Report of the Communications Director, Summer Sessions 2013

Submitted on 07/24/2013

Report of the Communications Director, Steven Davison

 

I am speaking to you this morning with two hats on. On the one hand, I am reporting on behalf of the Communications Committee, which has met in person several times over the past year and with which I work fairly closely. I also am speaking as the Communications Director and therefore, as a member of Yearly Meeting staff.

I began my work as the Yearly Meeting’s communications director a year ago this week and I want to say first of all how much I love my job and how grateful I am to be able to serve a community that I love so much. I love the people I work with, I love the things I’m learning, I like doing the tasks that comprise my job, and I love the people and the community that I serve.It’s been great to come home.

I want to start by talking a little bit about how I approach my work. I told the search committee when they interviewed me that I wanted to serve as a midwife to spiritual renewal in New York Yearly Meeting. By that I meant that I saw this position as a ministry; I think I called it an editorial ministry. Actually, it’s broader than that. Over the past year, the Communications Committee, the other staff members, and I have been developing a clearer idea of what this means.

First, it’s a communications ministry—facilitating communication and conversation among Friends in the Yearly Meeting. Here our goal is to improve communications between the Yearly Meeting and the local meetings, between the Yearly Meeting and local Friends and youth. We want to focus on making our communications a two-way channel by opening up new ways to communicate and by making our own communications more interactive, especially online. We also want to improve the communications services we offer to local meetings and to Yearly Meeting committees, while at the same time reducing costs. All this means going increasingly digital—more on that in a moment.

We also see this work as outreach ministry, trying to reach the wider world with our message and our witness. Here the goal is to improve New York Yearly Meeting’s visibility and appeal to potential seekers and to enhance our impact for good in the wider world.

And yes, it is an editorial ministry—nurturing the written ministry of Friends in the Yearly Meeting through Spark, primarily, and through forums hosted on our website. This includes an educational ministry component, as well, as we increasingly make available resources on the website for individuals, meetings, and committees, and use Spark and the website as teaching and resource tools.

Vision

In February 2011, the Communications Committee met for a strategic planning session in which they reconceived the mandate and tasks for the communications director position and crafted a new vision for the Yearly Meeting’s communications in general. Our vision is that of a Yearly Meeting that uses all the available communications channels to reach its current audiences, young and old, online and off, and to reach new audiences, as well. This new vision involves quite a few specifics, but, in general, the Committee sought to do the following:

  1. to expand and develop the content on the website, with a focus on providing Friends with more resources;
  2. to make the website more visible, more useful, more interactive, and more user-friendly;
  3. to develop a more robust presence in non-Quaker media and the press;
  4. to expand our communications to include social media; and
  5. to begin migrating from print to digital communications where possible, being careful not to leave any Friends behind, in order to stay technologically current, save money, and reach new audiences, especially among Young Friends;

However, the core tasks of this job demand a lot of time, and so we have made only incremental progress in some of these new areas. The core tasks I am referring to are publishing Spark and InfoShare, the Advance Reports and the Yearbook. But we have achieved quite a lot.

