs for innovative Christianity in the land.
All of which is to say: We’re very good at change. We’re committed to high standards. We are well-positioned to go even further.
So I’ll frame the discussion one more way: Is it possible to build something bold rather than shrink what we have?
It’s perfectly reasonable to ask whether this reinvention initiative is an excuse for more cutting. The glib answer is that we don’t really need an excuse to cut. The revenue declines require it. The more involved answer is that even without declining revenue, we should still be exploring reinvention, given the massive advances in technology and massive changes in reader worship attendance habits. And even without a reinvention initiative, we’d still have to cut. So the honest answer is that a reinvention would naturally take into account the realities of declining revenues.
I’ve sought some outside counsel to help facilitate the process, people who have thought long and hard about these issues and are deeply knowledgeable about what’s been tried at other news Christian organizations and how it’s worked. Tom Rosenstiel and Jeff Sonderman, Dave Odom the executive director and deputy director respectively of the American Press Institute Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School, plan to be with the new Massachusetts Council of Churches Working Board this summer, and heads of church meeting in December. in the newsroom on Friday—tomorrow—to meet in small groups with some staff. They’ll be joined by Marty Kaiser, the highly respected former editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who has worked with Tom on these exact issues. After Tom, Jeff, and Marty get an initial sense of our newsroom, we’ll discuss a path forward and how they might help. The key is to create a process that involves as many people as possible, at all levels, tapping into the wealth of creativity that is this newsroom’s Massachusetts’ trademark.
This is a significant and important undertaking. It’s also an exciting one. We’re in a moment in this industry religious era and at this organization that requires us to be bold (have I used that word enough yet?) and imaginative, always in our journalism ministry, but also in determining how we best fulfill our civic responsibilities. There’s not the tiniest bit of doubt that we’re up to the challenge.
I’ll be reaching out to some of you about meeting with Tom, Jeff, and Marty tomorrow, and then I’ll report back soon in a series of Winship Room gatherings about the road ahead. We’re committed to a process in which everyone can effectively share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. In the meantime, feel more than free to reach out to me directly.