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

Readers of The Tablet, the newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn, now see something on the newspaper’s website that was previously only known to consumers of media outlets like NPR.

A “Support Us” tab directs viewers to a website that asks them to sign up for a tiered subscription program that allows them to directly support the newspaper, with additional benefits available for each level of financial support.

This approach to funding a well-known Catholic newspaper like The Tablet, which has been published since 1908 and serves a population of about 1.3 million, is just one indicator of the dramatic changes taking place in Catholic media in the United States.

Catholic media, like their secular counterparts, are facing a day of reckoning caused by the rapid shift from print to digital media, as well as financial challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors. In both industries, the work of professional journalists with years of experience is often discarded in favor of fast-paced content produced for digital consumption, often opinion-heavy without the support of serious, fact-based news.

This is a November 29, 2022 screenshot for The Tablet, NY Diocese of Brooklyn (CNS screen grab/The Tablet)

“The state of Catholic journalism right now has to be put in context with the state of journalism in general — it’s fragile,” said Helena Osman, a veteran Catholic journalist who was appointed by Pope Francis in September as a Vatican adviser on Dicastery matters. Communication.

Osman, who is the Signis president of the World Catholic Communication Association, is a former diocesan editor and former communications secretary of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. She is currently a communications consultant for the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops in Austin.

“There are solid, respected journalists and journalism agencies in both the secular and Catholic worlds, but both are struggling right now with the idea that just because you see it on the screen, it’s news or journalism,” she said. “We know that’s not the case.”

The Catholic media landscape has undergone changes, especially since the start of the pandemic, when revenues dried up in many dioceses as Catholics stopped attending Mass. In 2020, diocesan newspapers were suddenly closed, including in Pittsburgh and Arizona. . Among the dead in 2021 was the Diocese of Charleston’s Catholic Variety, which at the time was the oldest Catholic newspaper in the country. It has since been replaced by a magazine of the same name.

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Closings have been even more rapid this year, including the loss of the Catholic Sentinel newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland and Catholic New York, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York, which published its last issue in November. 17.

One of the biggest and most far-reaching blows came with the May announcement by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops that it would close the internal offices of the Catholic News Service, leaving only the Rome office. CNS’s New York office closed on May 29, and operations in Washington will cease on December 31.

The loss of traditional print media and the layoff of Catholic journalists are creating various communication problems for the church, according to Catholic media veterans.

One of the biggest concerns is that the loss of professional journalists covering Catholic issues threatens the church because the news is reported from an inaccurate or incorrect perspective. Some journalists, like Osman, fear that real news reporting is being lost as some bishops and other publishers favor more tightly regulated content that skews toward one particular point of view. Others are wary of how much can be accomplished simply by using digital means.

“Social media is not journalism,” said Vito Formica, executive director of news content and development for Brooklyn-based Catholic news agency DeSales Media, whose products include The Tablet.

Rob DeFrancesco, now executive director of the Catholic Media Association, is pictured June 21, 2019, at the Catholic Media Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. DeFrancesco is a former associate publisher of The Catholic Sun and director of communications for the Diocese of Phoenix. . (CNS photo / Paul Haring)

“In most cases, it doesn’t offer the fact-checking and perspective that reporters can bring to coverage. A two-line post on social media won’t do the job of a professional journalist,” he told CNS. forum of ideas.”

Ed Langlois, former editor of the Catholic Sentinel, said many Catholic articles not only helped readers learn more about their faith, but also made them feel connected to the church as a whole.

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“Judging by the hundreds of letters from grieving readers, I decided that our newspaper has been the connective tissue of the archdiocese,” Langlois said. “It allowed parishes to get ideas and feel inspired. This helped Catholics in remote towns to feel part of the Catholic family of the diocese. We still had letters to the editor, so we let regular people do the talking. Without all these connections, I fear that the church’s evangelistic system could collapse.

The national Catholic media and diocesan newspapers, run by trained journalists, also did the crucial work of reporting from an authentic Catholic perspective, Sam Lucero, retired news and information manager for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., told The Compass.

“Content in a diocesan newspaper is important because you know you can trust the information you’re getting, whether it’s from a public source or from a bishop, pastor, vicar general or diocesan employee,” Lucero said.

“Without Catholic media,” he added, “there is the potential for a lot of fake content to be spread online and misinformation to be spread in the name of the church. Catholic publications are important to help prevent that.

According to data from the Catholic Media Association, which serves Catholic journalists in the United States and Canada, the number of Catholic newspapers, magazines and newsletters has declined sharply over the past 15 years.

In 2006, there were 196 Catholic newspapers in the United States with a circulation of 6.5 million. In 2020, there were 118 with 3.8 million in circulation. There were nine Catholic newspapers in Canada with a circulation of 132,000 in 2006. In 2020, there were two with a circulation of 56,000.

The same is true of magazines: in 2006, there were 224 magazines in the US with a circulation of nearly 13.7 million. In 2020, there were 72 national and diocesan magazines with a total circulation of 4.9 million.

Changing reader habits are certainly a factor. However, the evidence is not conclusive that Catholics are rushing to use new religious media as they move away from old media.

Data collected by CARA for Faith Publishing, a Catholic research organization, and distributed by the Catholic Media Association show that diocesan publications are reaching Catholic diversity (24 percent).

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Many dioceses are taking a new approach to receiving news. For example, the Archdiocese of New York has transitioned to a digital newsroom that will include video, audio and articles. The new digital news site, called The Good Newsroom, launched on November 28.

Many dioceses have switched from newspapers to more cost-effective monthly and bimonthly magazines that focus on catechesis and formation rather than news, many of which are published by FAITH Catholic, based in Lansing, Mich.

Going directly to believers for support, like The Tablet, is another approach that could become more common, Osman said.

Established Catholic organizations are also doing their best to make sure the Catholic media remains strong.

Our Sunday Visitor, a Catholic weekly newspaper, publisher of books and other resources based in Huntington, Ind., for example, announced on July 6 that it would launch a new Catholic news service on January 1 to fill the void left by the closing. CNS for domestic operations.

OSV reached an agreement with the USCCB to acquire the rights to the platform that CNS uses to produce and distribute its content, which will be located on the same domain: Catholicnews.com.

CMA is constantly doing its best to provide professional development, networking opportunities and other services to its members.

“Catholic media, like media in general, is constantly changing right now, and we’re looking for ways to better reach audiences and communities through all the changing ways people acquire knowledge and consume news,” Robb said. DeFrancesco, CEO of CMA.

“Catholic journalism is very important to the future of our church because it is the main way we evangelize our communities and the most effective way to share the good news of Jesus Christ,” he said. “If we don’t speak up for the church, who will?”

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