Accomplishments

  • Spark. We have continued to dedicate issues of Spark to a theme each issue and this has been well received; we received so many submissions for the Patriotism issue in May that we plan to continue the theme in September. We have added a section to almost every issue listing Quaker resources on these themes. Our most important innovation in Spark, however, is that we now publish the theme articles on the website in a forum format that allows readers to comment on the articles. Friends have not used this opportunity very much so far, but we believe in the basic goal of fostering vibrant dialogue among Friends on the issues raised by the articles. This is the first time that members of New York Yearly Meeting have been able to talk to each other in more or less real time about the things that matter to us, wherever they are, and outside of Sessions, and we hope that more Friends take advantage of the opportunity.
  • Website. We have made incremental improvements to the functionality of the website and more substantive improvements are on the way. And we’ve added a lot of content.
    • As I said, we now publish Spark articles online in a forum format. You can access these directly through a new Forums tab in the menu bar.
    • We publish advance documents related to our Sessions, and we publish content that comes up during Sessions in real time on the website.
    • We have fleshed out the Resources page on the website. I have a lot more planned for this section, but right now you will find links to:
      • resources on aging from ARCH, which stands for Aging, Resources, Consultation and Help;
      • resources for meetings from FGC;
      • resources on conflict transformation from the Committee on Conflict Transformation; and
      • a lot of material gathered by Advancement Committee for use by your meetings in your outreach.
    • We have published the Handbook in its most current version so that we now can update it in real time as committees update their pages. We encourage Yearly Meeting committees to check out your Handbook page to see whether it needs updating. Let me highlight especially sections in Part 2 that provide support to members and clerks of Yearly Meeting committees. The Handbook is in the Publications tab of the menu bar.
  • Press relations. We now have a large and more or less up-to-date database of press contacts and we have sent out two press releases in the past year, one on the minute from last year’s Summer Sessions repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery, and one from last year’s Fall Sessions opposing fracking.
  • Social media. We now have a Facebook page—NewYorkYearlyMeeting, all one word—and we post to it fairly regularly. You must “Like” our Facebook page to see our postings on your own Timeline.
  • Special projects. In addition, we have started two special projects.
    • We have developed a new publication called an Annual Report that highlights the doings of meetings, committees, and staff of the Yearly Meeting over the past year. We distributed the first one at the end of last year, and many Friends seemed to find it very useful, especially in understanding better where Friends contributions are going.
    • We also have begun some emergency response planning, spurred by Hurricane Sandy. Hurricane Sandy caught us flat-footed and we lost communications with Friends all over the affected region for quite a while.Our goal is to be better prepared the next time we face a regional emergency to facilitate communications between Friends. To this end, we are developing an emergency communications plan and network.

Plans

Last year, I asked Friends to fill out a survey that asked questions about your preferences for modes of communication and the communications technologies you used. I have distributed a slightly refined version of that survey this year. Please fill it out, even if you did last year; especially if you did last year, in fact: I want to track our evolution in this area.

The results of last year’s survey suggest that many of you are ready, or even eager, to use digital modes of communication instead of print. In particular, you are willing to use pdf files instead of print documents. Also, a surprising number of you are using social media, especially writing blogs. These findings reinforce some of the directions we would like to go over the next couple of years.

  • Print.
    • SparkWe would like to print and mail fewer and fewer Sparks over time. We do not anticipate laying down the print edition in the foreseeable future, but it is a major expense for the Yearly Meeting, and we believe that eventually we will be able to provide an electronic version of Spark that will more attractive, more interactive, and even more readable than the print edition. It will be in color. You will be able to select the portions you want to read and print them out separately. It will be like subscribing to just those sections of the Sunday New York Times that you actually read. Of course, many of you read all of Spark. Still, if individual Friends take responsibility for printing it yourselves, you will save us a lot of money and you will get at least as good a newspaper. Please think about it. This is going to be a long-term transition—years. But the time to start is now, because some of you are already there. And let me say again: we are not going to leave anybody behind! If you want your Spark in print in the mail, you will get it.
    • Advance Reports. We publish Advance Reports in print ahead of Summer Sessions and put them out for you to take. Then they go into the trash, only to be reproduced again in print for the Yearbook. This does not seem faithful to either our testimony on earthcare or our testimony on integrity, in a community seeking to answer to that of God in all creation. Meanwhile, many of you said in the survey that you would be willing to get Advance Reports as a pdf file and that you only read certain sections, anyway. So we have printed fewer copies and we have asked you to recycle them: take them back to the Yearly Meeting conference office when you are done so that someone else can use them. Better yet, download our pdf file. It’s available on the website.
    • Yearbook. Communications Committee is considering changing the way we publish the Yearbook. We are considering publishing the directory section—the alphabetical listing of Friends under appointment—separately, and making the rest available digitally, as it already is, but in a more user-friendly format. We would still publish a handful of books for archiving and for Friends who do not have access to the Internet. What do you think?
  • Website.
    • We plan to make more substantive changes to the structure of the website, to make it more attractive, more user-friendly, and more visible to searchers.
    • We plan to continue adding content.
    • We plan to continue developing its interactivity, to make it a portal for communication within the Yearly Meeting, and not just a one-way push-out from the Yearly Meeting. We are going to continue the forum format for articles in Spark, and perhaps experiment with forums in other areas; one specific idea is to provide a forum for discussing the advancement resources on the website, so that meetings can talk to each other about their advancement efforts, what they are doing, how well it worked, what they would change, etc.
    • We are going to finally provide for easy online registration for Sessions.

Requests and encouragements

Let me return once again to a topic that is important to our long-term communications strategy and also of great concern to many Friends—that’s the move from print to digital.

