“Citizen journalism” and “grass roots publishing” are two terms that can now be associated with news in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Relative to the church, the terms apply to Presbyterian Neighbor News, a one-stop, online source for everything Presbyterian, said the Rev. Shane Whisler, who led a session on that site here Sept. 3 during the Synod of Lakes and Prairies’ communicators conference.
Whisler is the communications director for the Synod of the Sun.
PNNews, as Whisler calls the site, is a collection of local, regional and national news of the denomination. The site maintains a steady feed of stories from Presbyterian News Service as well as a collection of news gathered from congregations, presbyteries and synods across the breadth of the church. Each synod has its own edition.
The home page of PNNews states, “One stream of information flowing through every Presbyterian neighborhood,” and Whisler emphasized that it’s one “big stream” of information.
Whisler, who called himself an “accidental techy,” said PNNews is “simply making the best of the current situation.”
PNNews traffic will likely increase as the amount of information on the site increases, Whisler said. “It’s grass roots publishing, there for all Presbyterians, that can inspire and connect Presbyterians with articles about mission work or needs,” he said.
People who go to the site will discover they have the option to subscribe to individual synod editions and receive weekly updates.
At its conception, Whisler hoped that synod communications staff would be able to report and edit the news for each synod. That organization, however, proved difficult, he said, due to other responsibilities of synod staff members.
Whisler now conducts training exercises for assistant editors — presbytery and a few congregation communicators — who prepare story drafts that synod communicators post to the site.
Whisler wants the site to maintain a “level of journalistic standards,” but he recognizes that the writing style will vary. That shouldn’t cause a problem, he said, because “the consumer is not going to be paying attentention to the differences in style.”
What PNNews really needs is story contributions.
“We need your help,” Whisler told conference participants, noting that a “handful of stories a month” will be enough to generate interest in the site from local to national levels.
“I’m reinforcing the encouragement to share the good news,” he said.
Funding for the site was made possible by what Whisler called “the mutual trust and financial support of the synods.” The initial set up of the site cost $50,000, he said, and added, “It’s an incredible resource, but it’s only affordable with cooperation. … God’s doing a new thing in a new age.”
Duane Sweep is associate for communications for the Synod of Lakes and Prairies and a frequent contributor to Presbyterian News Service.