PERHAPS one of the more esoteric ways one can tell when a country is coming out of a recession is by looking at the number of positions that suddenly become available in communications, public relations or media relations. Conversely, it seems that when hard times loom, one of the first aspects of business to be crunched or to face the axe is also communications. The wisdom of this is far from a given. It is, in fact, arguable that it is precisely during hard times that an organization must tell its stories as thoroughly and effectively as possible.
In many ways, due largely to the steep legal costs associated with lawsuits around residential schools and shortfalls in giving by some dioceses, General Synod finds itself today in a situation analogous to a severe recession. And so it was this fall, that almost in the blink of a procedural eye, Anglicans lost television coverage of next summer’s General Synod. It happened like this: the committee organizing General Synod reported financially to the Council of General Synod and described planned over-expenditures amounting to slightly more than $50,000. Part of this was due to the fact that travel costs have increased since the original budget was drafted; the rest of this money was to be spent bringing 50 aboriginal people (one per table group) to participate in extensive discussion around healing and reconciliation. Already facing a sizeable deficit for the year 2001, CoGS proved in no mood to countenance an over-expenditure of this magnitude and directed the committee to balance its budget. The two largest expenses in organizing General Synod are travel and communications. The organizing committee met as soon as the CoGS meeting was over and decided that the money would come from communications. And so the General Synod broadcasts went.
It is worth noting that these broadcasts – generally an hour per evening in the time that General Synod sits, and aired on Vision TV, have always been known to be expensive. Professionally produced television programming is. It is also worth noting that a year or so ago, the Information Resources Committee, which oversees the work of Anglican Video, was invited to reappraise the General Synod broadcasts. The committee decided that while it might soon be feasible to do without these broadcasts in the face of emerging technology, the time was not yet right. It also felt that this particular General Synod, with many crucial discussions before it, was not the one that should bear the brunt of a cutback in story-telling tools.
What has been lost through the elimination of the broadcasts? Well, consider what remains. This newspaper will of course cover General Synod, but the Journal will not publish until several weeks after it is over. The website, which effected breakthrough coverage in Montreal in 1998, will be there, but constituents with Internet access remain a minority. The secular media, it is expected, will cover this particular General Synod with unprecedented thoroughness, but secular media have at best a spotty record understanding religious issues and events.
The General Synod broadcasts provided a unique service in terms of both quality and immediacy in covering events and in presenting color and analysis. None of the communications tools mentioned above comes close to replacing them.
General Synod planners will present another report to the March meeting of CoGS that includes the balanced budget they were directed to bring and, presumably, the recommendation that the money come from communications, effectively ending the broadcasts. It is a difficult situation, since travel costs are beyond organizers’ control.
A couple of questions bear asking: were the General Synod broadcasts a frill, or were they an integral part of informing the Anglican community of this very important activity and an essential part of us telling our story to our constituents and to the world?
As desirable as an enhanced participation by native people may be at General Synod, did the planning committee, faced with a very difficult either/or situation, make the right choice in cutting the broadcasts in favor of this?
Are there resources elsewhere that would enable both of these components?
The General Synod budget is a difficult thing, made up, as it is, of two very large expenditures and a host of smaller items such as printing, postage, worship, office supplies. These smaller items would be difficult if not impossible to cut and cuts amounting to $50,000 from these areas would amount to nickel-and-diming that might cripple the day-to-day logistics of synod. Nonetheless, the planning committee’s report and budget, which will be before CoGS in March, should not be rubber-stamped. At the very least, CoGs should revisit this decision and be assured that it has considered all the implications of ending the broadcasts and exhausted all the venues possible to pay for them.