But let me also reiterate and emphasize: We are not going to leave anyone behind in our gradual transition toward digital communications. On the other hand, we are not going to let the Yearly Meeting be left any more behind by the communications revolution that is taking place around us.

But rest assured that we will continue to provide you with print media if you require it, for as long as we can afford to. But we do ask: do you require it? Can you relieve some of the pressure on our budget and avail yourself of what can in fact be a superior form of communication with just a little bit of effort, on both your part and ours. Please let me know what you think and consider letting go of print when you can.

  • Local monthly and regional meetings
    • Your websites: Your websites are our priority. We think they are very important, not just to your own outreach efforts, but to the visibility of the Yearly Meeting and of the Religious Society of Friends in general. Nowadays, a lot of people, maybe most people, are going to come to Friends through your website or ours.
          That means that you need a good website. We will help you get one. We encourage you to explore FGC’s Quaker Cloud as a way to improve your web presence, and if you decide to go that route, we will help you make the transition. But we will do whatever we can to help you improve the functionality, visibility, attractiveness, and content of your website, if you decide to continue hosting with us. Have somebody in your meeting look at your website, then contact me and let’s talk about what I can do.
          We urge you to make your website your priority and to come to us for help.
    • Emergency response planning. Once we at the Yearly Meeting have clarified what we can do to facilitate communications among us in the case of an emergency and what kinds of help we can provide, I will be getting in touch with local meeting clerks and regional meeting clerks to begin developing a Yearly Meeting emergency communications network and response plan.
          In the meantime, consider doing some local emergency response planning for your own meetings. We have some resources on how to get organized and resources on how to provide spiritual and pastoral care to victims of emergencies.
    • Press releases. If your meeting releases a press release about something, or if your meeting approves a minute of witness on some other matter that addresses the wider world, please let us know, so that we also can spread the word. We will post this information on the Facebook page, in Spark and/or InfoShare, and we’ll release a press release to our own database, if that seems like a good idea.
  • Yearly Meeting committees
    • Your web pages. Take a look at your web page, if there is one, and then let me know how I can help make your page useful to you. I have a template ready for you to guide you in developing your content.
    • Your communications needs in general. Take a strategic look at your communications needs overall: who are your audiences, what do you have to say to them, and what is the best way to say it? Then ask me to help.
    • Your Handbook page. The go-to version of the Handbook is now published online. If you have not already done so, look at your Handbook page and see whether it needs revising. We now can publish it as soon as Yearly Meeting approves it.
    • Handbook resources for committee members and clerks. If you are new to a committee, or new as a committee clerk, or have never looked at these resources, check out the Handbook online, Part 2, Committees, Functions, Etc.
  • Individual Friends
    • Volunteers. When my position was reconceived, the Communications Committee knew that the leading-edge work—web and digital development and social media—would be hard to do if we could not relieve me of the demands of our print production. Right now I handle all the content at least twice, once for print publication and again to put it on the website. It doesn’t leave me much time to do some of the things I was hired to do. We need help.
          Please consider volunteering to help. Mostly, this would involve getting Spark, InfoShare, Advance Reports, and the Yearbook, onto the website. You can do it remotely; you would not have to come into the office. This is not difficult work and I am constantly streamlining the process. It would be useful to know a little html, but I can teach you what you need to know. Also, for some people, it’s fun. You would not need to commit to a regular schedule. That would be ideal, but if we had a pool of people who could be called upon when these documents are ready, only one of you would have to say yes to be of help. We are not asking for a hard commitment, only for help as you are able. Every little bit would make a difference.
    • Spark. Please consider using the forum on our articles. Leave your comments. Start a conversation, if you’re interested. Note that the system does not automatically immediately publish your comment. It notifies me, the moderator, and I have to approve it to publish it. This protects us from spam and inappropriate responses.
    • Photos. We are eager—even starved—for images for our publications. Please consider sharing your photos with us—pictures of Sessions, your meeting and its activities, other Friends, whatever. Please try to get permission from people who appear in them to publish and let us know who the people in the picture are. This is especially important for children. And try to make sure they are high-resolution images. Let me know if you need technical help with that.
    • Facebook. Visit our Facebook page, NewYorkYearlyMeeting, all one word. You have to “Like” our page for its notices to publish on your own Facebook Timeline. We publish to it fairly regularly and we will use it intensively when—not if—the next emergency like Hurricane Sandy occurs.

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