Insights Magazine: a rich history

Insights Magazine: a rich history

The first issue of Insights was released in August 1991.

With the internet in its infancy (the first web browser launched the prior year), the magazine served as the primary way for the NSW and ACT Synod to inform congregations about the events and announcements affecting them. As such, the first magazine had more of a news focus, as opposed to the emphasis on analysis, reflections, and features that it would later come to be known for.

The first Insights team was led by then-editor Damian J. Gleeson.

There was also a Senior Writer, Donald Kerr, and a writer, Stuart Pearce. Roy De Giorgio worked as an Advertising Officer, while Joan Hayes handled enquiries.

Looking back at the magazine issue itself is like looking into a time capsule from its day. The letters section saw a comment from a congregant querying the NSW MLC Fred Nile using the honorific “Reverend” while then-Deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe did not. A young, recently-ordained Minister named Simon Hansford appears on page 35 as part of a ministry profile on Dubbo.

One of the key Assembly news items in the issue was the announcement that Rev. Dr D’Arcy Wood had been installed as Uniting Church President, in a ceremony that took place at Melbourne’s Festival Hall (a venue that Hillsong bought in 2020).

Nineteen ninety three would bring some personnel changes to the magazine, and some of these would stick for a long time. Marjorie Lewis-Jones was previously a Communications Officer for the national Assembly. Stephen Webb previously worked for the Anglican Church as a Social Issues Researcher. Ms Lewis Jones became the Communications Manager of the Synod while Mr Webb became Deputy Editor of Insights. From 1993 to 2013, their run on the magazine won numerous awards, as they grew the publication’s voice, reputation, and footprint. This included launching the magazine’s official website in 1996.

In an interview, Ms Lewis-Jones told Insights that the idea of working together started when she worked with Mr Webb in an ecumenical event in the Philippines.

“I’d been working as the Communications Officer for the Uniting Church Assembly for several years when I met Stephen Webb while reporting at the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) Assembly in Manila in 1990,” Ms Lewis-Jones said.

“Together with some excellent journalists from the region we formed the Asian Ecumenical News Service, which blazed a trail for two years then got quashed for reporting on issues (often related to justice) that were a bit too close to the bone for some church leaders. It was early days of the internet and email and I used to file my stories in that crazy ‘new’ way from the Assembly office in Australia to Stephen at CCA in Hong Kong and then our editor in the Philippines.”
 
“In 1993, I saw advertised that the Synod of New South Wales needed a manager/editor. But with our complementary skills, and with Stephen back in Australia, he and I knew we could do so much more. We made a pitch to the synod that ended up with me being appointed as the Manager of the Synod Communications Unit and Editor of Insights and him appointed as Media Officer and Deputy Editor – and we quickly set to work to build a strong communications team.” 

Less than a year later, Adrian Drayton would start in a fixed contract as an advertising officer. Little did he know at the time that he would become the team’s longest continuously serving member. At various points, this team included Lyndal Irons, Emma Halgren, Leigh Pitkethly, Stephanie Johnston, Mark West, Deb Everist, Esther Butcher, and others. They would go on to experience acclaim and multiple awards.

In 2013, a major change took place that saw Insights’ team change once again. With a Synod-wide restructure underway, leadership took the controversial step of making the team redundant. The April 2013 edition of the magazine contains a farewell from Ms Lewis-Jones, calling on readers to continue to work for a just society in line with the Christian tradition. In his column for that month, Moderator Rev. Dr Brian Brown wrote that recent financial losses had been, “…[B]ourne not only by Synod staff but also in the wider church due to cuts to Synod programs and allocations, which were unavoidable in the process of restoring the Synod’s capital base.”

“Nevertheless, for some of our work colleagues, the loss has become final…For many of them this has been a vocation where they have contributed above and beyond the call of duty.”

A number of contracted staff were brought on to carry the magazine through its new phase, with Mr Drayton becoming the permanent manager. Eventually, the Synod began hiring permanent staff again to deliver Insights. With extensive writing experience, including for Empire magazine, Insights contributor Ben McEachen was brought on as the new Editor. Other recent team members that worked on the magazine included Lisa Sampson, Melissa Stewart, Ashley Donnelly (and those whose names are currently listed on this website). Under this team, the Insights website grew to gain daily updates, and the magazine’s social media footprint grew exponentially.

With the website growing and a weekly e-newsletter garnering more subscriptions, Insights left its original schedule of publishing monthly (except January) in 2016. In late-2017, Insights’ team asked readers to give their opinion on whether they would support a quarterly publication. With the majority in favour, the schedule for the print version of the magazine changed again in early 2018, aligning now to different seasons.

While technology and Insights’ publishing frequency have changed since that first issue in August 1991, the magazine remains a public voice and forum for the Synod of NSW and the ACT three decades on.

A recent project undertaken by Camden Theological Library’s Moira Bryant has made Insights’ past issues available online. Viewers can use the Illuminate search engine to view PDFs of the issues and view the changes over the past three decades for themselves.

The past issues of Insights are available online via Camden Theological Library’s website. You can view them here.

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