A Primer on Antiochian.org from the Department of Internet Ministry
By Douglas George Cramer, Chair
This article about Antiochian.org is intended for our many department chairs, ministry leaders, and active members across the country who want to use the Internet to communicate about their work. It is being published in the June issue of The Word.
Our team working on the Archdiocese website, www.Antiochian.org , launched a new design early this year, and introduced our vision for the ministry of the Church on the Internet in the March 2008 issue of The Word. We’re continuing to work on many projects and changes that we pray will be of great benefit to our collective witness for our Lord in this land. My goal here is to give all of you in the Archdiocese with an active role in our communications with each other, with the Church as a whole, and with the world beyond, the information you need about our department and our approach in order to work with us to strengthen our online voice.
First, a name change. There is no longer a Department of Communications and Information Technology. The department’s areas of responsibility have been shifted, with the Archdiocese directory and database now overseen by Amy Robinson, the Archdiocese Registrar. In the past, the department often ended up pulled in many conflicting directions because of the breadth of its scope. Now, the primary work of the former Department of Communications, Antiochian.org, is overseen by me as chair of the new Department of Internet Ministry. Our charge is to devote all our efforts to continuing to improve the quality and the reach of the Archdiocese website. This has required us to clearly define what we can realistically accomplish, out of the vast range of potential ways to serve the Gospel online, with our limited resources. Our team currently includes myself, and by God’s blessing three skilled part-time assistants—Timm Wenger, Julia Wickes and Mark Klinski.
At the July Clergy Symposium at Antiochian Village, I’ll be leading some sessions for our pastors on Ministry and the Internet, and want to dip in to my session notes for an idea worth highlighting here. Just today, I saw a blog post commemorating the 15 year anniversary of the Internet as we know it—technically, the anniversary of public domain web code. Yet in only 15 years, this communications technology has swept the globe, and become a necessity rather than a luxury for any organization with a message to share. Not to sound patronizing, but it really is O.K. if you find the Web intimidating or confusing. So do I, a lot of the time. So does most everyone.
Yet it is critical that we work to use the Web well, because it is fast becoming the most important method of public conversation in our society, particularly for those without a lot of money to spend. I’ve heard it said that much of the Internet is a collective exercise in citizen’s journalism, and it’s a useful metaphor for our efforts as an Archdiocese. We at the Department of Internet Ministry are the publisher, and you are our “stringers”, in newspaper jargon—the writers, recorders and photographers who provide us with the source material for us to publish on Antiochian.org. This is the model that we’re working to incorporate, one where we create and maintain a conduit or platform for your messages.
We are creating and maintaining a range of resources, such as daily Scripture readings, articles about our faith, and a special section on His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP. We are also continually updating our homepage at Antiochian.org, selecting the best content from a range of sources—the publications of our Archdiocese, messages from our bishops, the ministries of our departments and of SCOBA—so that any visitor to our site will have a choice of interesting and timely material to enjoy.
Supporting Our Dioceses, Departments, Organizations and Ministries
But our site is also home to subpages for the over 50 distinct entities that make up our Archdiocese—our dioceses, departments, organizations and other ministries. Our top priority this summer is to complete a review and refresh of each of these pages, while putting in place an easy and fruitful process for working with the appropriate representative for each of these entities.
In the past, the Department of Communications encouraged each entity to train someone on their team to maintain their subpage on Antiochian.org. This is no longer our standard. Some individuals, such as Christopher Holwey at the Department of Sacred Music, have done wonderful work under this model and we want to support them as long as they continue to wish to work on the website. But for the most part, the result has been a lot of time spent training eager and capable people who then either moved on from their role or didn’t use the site frequently enough to remember the training.
Instead, I ask each of you responsible for a part of our Archdiocese who is not already working with us to send me an email at email@example.com . Our commitment is to post at the appropriate location on Antiochian.org within 3 business days any standard submissions from approved representatives that we receive at this email address. This can include basic text, images and PDF files. For example, a few paragraphs describing a successful event with pictures of speakers; an announcement of a fundraiser with a sample PDF flyer; or a festal meditation with icon images and a PDF study guide. Or even just a couple of sentences announcing some news. On incomplete or more complex requests, we will respond within 3 days to discuss details and possibilities.
Here are some submission guidelines to remember:
Write well. We don’t have the resources for substantial editing or proofreading. We will review all submissions before posting, and will do some spot editing and formatting. But please try to provide us with text ready for publication. Reader attention spans are significantly shorter online as well, so when in doubt be concise.
Write enough. At the same time, please give us all the basic information we need. If you’re announcing an event, include the time and date. If you mention a parish, include the city and state. If you include images, please include captions as necessary. We are careful about when we include an email address on the site in order to help keep down your spam, so if an email address needs to be included please specify this as well. Any other special instructions are appreciated.
About images. A picture tells a thousand words, and one of the most compelling features of the Web is the ability to quickly and easily share images. I’m eager to continue growing our collection of powerful Orthodox images. Recently I dipped in to my personal photo album for a picture of an infant baptism. So please do submit images to us. But, please also use discernment. If a picture doesn’t look that good to you, it’ll probably look worse on the Web. It’s better for us to receive the two or three best pictures from an event, rather than 20 that we need to review. Images are best sent as email attachments rather than pasted in to the body of emails. And remember the captions!
As part of our summer review, we will be standardizing the layout of the subpages for each department or other entity. We’ll update department descriptions and the organization of department-specific content. As we get to each entity, we’ll be in touch for your specific requests, information about your target audiences, thoughts on your overall goal for your ministry online, and so on. So if you’ve been eager to make changes to your section of Antiochian.org, please do contact me before I get to you, at firstname.lastname@example.org .
A word about our parishes. We are working on improvements to our online directory of parishes of the Archdiocese; we’re working with the registrar to identify the best way to synchronize the official Archdiocese directory records and those listed on the website. In the meantime, if you notice any incorrect information on the site about a parish, please do email us at email@example.com  and we’ll make the update in coordination with the registrar . Thank God, most of our parishes have websites of their own, some of them beautifully produced. We are not able to provide assistance to parishes with building or maintaining websites. But we want to spread the word about your good work being done online. So, if you maintain a parish website and believe that there is something on your site worth highlighting to your brothers and sisters across the Archdiocese, let us know!
Remember the Web
Antiochian.org, like so much else in our work as the Church, can be as powerful as we together are willing and able to make it. It is your efforts that we will publicize, your labors that need to be supported and shared. In closing, let me share this story. I recently received in the mail an excellently-produced brochure encouraging me to support a particular work of our Archdiocese. It was obviously the result of a lot of care and love by the people involved, and I contacted them to let them know. But I had to wonder why, with all that labor, they hadn’t also decided to spread the word about their efforts through the Internet, with its vast potential readership. Antiochian.org alone reaches a respectable 50,000 unique visitors a month.
Our team at Antiochian.org needs to do a better job encouraging and inspiring our people to make better use of the Internet. Hopefully this article has been a step in that direction. At the same time, I hope and pray that all of you reading this will begin to regularly consider in the context of your overall service to the Church and her ministry how you can better use the Internet to communicate, to build our communities and strengthen our communion.
Douglas George Cramer is chair of the Department of Internet Ministry and editor of www.Antiochian.org . He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.