Driscoll dominates news for 2008

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Top 10 stories for 2008

1. Driscoll: 18 obstacles to effective evangelism 6580 views
2. Mark Driscoll's extreme Sydney 3384 views
3. Driscoll's 18-point critique: Sydney responds 2930 views
4. Dickson's ground-breaking find backs Jesus' divinity 2600 views
5. Driscoll: Sydney you have to change! 2370 views
6. GAFCON: Journey to the Promised Land 1898 views
7. Driscoll: Apostle to generation wired 1869 views
8. How Roman Catholic Youth Day led me to Christ 1725 views
9. Why Anglicans don't follow a Pope 1672 views
10. Archbishop Jensen: Why I am going to Israel 1659 views

Do Sydney Anglicans have stars?

A growing theory in web journalism is that the ‘hit rates' on the internet is driven by well-known names. You could call this ‘the celebrity effect'. This same effect is evident within the Sydney Anglican community as well. So who had pulling power in 2008?

1. Mark Driscoll (3,000 views per mention)
2. John Dickson (2,000 views per mention)
3. David Short (1,500 views per mention)
4. Robert Forsyth (1,000 views per mention)
5. Peter Jensen (600 views per mention)

Without a shadow of doubt Seattle-based church planter Mark Driscoll was the most newsworthy person of the year for Sydney Anglicans.

His visit to Sydney and evangelistic talk to 10,000 people at the Sydney Entertainment Centre were newsworthy in their own right, but it was his criticisms of local ministry that really shook up our news cycle.

More than 6,000 people read Mark Driscoll's 18 points critiquing evangelical ministry in Sydney on our website alone.

It was by far the most read story of the year.

On top of this, a further 25,000 discreet views were made of other stories either analysing the phenomenum of Mark Driscoll or responding to his criticisms.

Looking at a Top Ten list of the highest rating stories of 2008, stories about Driscoll filled the first three highest rating slots, as well slots five and seven.

So what lessons can we learn from those stories that were popular, as well as those many worthy stories that failed to find an audience?

The popularity of Driscoll’s criticisms suggests that many ministry workers are hungry for new insights into the difficult missionfield that is Sydney.

#2 " The Pope or John Dickson?

With Mark Driscoll dominating Sydney Anglican headlines, who else were people reading about?

In 2008 a huge buzz also developed around John Dickson's TV documentary series The Christ Files.

Looking a the historical evidence for Jesus, it was based on best-selling book of the same name.

Yet even more significant was the subsequent coup pulled off John Dickson and Anglican Media in securing uprecedented TV crew access to the ongoing archeological dig at the world's oldest church.

This story splits up Driscoll's dominance, slipping in at number 4 on the list.

Nevertheless, the biggest "religious' news for Sydney in 2008 was the Pope's visit to the city for World Youth Day.

Not suprisingly, the resource we pulled together explaining why Sydney Anglicans do not follow the Pope came in at number nine.

Our WYD correspondant Mark Gilbert's daily blog walking alongside the pilgrims features heavily in this year's list of the best read stories.

In fact Mark's first blog explaining his own spiritual journey away from Catholicism entered the Top Ten list at number eight.


Given its great significance for world Anglicanism, it’s not suprising that the African-led movement centred around the GAFCON pilgrimage to Jerusalem dominated the next tier of stories.

In slots 10 to 20, three were about Driscoll and the rest about GAFCON.

Indeed our main feature on the pilgrimage is in the number 6 slot. And the Top Ten list is rounded off by Archbishop Jensen's explantion of why he decided to go to GAFCON and not the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops.

Best of the rest

Outside the top 20, the content of stories becomes increasingly diverse.

The shock news that Sydneyanglican.net mission blogger Stuart Robinson had been elected Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn Diocese came in at number 23.

This was closely followed by perhaps the most ground-breaking decision by Sydney Synod in a generation -  that deacons and not just presbyters (priests) could now legally administer Holy Communion in the Diocese. 

Rounding off the Top 25 was news that the Bishop of South Sydney, Rob Forsyth, had had a heart attack while visiting the Diocese's most isolated parish " Norfolk Island in the Pacific Ocean.

What we won't read

Internet statistics are brutal.

They are so blunt, in fact, that they stop us fleeing from the harsh truth.

One of the great struggles of running a Christian newsroom is navigating our reader's darker motives. There is a tension between what Sydney Anglicans think they should be reading and what they actually choose to read.

For example, in both surveys and personal feedback readers tell us they want more stories about world mission.

Yet the data shows these stories don't rate.

Are we being self-delusional? Is this a case of people reporting what they think is the pious thing to say?

The back end of our list is full of worthy stories that no one cared too much for.

Screens particularly glazed over at the mere mention of ministry in Africa.

We have tried every trick card in journalistic pack to generate more interest " tabloid headlines, classic hook and bait stories, dramatic local Sydney Anglican angles " all to no avail.

Connect09: without a prayer

For this newsroom building interest and excitement around Connect09 was the great challenge of 2008.

Research for Connect09 found that church workers wanted us to be sharing with them the best ideas for ministry. Yet when we served this up, few swallowed it.

The one great exception was Joseph Smith's feature on some of the more bizarre ideas for reaching Aussie men.

Was the success of this story based on the pull of the freak factor? Or had we stumbled on one of the great areas of anxiety for frontline ministry?

The evidence is not conclusive.

What the editorial team has concluded is that there is some cognitive dissonance in "sharing' ministry ideas through the packaging of news. Journalism may not be the ideal genre.

From next year we will be trialling more ministry blogs as the main avenue for communicating new ideas for "connecting'.

Likewise our newsroom struggled with how to reflect the stated priorities of the Mission.

Prayer should be top of the priority list. The Mission is conceived as a movement of "spiritual renewal'. 

Yet the worst read story of the year was the announcement of the date of the prayer day for Connect09. A mere 190 people read this story.

No doubt Anglican Media could find more effective and exciting ways to communicate the importance of prayer.

But does it also reflect the importance Sydney Anglicans place on prayer?

Food for thought.



Read Faith in a Time of Crisis

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Nigel Fortescue

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