Wishing the best of luck to Teak Phillips, new editor of the St. Louis Review

An organization’s newsletter remains an important communications channel. Digital channels continue to grow, but print remains an integral element of any non-profit organization’s communications strategy.

The same is true for the newspaper of a religious institution. Which brings us to my surprise of the week: Teak Phillips named editor of the St. Louis Review, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

I had coffee with this young photographer from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch around 2001. I believe it was after the September 11th terrorist attacks and Mr. Phillips wanted to get involved with a Scouting program. If my memory is correct, he also mentioned that he was either agnostic or an atheist and asked if that would be a problem with the Boy Scouts of America’s membership standards. (A belief in God is a requirement for membership in the BSA.) It turns out he became a Roman Catholic when his wife returned to the church, according to an introductory article in the Review.

I’m happy for Teak and any other employee of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch who is able to find another job. Like so many other large daily newspapers, the Post-Dispatch is teetering on extinction. (Last week, the parent company of the Post-Dispatch laid off dozens of employees and sold its interest in the St. Louis Cardinals National Baseball Club. The Chicago Tribune recently filed for bankruptcy and the Seattle newspaper announced it must be sold in a few months or it would switch to an all online product.)

In the interest of full disclosure, I was a finalist to become the Chief Communications Officer of the Archdiocese in 2006. As part of the interview process, I was asked to critique the Review. I recommended a wide-ranging and thorough overhaul. It looks like some of the vision and suggestions I had for the newspaper are shared by Mr. Phillips and Msgr. Vernon Gardin.

“I believe he is committed to working with priests in making the St. Louis Review a practical tool for their parish ministries and the people they serve,” Gardin told the Review.

AND HOW IT NEEDS TO BECOME A PRACTICAL TOOL!

The outgoing editor, Jim Rygelski, was a very competent journalist. But it was clear that Archbishop Raymond Burke, now at the Vatican, had no vision or passion for the publication or for using media to evangelize or to communicate with the general public. Rygelski wasn’t getting any leadership or direction to make the Review more relevant for the average Roman Catholic. Plus, the culture of the Archdiocese of St. Louis isn’t progressive and experimenting with the newspaper or the content could be a career-limiting move.

If you’re a Roman Catholic who wants to continue grow in faith and develop spiritually, reading the Review will rarely assist you. Currently, the only engaging content is found on the opinion page. (Robert Furey’s column is a must-read item when it runs.)

The wild card in all of this is that no one knows who the new Archbishop of St. Louis will be. All Archbishops control the content and tone of the publication. Will the next Archbishop be a better communicator? Will he understand the changing dynamics of mass communication? Will he understand the gravity of this fact: More than 1.4 billion cell phones will be shipped this year–more than all of the computers and laptops ever produced.

Most journalists who cross the dividing wall of pens, notepads and microphones to enter corporate communications must make adjustments. Teak Phillips is in a challenging situation because he will have to adjust to the culture of the Archdiocese and the Review, go through a redesign scheduled to launch in April, and then meet the expectations of a new Archbishop.

My thoughts and prayers are with Teak as he begins this new chapter. To go from questioning your belief in God to editing the newspaper of a Roman Catholic Archdiocese… what an incredible journey. He is a special individual with an understanding of faith and communications. That type of person doesn’t come along that often.

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