A Remarkable Team

Like you, I receive a copy of the Presbyterian Record each month in the mail. Among other things, it helps me assess how it stands out in the mail pile. We are a magazine-reading family, with several periodicals arriving every week.

I am often struck by how well the Record stands out against magazines with budgets and staff that far exceed ours. That pride in the magazine continues when I open it. The content and the design easily hold their own.

Of course, I’m biased. But it’s not that I’m thinking highly of myself. Rather, it’s the amazing team I’ve been blessed to work with at the Record over the years. And it’s astonishing how small that team is!

When I came to the magazine in 2002, there were four full- and one part-time employees, including me. Salaries consumed just over half our revenue—and that’s remained pretty much the same throughout my time.

For several years, we reduced the staff to just four full-time positions. It wasn’t until 2008 that we added another full-time writer, bringing our complement to five. Five full-time people—that’s completely amazing when you consider the product and what we achieved.

The two other big changes that happened during my time at the magazine were the development of technology and wholesale changes in the printing industry. Technology meant one person could manage both circulation and fundraising, and provide administrative support.

Changes in printing meant we could publish a glossy magazine on recycled paper in full colour—a luxury we couldn’t dream of when I arrived in 2002. Back then, printing (on newsprint) and postage consumed more than 40 per cent of our budget. Today, it costs less than half that.

Finally, we’ve gone from being nearly insolvent in 2005 to having published for more than another decade and being able to meet our legal obligations while properly winding up the corporation.

How did we do it? Well, there are two groups of people I want to thank from the bottom of my heart.

First, you, dear readers. So very many of you—half of you at one time or another—supported the magazine generously with donations. Since 2005, you’ve given almost $1.5 million to the Record.

Without that support, we would have folded years ago. So thank you, thank you, thank you!

Secondly, there’s the Record team. I have worked with many wonderful and talented people in my nearly 30 years as a journalist, but I have never worked with such a remarkable group of colleagues as I have at this magazine.

Senior editor Andrew Faiz came to the Record two years after I began. A columnist with the magazine in Jim Dickey’s time, Andrew brought not only the accumulated skill of someone who had worked in newspapers, film and television journalism, but also the perspective of someone who was ordained an elder in the church at 19 and had served as a student minister.

I cannot thank Andrew enough or overemphasize the crucial role he has played at the Record these past dozen years. Having someone of his ability to guide the magazine and the other editorial staff freed me to focus on the business and fundraising aspect of the publication.

Andrew’s fingerprints are all over the magazine, but his reporting and photographs from Afghanistan in 2007 and his coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis from Central Europe last year particularly stand out for me.

The longest-serving colleague is Amy MacLachlan. She came to us fresh from journalism school at Carleton University, recommended by one of my friends who was one of Amy’s professors. There’s a debt that can’t be repaid!

Amy began as a part-time writer and ends her career at the Record as managing editor. In between, she has reported from Ethiopia and India as well as travelling to Israel and points all over Canada and the United States. She also became a much-loved speaker at Presbyterian women’s conferences.

The third and newest journalist on the team is Constance Wardle. Newest is relative, however, given that Connie joined us in 2008. Connie is the daughter of a minister and was also president of the Presbyterian Young People’s Society, so she brought deep connections and an uncommon familiarity with Presbyterian polity to the Record.

Connie has also reported from places far and near and was seconded by the World Council of Churches to cover the Interfaith Summit on Climate Change in New York in 2014.

Of course, no magazine, no matter how lovely the words, will be widely read if it isn’t designed to invite the reader into the stories. For the past decade, that responsibility, as art director, has been handled graciously and superbly by Caroline Bishop.

Caroline has worked at a number of the biggest magazine publishers in Canada and has won many awards for her work. Since 2014, she has also been art director of Weddingbells.

What sets Caroline apart in the world of design is the care with which she reads the stories she lays out. That’s what has given the Record that feeling that all the parts are working together—as if one super-person was responsible for the entire product, writing and design.

Of course, even Caroline can’t do it all, and in recent years she broadened her team and brought Salina Vanderhorn on board to assist her in the production of each issue.

And then there is the web. We’ve had our own web page since 2005 (and more recently added Facebook pages). Connie Wardle has been our web editor, in addition to her other writing and editing duties, and Wil McGilvery has looked after the back end of our website.

We hope to keep that website online, albeit dormant, so that readers will still be able to access it.

Beautifully designed and beautifully written, the Record wouldn’t be seen by readers without a circulation manager to look after subscriptions and address changes. Deborah Leader has done that and more. She has also overseen 11 years of donations from our generous readers, making sure thank-you letters and tax receipts have been properly processed.

This past year, we also tried to engage donors in putting the Record in their will and making more substantial gifts than usually received in our bi-annual appeal. Lisa Van Arem was hired to do that, and she did a wonderful job. Within the first month of launching our legacy program, donors responded.

It’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to launch this program earlier, or we might have staved off our closing, but we thank Lisa for her work and donors for their responses.

Lastly, huge thanks are due to our advertising representatives, Fenn Corporation. Don Fenn and his team of Stuart Teather and Carol McCormick (recently retired), worked assiduously to bring advertisers and the Record together. Their efforts alone kept us alive longer than would otherwise have been possible.

Perhaps most importantly with respect to all the above-mentioned people, we were a team—a group of people united by a common vision to produce the best possible magazine with the resources available.

The ability to work together is key to any success story. It’s not that everyone agreed all the time—creativity flourishes only where people can take risks together and challenge each other with new ideas. But respect for the role of the Record in the life of the Presbyterian Church community was always paramount. We hope that showed in our efforts.

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About David Harris

David Harris is the publisher and editor of the Presbyterian Record.