anglican focus wins prestigious religious press award

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Our Diocesan news publication won ‘Best Website’ at the annual Australasian Religious Press Association Awards on Saturday night in Christchurch, with judges describing anglican focus as a “standout for how diocesan news can be presented”

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On Saturday night I attended the annual Australasian Religious Press Association (ARPA) Awards in Christchurch where I proudly accepted the ‘Best Website’ Gold Award for anglican focus on behalf of our Diocesan community.

ARPA, which commenced in 1960, is an ecumenical Christian network of Australian and New Zealand publications. ARPA members meet annually for a two-day conference where we share ideas, learn from industry experts and celebrate member achievements at the ARPA Awards night.

My role as Editor of anglican focus has been an enormous privilege and pleasure because right from the onset our news site has been an initiative of collaboration and cooperation.

200 community members across our Diocese have already contributed news stories, reflections, features, reviews, Sunday Devotions, Spotlight Q&A’s and videos since the publication’s October 2018 Synod launch. My hope for our fledgling publication at Synod last year was that it would be proactively owned by everyone across our Diocese, and this hope has come to fruition. The willingness of so many of our community to write, photograph and video their stories has resulted in an engaging news site and the honour of an unexpected award, which is shared by each contributor.

Nearly 450 contributions have been published from members of our Diocesan community, representing all five Commissions across our three Regions, including parishioners and church volunteers; bishops, deacons and priests; Diocesan Council members; Anglicare clergy and staff; school students and teachers and Anglican Schools Commission staff; Finance and Diocesan Services Commission (FDSC) and General Managers’ Office staff; and, the St Francis College team.

350 images and accompanying captions have also been submitted for the ever-popular Out & About monthly albums, with each image telling a unique story and showing how our Regions are joyfully implementing the Anglican Marks of Mission. Being able to publish an abundance of images is a key benefit of the online medium which, unlike print publications, is not encumbered by ‘copy space’ restrictions.

The breadth of community authors and photographers lends unique depth, relevance, diversity and authenticity to our news site, in a way that a team of staff writers could not replicate. This was my first thought when I heard the judges’ description of our publication as a “standout for how diocesan news can be presented.”

One of the key reasons we shifted to an online format was so that we could easily track what items are most and least read via digital analytics, ensuring the relevance and currency of content. Readers frequently ask me in casual conversation at events or over the phone, “What is the most-read content on anglican focus?” Analytics reveal that the new Events page is currently the most visited, with news stories from veteran journalist and ACSQ Policy Advisor Ian Eckersley; monthly photo albums (also a hit with ARPA judges); the Spotlight Q&A series on clergy and their spouses; joint reflections; historical pieces by The Rev’d Dr Jo Inkpin; film reviews by FormedFaith’s Jonathan Sargeant; and, Justice Unit features always enormously popular.

ARPA judges especially praised the weekly Sunday Devotions – brief personal theological reflections based on the given Sunday’s lectionary readings – which are written by clergy and lay people across our Diocese. These devotions are being embraced by readers, with the most-read devotion penned by Toowoomba Anglican School Chaplain The Rev’d Zoe Browne. Excitingly, forthcoming Sunday Devotions are currently being written by faith-filled Anglican school students with the assistance of their dedicated Chaplains.

Recent, and already popular, additions to the site include free ‘Events’, ‘Jobs’ and ‘Announcements’ listings, which a number of ACSQ staff assist with, including Kerryn Smith from the Anglican Schools Commission, Susan Patchen from HR in the FDSC, and Belinda Macarthur and Joanne Rose from the Parishes and Other Mission Agencies Commission (PMC). Pray Daily, which has been faithfully collated monthly over several years by Ann Armitage from the Bishops’ office, has rapidly become an anglican focus staple since she began posting the daily prayer points mid-year.

We are continually improving and expanding the site in response to reader feedback to make content increasingly relevant and accessible to our community, with further menu items currently in the pipeline.

In the same month that we launched the website, we started distributing the fortnightly  ‘anglican focus e-news’, which readers can subscribe to via the news site. The e-news is the primary source of ‘traffic’ to our site. The variously challenging, inspiring and encouraging bi-monthly reflections faithfully written by Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, Bishop Cam Venables, Bishop Jeremy Greaves and Bishop John Roundhill are typically the ‘most-clicked’ items in the e-news.

In response to helpful reader feedback we received in the news site’s pre-launch consultation phase, e-news content is collated fortnightly into both short and long PDFs, with links to these PDFs accessible at the bottom of the site’s homepage for churches and aged-care homes to print for community members who have digital literacy or access challenges.

The ARPA Award judges commented favourably that our news site has “a strong resemblance” aesthetically to that of fellow ARPA member Southern Cross, an Adelaide publication. This is no coincidence and is the result of ARPA members’ goodwill. On my third day in this role, I visited journalist Emilie Ng from another ARPA member publication, The Catholic Leader – the publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane, with whom we share a special covenant relationship. I sought Emilie’s advice on the form of website we should launch to replace FOCUS Magazine. She showed me the news site of The Southern Cross (an Adelaide-based ARPA member publication), whose editor Jenny Brinkworth kindly directed me to excellent web developers Lightbulb Digital. In our conversations, Jenny and the Lightbulb team shared that The Southern Cross had licensed their site’s source code from a media company on generous terms. From there Group Manager Digital Innovation, Patrick Meuleman, negotiated an easily affordable source code license with the media company, adding to the teamwork dynamic.

This spirit of generosity from fellow ARPA members and associated organisations meant that Patrick and I could offer our readers a built-for-news website, with functionality that would otherwise have been unaffordable, including author profiles, ‘related (linked) stories’, ‘story timelines’, and video and audio posts, as well as free event, job and banner advertising for key ACSQ community events, roles and initiatives.

The site’s social media sharing functionality is another advantage of the built-for-news site, enabling individual readers and various ACSQ staff, clergy and parishes to easily share posts, so people within and outside our Diocesan community can engage with our faith-based content.

These wonderful outcomes demonstrate the significant value of ARPA membership and the lovely solidarity shared by association members, as we actively support each other in our collective mission to share the Gospel via our respective publications.

I would also like to express my sincere appreciation to Archbishop’s Chaplain The Rev’d Dr Howard Munro whose enduring encouragement and support in my part-time role as Editor have been absolutely invaluable.

The ARPA Award for Best Website is a big award for a comparatively little site, and the big hearts of our dedicated community contributors show what we can achieve when we work together.

To celebrate our forthcoming one-year anniversary in October and to thank anglican focus readers and contributors for their ongoing support, we will soon be announcing an exciting competition – stay tuned for more.

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