Welcome to our new blog, Behind The Banner. Featuring monthly posts, this blog seeks to give our readers a behind-the-curtains peek into how things operate at The Banner.
When readers meet me, the editor, in person, there are some commonly asked questions, such as, “How ‘big’ is The Banner?” “How do you decide what articles to publish and which topics?” “How do I get to write for The Banner?” I also have noticed some misconceptions people have about The Banner and how we operate. So in the hopes of educating our readers, removing some of the mystery, and dispelling some of the misconceptions, we are starting this new blog as an exercise in transparency and trust building.
For our inaugural post, I want to briefly introduce you to the team behind the publication. These are the names listed in the masthead—that box of information you normally find at the bottom right of page 7 on the second page of the Table of Contents in the print magazine.
You will find the editor is listed first: Shiao Chong. I prefer to be addressed as “Chong.” Let’s just say I like it as an affectionate nickname. I have been in this role since August 2016, and to answer another common question, I have been enjoying my role thus far. Sure, there are stresses and challenges in the job, but overall, I am pleased to serve the Christian Reformed Church in this capacity.
What people may not know is that I am Canadian and live and work out of the Toronto area in Ontario, Canada. Most folks assume I am in Grand Rapids, Mich., where The Banner is published, but thanks to technology, I am able to work “long distance” so to speak, with occasional travel to Grand Rapids. Besides writing the monthly editorials, I read, edit, and approve almost all articles. I also lead the following team of fine folks, give strategic and policy leadership, and have final say on all editorial decisions.
Our associate editor is Sarah Heth, who joined us in May 2019 and is located in the Grand Rapids denominational building. This is a pivotal behind-the-scenes role. The associate editor is crucial because almost everything—features, columns, news, reviews—funnels through her before they get to me. Sarah is part of the evaluation team that decides if article submissions, solicited and unsolicited, are accepted for publication, rejected, or need revisions. She ensures that monthly print proofs and weekly web articles are published on time. She is our liaison with most writers, except for our news writers.
Our network of freelance news writers reports to our news editor, Alissa Vernon. Alissa, who started on July 2017, is based in St. Catharines, Ont. Alissa is ultimately responsible for all our news stories, editing them and collecting them via our news writers. We also have a second news editor, Gayla Postma, on staff since 2002. Gayla focuses on stories related to CRC governance, including the CRC’s annual synod, regional classis meetings, and the CRC’s Council of Delegates. Gayla also works “long distance” from Morrisburg, Ont.
Next, we have Lorilee Craker, our Mixed Media editor since March 2019. Lorilee is responsible for collecting and editing the movie, TV, music, podcast and book reviews you see in the Mixed Media section. She lives in Grand Rapids but works out of her home. She is also part of the evaluation team, along with Sarah and me, in evaluating various article submissions. Lorilee rounds out the editorial part of the team, the part responsible for the textual content of The Banner.
For the visual look of The Banner, we have our art director, Dean Heetderks, and our designer, Pete Euwema, to thank. They are responsible for making us look good in the print and online versions, finding the proper images, photos, and illustrations to accompany the text. Dean and Pete are technically not Banner staff but work for Ministry Support Services, the agency that supports various other denominational agencies and ministries under the Congregational Services umbrella. Dean, in fact, is co-director of Ministry Support Services and wears many hats, of which art director for The Banner is only one. Dean has been Banner art director since January 1994 and Pete has been designing for The Banner since November 1981. They are based in the Grand Rapids denominational building.
Another person who contributes to The Banner but is not Banner staff is Kristen deRoo VanderBerg, director of CRCNA Communications and Marketing. She is the editor of the “Our Shared Ministry” section and has her own communications team. Her contributions to the Banner are only one part of many other communications channels she oversees for the CRCNA.
I would be remiss not to mention two more people: Karen DeVries, our copy editor whose job is to find any editorial mistakes we missed, and Caroline Gitau, our advertising sales person.
And that is it. We are the folks behind the regular production of your Banner. Of course, there are numerous writers and other contributors. We contract out the physical printing and various mail services, and non-Banner staff and volunteers help distribute the print Banner across North America and beyond.
We are a small team. Most of us are not full-time employees, including myself (80% full-time equivalent). Some of us work as little as 20-25% FTE. Some of us have multiple roles besides the one with The Banner. Most readers are surprised at how “small” we are. Even though we are small, I am proud to say we are an award-winning publication from both the Evangelical Press Association and the Associate Church Press. I am blessed to be working with this excellent team, and I hope our readers appreciate their faithful efforts in producing quality, faith-based journalism every week online and every month in print.