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Behind the Synod News Desk

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The Banner, as our editor Chong told readers in our very first Behind The Banner blog in February 2020, is produced by a relatively small team. We actually have only one full-time employee, our associate editor Sarah Heth, and the rest of us are various percentages of “full-time equivalents,” working long distance or working part time for The Banner and part time for other ministries of the CRC. Once a year, though, when we cover the Christian Reformed Church’s annual synod, a whole extra team of people are needed, and we work more than full time, many of us in person, for that week.

Here’s a peek behind the synod news desk …

News editor: This person runs our synod coverage, from writing a “what to watch for” article several months ahead of time to preparing an expected story list, gathering background, hiring writers, managing details of onsite work where synod meets, editing copy as writers produce it, coordinating the photographer, matching photography with articles, and directing the whole publishing process so news stories from synod get published online all week long and are later presented in the print edition. In 2022 I (Alissa) was in this role for the first time. Because of that, and because two canceled synods increased the volume of material to be covered by Synod 2022, we hired my predecessor, Gayla Postma, as an additional editor to support that large volume of work with her 24 years of synod experience. (I had been to synod in 2018 and 2019 as one of the writing team working for Gayla as news editor.) In 2022 Gayla worked from home, following synod on the webcast and doing a lot of the background work to keep our coverage consistent with what we’ve produced in previous years.

(Side note: The Banner, and specifically Gayla, have been recognized many, many times for reporting from synod with awards from the Associated Church Press, including a 2022 honorable mention for coverage of the special meeting of the Council of Delegates in 2021 in place of synod.)

Writers/reporters: Reporting for The Banner during synod requires fast, accurate note-taking; a wide understanding of the issues synod is dealing with; fast typing; nimbleness to move from one topic to another quickly; fast response times in communication; and excellent facility to write well in order to convey clearly to readers—the broad Christian Reformed community—what are sometimes dense, convoluted, procedural actions of the deliberative body that is synod.

Did you notice I used four instances of ‘fast’ or ‘quick’ in that description? With more than 500 pages in every synod agenda—and more than 1,300 this year—synod moves very quickly to get through everything. Even when deliberations on one matter might take hours, a writer on our Banner team needs to succinctly summarize what was decided, how synod came to the decision, and who said what leading up to it as quickly as possible so they are ready for the next matter to come up on deck. That’s why we typically have three writers. One or two might be writing up one item while another is note-taking for the next item.

Writers are versed in the agenda beforehand and have sometimes written pre-synod report summaries or news stories about developments to be addressed by synod, so they are very prepared. You can find a list of articles by each writer by clicking their byline on a story. Clay Libolt, a retired pastor who lives in Washington state, has been a synod reporter since 2015. Roxanne Van Farowe, a freelance writer who lives in Hillsborough, N.C., has been covering synod since 2007. Kristen Parker, a news correspondent who lives in Stratford, Ont., reported from her first synod in 2022.

Photographer: Synod is not an easy event to photograph. But our storytelling and the reader’s experience is much enhanced by good pictures that show who came to synod, who spoke, who served in worship, and what synod did. It’s important to capture all of that without interfering in the deliberations. A photographer has to be on the edges, in low light, at a distance from delegates and participants, and he or she has to try to get every speaker so The Banner has a photo of them if we quote any one of those speakers in a story. That’s a lot to balance. We had two new photographers at Synod 2022. Bryan Haley was there in the early part of the week, and Steven Herppich took over June 13-16. They did an excellent job!

Rest of the publication team: During the year, how Banner news gets to your computer screen, phone, tablet, or mailbox, looks like this: the news editor assigns a story; a news correspondent writes and submits it, along with a photo (typically by email); the editor edits; once a week a collection of those edited stories gets passed on to the production team (associate editor, who copy edits; editor-in-chief who signs off; and a designer who publishes the story at thebanner.org); once a month those several weeks’ worth of stories are cut to fit the print space and shared once again with the associate editor and designer, this time working on the print layout.

During synod that process is sped up and multiplied. Stories from the expected story list are assigned to an available writer as they come up (or writers propose stories as they see them, especially the interesting I-didn’t-expect-to-see-that-at-synod stories like this year’s collection of lawyer delegates or new commissioned pastor delegates). After a story has been written and edited by the news editor (or this year, one of the editors, as Gayla was standing in) with feedback and sign-off by our editor-in-chief, it goes to the associate editor and then to design for posting online—but not once a week: immediately, up to 10 p.m. each day of synod, so that news is constantly flowing from the floor of synod to your inbox. Chong, our editor-in-chief, is onsite at synod; associate editor Sarah Heth, designer Pete Euwema, and art director Dean Heetderks work from home or from the denominational office where they usually work. After synod, all of that material (more than 60 individual stories this year) is trimmed down, rearranged, made to look readable and presentable, and laid out in the summer print edition within just a few days of synod wrapping up. No wonder we take a break and don’t have a print edition in August!

Collaboration: The Banner, as an official publication of the Christian Reformed Church, is one part of a communication team, even though we do have editorial independence. At this year’s synod the collaboration with CRC communications looked like this: The Banner reported with its news team, drawing up our own list of expected stories and adding to them (or dropping some) as we saw fit. We shared our intentions with Kristen deRoo VanderBerg, director of marketing and communications, and each day when the communications office shared a daily recap email it included links to Banner stories. If we didn’t cover something that communications wanted covered, they filed a story about that. Communications is also responsible for the synod webcast and the live-blog that keeps track of each session’s motions, amendments, counter motions, etc. The Banner and CRC communications also share the photography, which CRC communications posted throughout the week on its website.

From editor-in-chief Shiao Chong:

From this description, I hope readers realize how fast paced and busy covering synod can be. I suspect that not everyone is always satisfied with our reporting. But given how we have to often multitask, making decisions quickly on the fly without the luxury of time to reflect, even during synod deliberations on the floor and into long hours, I hope readers will be gracious.

One final note. I know some readers might not like some of the “negative” stories that come out of our reporting of synod. However, synod’s mandate to us is to be the denomination’s journalistic mirror, so to speak. As a journalistic mirror, we try to reflect the truth of what happened as faithfully and accurately as possible, warts and all, as they say. If we only portray “positive” stories without the bad, then we are behaving more like a selective spotlight rather than a mirror. Past synods have been wise to maintain that it is for the CRCNA public’s good that we have a mirror that gives us an accurate likeness.
 

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