From the Archives: The “SCA Gazette” Proposal of 2015–2017

In April 2015, the Society’s Publications Office undertook a survey, variously referred to as the “Evolution of SCA Communications” or “Newsletter & Communications Survey,” which asked participants about the channels they used to obtain information about SCA activities.

Survey announcement sent to kingdom chroniclers

At the next quarterly meeting of the Board of Directors, the Publications Office submitted a flurry of proposed policies and actions based on the survey results.

The 2015 Proposal

The key elements of these proposals were:

  • Chroniclers, Webministers, and Social Media Officers would be combined into a single coherent team rather than working in separate silos.
  • Kingdom newsletters would be made public. (At this time, Kingdom newsletters were available only to paid members and required an awkward login process to access.)
  • The recently-created blog-style Gazette websites would be converted from unofficial populace efforts to official parts of the Society’s communications network.
  • All of the content that was published as paper and/or PDF newsletters would also be made available as posts on these blog-style websites to make them more accessible to folks using phones and other devices.
  • The online newsletters would not be required to include duplicate copies of information that was already available on the official websites, like the list of kingdom officers and the calendar of upcoming events.
  • Gazette / online newsletter content would be distributed via RSS feeds, with content fed both to user-facing apps and to other sites in the network. For example, articles published on individual branch websites could be re-published on the kingdom or Society sites, and announcements from the Society or kingdom could be pushed down to local branch websites.

At the July meeting, the Board declined to take action on these proposals and asked that they be brought back for consideration three months later. There was some discussion that fall, and an updated proposal was submitted for the January 2016 meeting. However, the Board rejected the proposal — or to use the oblique phrasing of the minutes, it was “returned for continued work.”

A politely-worded rejection, January 2016.

The 2017 Proposal

Another round of efforts were made in the fall of 2017 to generate support for the transformation that had been outlined two years earlier.

(This effort wasn’t ever officially announced to the populace, but it was accidentally disclosed as part of the SCA Lists Archive Breach.)

The revised proposal provides a pretty convincing case for the need for change:

Part of growth is admitting when something that you are doing is no longer effective. This proposal addresses the issue that has become a pervasive opinion in the SCA, our content information system, our newsletters, are no longer effective in delivering the real-time information for the group we serve. […] Per the Communications Survey conducted Spring 2015, 80% of survey respondents indicated that the kingdom newsletters were not their primary source of receiving information about Membership activities and events.

It outlines a separation of responsibilities between the Chronicler’s office and the Webministry, with both operating in parallel:

The Society, Kingdom, and local Group Chroniclers or their warranted designatee would now be the managers of the content on the Gazettes. These officers would remain under the management of the Publications Manager, since the Chroniclers would remain content managers.

Kingdom websites will be the official source of information for each Kingdom’s published calendar and event information, officer and local group contacts, and information with continued management by website managers under IT.

The committee working on this effort also proposed to eliminate the requirement for baronies to publish traditional newsletters, with the online communications being considered sufficient on their own.

If this revised proposal was ever submitted to the Board for consideration, I can’t find any record of it in the Board minutes.

About the Gazette Name

The use of the term “Gazette” stems from the success of a series of independent populace-run blog sites. The first of these, the East Kingdom Gazette, was founded in 2013, and over the next couple of years similar sites were launched in several other kingdoms.

These sites generally did not operate as official SCA publications — I believe this was motivated by a desire to bypass policy requirements for official publications that were viewed as onerous — although some of them may have eventually become adopted as official kingdom projects.

The suggestion that the SCA might either claim ownership of the existing gazette sites, or supplant them with new sites that used the same terminology, was a point of some friction.

My Take

It sounds like the handling of the existing Gazette sites might have been ham-fisted, and some of the other details could use some revision to reflect the passage of time (eg user-facing RSS is no longer widespread).

But the core of the idea here seems like it’s headed in the right direction:

  • Acknowledge that the old-style newsletters are relics that no longer serve the populace well.
  • Integrate the webministry, chroniclers, and social media offices into a coordinated team.
  • Publish material to the web first, then distribute it via cross-site syndication, social media, inclusion in periodic PDFs, print, email, etc.

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