The Australasian Religious Press Association (ARPA) has its annual conference of print publications and print journalists 28-30 August in Brisbane and we're excited.
ARPA was established 41 years ago in Canberra with a voting membership of Christian Publications (not people) and this means the vast majority who attend the ARPA conference are 'more mature' people. Last year there was a push to find a way to ensure younger people came to the conference.
Here are the factors ARPA leadership faced:
First, the annual ARPA conference is costly.
An air fare and transfer costs, top hotel accommodation for 2 nights, the ARPA conference fee – if you are travelling from interstate kiss goodbye to a $1000 per person.
Most religious publications (denominational or mission) are not flush with funds. Therefore a surprising number of people subsidise the costs themselves. Who then attends? – generally a senior person from each Christian publication.
Then, try finding a young person independently willing to cough up $1000 (or thereabouts) for a Friday lunch time to a Saturday night when their publication sends fully subsidised (in the colloquial) an older geaser (who could well afford to pay for themselves!)
Second, religious publications are discerning
Religious publications like to be represented at the conference, particularly for the annual Awards night. Last year the quite significant Melbourne Salvation Army Media Unit sent along one person (Warcry family of publications). The cost factor weighed heavily.
This is one example - ARPA is missing out on a significant number of people as there is a whole new realm in the religious media market – the bloggers. These are men and women happily blogging away, usually family people - whose got $1000 to spare when there are school shoes to buy for the children.
Associate members who are non-aligned to denominational or mission publications, such as free lancers or active in Christian print media somehow find the money to attend and there is generally a sprinkling of associates.
Three, ARPA came up with a three pronged model to engage young people:
- A youth scholarship of $2500
- Half price conf fee ($150 for youth under 30)
A mentoring program for young writers
I was one pushing for the 'youth case' noting that the predilections of ARPA - the philosophy was endorsed but I was not party to these policy outcomes. ARPA has since produced a paper on 'directions'.
In my view the youth scholarship model endorses the status quo by in essence providing financial assistance to existing member institutions (when such institutions should be bringing young people at their own expense - but the cost factor as explained above becomes prohibitive).
My Press Service International (PSI) ministry with 85 young writers published monthly in Christian Today has dug deep and bought young writers to ARPA on three occasions. It's a matter of proprieties for religious publications (if you want a cat fight, try finding more money from denominational coffers for the media unit).
The philosophy presented by me to last year's AGM was that of finding fresh ways to introduce ARPA to a new generation of young writers (plural).
One alternative is our PSI model – that $2500 ARPA scholarship – could have provided ten $250 air-fare scholarships to young writers - with their institutions paying the reduced $150 conference fee. Imagine the ambience with 10 fresh young writers attending ARPA. Win-win-win all round. I arrange air-fare scholarships for our young writer conferences - year after year from Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast, New Zealand. It's not rocket science.
David Goodwin received a $250 air fare scholarship for our young writer conference on 1 August in Sydney and is also on the Executive of ARPA through Melbourne's Salvation Army. David explained that ARPA primarily felt a responsibility to member institutions – ie the status quo. (Pesky young writers running around ARPA might blow a few establishment fuses).
The analysis - a paper is presented on fresh directions, yet at the same time, a scholarship decision is made to retain the status quo. They must have Yes Minister's Sir Humphrey on speed dial. One person wrote to me: "The currency of PSI is getting fresh young faces (or voices). I wonder how ARPA might be able to employ some of the methods you've used?" Moreover in the PSI model the best of the 10 would receive the newly established ARPA annual Ramon Williams Young Writer Award.
2015 ARPA conference
Check out this terrific speaker list – but imagine - 10 additional young writers taking in all these speakers and bringing a fresh ambience to ARPA.
* Dr John Harrison the Journalism Program Director at the University of Queensland. From 1982-90 he was the editor for publications for the Qld Uniting Church.
* Professor Nicholas Aroney an Australian Research Council Future Fellow at the Centre for Public, International and Comparative Law.
* Mark Fowler is a Director of Newmann & Turner Lawyers, Brisbane and a doctoral candidate researching religious freedom and tax frameworks.
* Casey O'Brien Machado is the Territorial Social Justice Co-Ordinator of the Salvation Army.
* Wendy Francis is the Qld Director for the Australian Christian Lobby.
The annual panel will see Casey O'Brien Machado and Wendy Francis answering questions on being salt and light in a post Christendom and globally connected world. The two swap seminars (no one misses out on either) are on social media for Christian media and visual connections – Heritage HM film & media reviewing & resources.
The annual awards dinner is on Saturday evening 28 August. ARPA's major award is the Gutenberg. Each year the ARPA conference is held in a different capital city. This year it's at the Jen Hotel in the centre of Brisbane.
I for one enjoy ARPA. Yes, I write fearlessly and without favour as a religious affairs journalist to spell out the issues. ARPA would expect nothing less. Yet, six years ago, five years ago .... two years ago - I've had discussion with ARPA heavies on this same subject – young people.
In all honestly I cannot see significant change happening in the foreseeable future. It may be a generational thing. It would seem to me that our PSI young writer ministry might be better off inviting ARPA people to our no-cost young writer conference to create an ARPA grass root momentum – I'm realistic, give it 5-10 years.
Who knows, ARPA may not even exist by then. In the past few years the numbers of denominational and mission print publications have nosed dived. Once you go on-line (as many ARPA members now are) it's a different world and fresh horizons are sought for annual get-togethers of the like minded.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html