Loss of print media seen as posing challenges to U.S. church communications

The mastheads of quite a few Catholic newspapers are seen on this picture illustration. (CNS Picture by Tyler Orsburn)

By Christina Lee Knauss

Readers of The Pill, newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, now see one thing on the paper’s web site that beforehand was solely acquainted to customers of media like NPR.

A “Help Us” tab takes viewers to a website the place they’re requested to enroll in a tiered subscription program that enables them to instantly assist the paper’s operation, with extra perks obtainable for every degree of monetary assist.

This strategy to funding a well known Catholic newspaper like The Pill, which has been revealed since 1908 and serves a inhabitants of about 1.3 million, is only one indicator of the drastic adjustments happening for Catholic media in the USA.

Catholic media, like their secular counterpart, is dealing with a day of reckoning attributable to the speedy swap from print to digital media, in addition to monetary challenges introduced on by the COVID-19 pandemic and different elements. In each sectors, the work {of professional} journalists with years of expertise is commonly being solid apart in favor of rapid-fire content material created for digital consumption, typically heavy on opinion with out the backing of significant fact-based information.

“The state of Catholic journalism proper now needs to be put into context with the state of journalism basically — it’s fragile,” stated Helen Osman, a veteran Catholic journalist whom Pope Francis appointed in September as a consultor to the Vatican for the Dicastery for Communication.

Osman, who’s president of Signis, the World Catholic Affiliation for Communication, is a former diocesan editor and former communications secretary for the U.S. Convention of Catholic Bishops. She is at the moment a communications marketing consultant for the Texas Convention of Catholic Bishops in Austin.

“There are strong, respected journalists and journalism businesses each within the secular and Catholic worlds, however proper now each are scuffling with the concept one way or the other simply since you see it on a display screen, that’s information or journalism,” she stated. “We all know that’s not the case.”

Change has burned by means of the Catholic media panorama in a fierce approach, particularly for the reason that onset of the pandemic, when revenues at many dioceses dried up as Catholics stopped attending Mass. In 2020, there have been abrupt closures of diocesan newspapers in Pittsburgh and Arizona, amongst others. In 2021, the casualties included The Catholic Miscellany of the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, on the time the oldest Catholic newspaper within the nation. It has since been changed by {a magazine} of the identical title.

This yr, the closures have come even sooner, together with the lack of the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, and Catholic New York, the biweekly paper of the Archdiocese of New York, which revealed its final problem Nov. 17.

One of many largest and most far-reaching blows got here with the Could announcement from the U.S. Convention of Catholic Bishops that the home places of work of Catholic Information Service would shut, leaving solely the Rome bureau. The CNS bureau in New York closed Could 29 and operations in Washington will stop Dec. 31.

The lack of conventional print media and layoffs of Catholic journalists current a wide range of regarding communication issues for the church, based on Catholic media veterans.

One of many largest fears is that the lack of skilled journalists masking Catholic points places the church in peril of reports being reported from a skewed or incorrect perspective. Some journalists, like Osman, worry the reporting of actual information is being misplaced as some bishops and different publishers favor turning to extra tightly regulated content material that skews to at least one specific viewpoint. Others are cautious of how a lot could be completed merely by means of digital means.

“Social media will not be journalism,” stated Vito Formica, govt director of reports content material and improvement for DeSales Media, the Brooklyn-based Catholic information company whose merchandise embrace The Pill.

“It doesn’t provide fact-checking generally, in addition to the views that reporters can deliver to protection. A two-line social media put up will not be going to do the work of knowledgeable journalist,” he advised CNS. “A newspaper additionally not solely reviews the information because it’s occurring, nevertheless it compiles historical past and a discussion board for concepts.”

Ed Langlois, former editor of the Catholic Sentinel, stated many Catholic papers not solely helped readers study extra about their religion, but in addition made them really feel related to the church as an entire.

“Judging from lots of of letters from mourning readers, I made a decision our newspaper had been the connective tissue of the archdiocese,” Langlois stated. “It allowed parishes to borrow concepts and really feel impressed. It helped Catholics in distant cities really feel like a part of the diocesan Catholic household. We nonetheless had letters to the editor, so we gave common people a voice. With out all that linkage, I worry the evangelizing body of the church may disintegrate.”

Nationwide Catholic media and diocesan newspapers run by educated journalists additionally carried out the essential work of presenting information from an genuine Catholic perspective, stated Sam Lucero, retired information and data supervisor for The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Inexperienced Bay, Wisconsin.

“Content material in a diocesan paper is necessary as a result of you recognize you’ll be able to belief the knowledge you’re getting, whether or not it’s from a nationwide supply or from the bishop, a pastor, the vicar basic or a diocesan workers member,” Lucero stated.

“With out the Catholic media,” he added, “there’s the possibility of numerous pretend content material being unfold on-line, misinformation unfold within the title of the church. Catholic publications are necessary to assist forestall that.”

In keeping with figures from the Catholic Media Affiliation, which serves Catholic journalists within the U.S. and Canada, Catholic newspapers, magazines and newsletters have all been in steep decline for the final fifteen years.

In 2006, there have been 196 Catholic newspapers within the U.S. with 6.5 million in circulation. In 2020, there have been 118 with 3.8 million in circulation. In Canada there have been 9 Catholic newspapers in 2006 with a circulation of 132,000. In 2020 there have been two with a circulation of 56,000.

The identical holds true for magazines: In 2006, there have been 224 in the USA with virtually 13.7 million in circulation. In 2020 there have been 72 nationwide and diocesan magazines with a complete circulation of 4.9 million.

Altering readership habits are actually an element. But the proof will not be conclusive that Catholics are dashing to new spiritual media when turning from previous media.

Information gathered by the Catholic analysis group CARA for Religion Publishing and distributed by the Catholic Media Affiliation confirmed that diocesan publications attain a plurality of Catholics (24%).

Many dioceses are taking new approaches to getting the information reported. The Archdiocese of New York, as an illustration, has switched to a digital newsroom that can incorporate video, audio and articles. Referred to as The Good Newsroom, the brand new digital information outlet launched Nov. 28.

Many dioceses have switched from newspapers to cheaper month-to-month and bimonthly magazines that target catechesis and formation reasonably than information, lots of them revealed by FAITH Catholic primarily based in Lansing, Michigan.

Turning on to the devoted for assist, like The Pill did, is one other strategy that may turn out to be extra widespread, Osman stated.

Established Catholic organizations are also doing what they will to guarantee that Catholic media stays robust.

Our Sunday Customer, a Catholic writer of a biweekly newspaper, books and different assets primarily based in Huntington, Indiana, introduced July 6, as an illustration, that it will launch a brand new Catholic information service Jan. 1 to fill the void created by the closure of the home operations of CNS.

OSV reached an settlement with the USCCB to amass rights to the platform that CNS makes use of to provide and distribute its content material, which will probably be on the identical area: Catholicnews.com.

The CMA is consistently doing what it could to supply skilled improvement, networking alternatives and different providers for its members.

“Catholic media, like media basically, is in a relentless state of change proper now, and we’re searching for methods to raised attain audiences and communities, utilizing all of the altering ways in which individuals are gaining data and consuming information,” stated Rob DeFrancesco, govt director of the CMA.

“Catholic journalism is important to the way forward for our church as a result of it’s the central approach we evangelize our communities and the best approach we share the excellent news of Jesus Christ,” he stated. “If we received’t converse for the church, then who will?”

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