Focus on ‘new evangelization’ prompts change to multi-platform content, media
By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
Beginning in September local Catholics will have a new publication to look for in their mailboxes.
Phaith – a monthly magazine – will be mailed free of charge to every registered Catholic home in the Archdiocese, including the homes of the 75 percent of Catholics who do not attend Church on a regular basis, said Matthew Gambino, The Catholic Standard & Times’ director and general manager.
Along with the new publication, the Catholic Standard & Times will go from a weekly newspaper to a monthly – with a larger projected circulation per edition, Gambino said. At the same time, The Catholic Standard & Times will also increase its growing Internet presence through daily news updates and increased content.
The magazine, which is set to be launched in mid-September, will be locally written and will tell the faith stories of local people in an attractive format and engaging style.
The magazine will be published through an outside source, Faith Catholic in Lansing, Mich., and will be similar in format to a number of magazines Faith Catholic produces for other dioceses.
The difference between the newspaper and the magazine will be in emphasis, Gambino said.
“Whereas the newspaper will continue to favor news and commentary with a component of evangelization and catechesis,” he said, “the magazine will flip the model, offering primarily content with the intention of evangelization. Basically a reader will learn how another person is living out his or her faith in Jesus as a Catholic in some interesting fashion, designed for long shelf life in the home. There will also be catechesis and a news component, mostly briefs.”
The new format is especially exciting, Gambino said, “because it will be going into so many homes and it is storytelling – telling of people in love with their faith and alive with their faith. It will be a light to people who are not necessarily engaged with the Church. That’s what makes it exciting. As Pope Benedict would say, the new evangelization is showing the beauty of friendship with Jesus. That is what the magazine will do.”
The last weekly issue of the weekly Catholic Standard & Times will be June 30, with bi-weekly issues in July and August, and monthly issues beginning in late September.
The newspaper has been published as a weekly since the 1895 merger of two older papers, the Catholic Standard and the Catholic Times. In its heyday, before television and the Internet, it had a circulation well in excess of 100,000.
In the most recent decade, 2000-2010, circulation has dropped from 85,185 to 31,240, a loss that the self-supporting paper cannot sustain.
In recent decades the paper relied on three principal means of distribution – regular subscribers, bulk sales to parishes and the parish coverage program, in which parishes paid to subscribe all or some parishioners.
In 2002 well over half of sales, 41,952, were through total parish coverage. By last year most participating parishes – experiencing tighter budgets and lower church attendance – dropped the coverage.
By last year this figure stood at 8,533, a decline of 79 percent in just eight years. While inspanidual subscriptions and bulk sales also suffered, the drop was not as extensive.
Circulation is just one of two revenue streams for newspapers; the other is advertising. With the advent of online news outlets, print newspaper advertising has dropped across the board – with niche publications like The Catholic Standard & Times considerably less affected than mainstream papers. Nevertheless, with the drop in circulation there was also a loss of advertisers because fewer people were reading and responding to ads.
Under the new monthly model, total parish coverage is replaced: each parish, high school and archdiocesan nursing home will receive 150 free copies of the monthly paper, with an opportunity to purchase more. This coupled with home subscriptions will equal 60,000, which is approximately double the present press run. This, in turn, should produce higher advertising sales revenue.
Another huge cost of the weekly newspaper is mailing, which Gambino said, is about $500,000 a year. Since the majority of the distribution of the monthly newspaper will be bulk, this cost should drop dramatically once the changes are implemented.
Because there will be fewer issues per year, the subscription price for The Catholic Standard & Times will drop from $30 to $15, and those whose subscriptions are not scheduled to expire will see them extended until they have received the same number of issues that were left on their subscription to the weekly.
For the magazine, the huge press run – projected at 350,000 to reach every Catholic family – will attract advertisers who are seeking a large audience. While Gambino does not expect the magazine to break even the first year, he believes it will in subsequent years.
The third component, the digital newspaper, carries virtually no cost and reaches out to that segment of the population, especially young adults, that no longer reads print newspapers and magazines but gets news through a web site, a smart phone, an e-reader, an iPad or similar devices.
At this time, in a rolling 30-day period, the current web site “receives 21,000 visits and 51,000 page views, obviously more on days with big breaking news,” Gambino said.
Because the electronic version will include all the content of the newspaper and more, and will be updated in real time rather than a specific day, it will only increase in popularity. It’s also fully expected to generate more than enough revenue through advertising to pay for itself.
Under the new model, the newspaper and magazine will operate with fewer personnel.
Among the five laid off from the staff is the sole staff writer Christie L. Chicoine, a native of the South Dakota Diocese of Sioux Falls, who has written for the Catholic Standard & Times for nearly 19 years. Currently a member of Our Mother of Consolation Parish in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia, her last day at the paper will be April 1.
Two years ago six staff members were laid off, also because of budget constraints.
“It is not a reflection on their abilities, their professionalism, or on them as people,” Gambino said. “They are all wonderful people and extremely dedicated professionals, but there is only so much money in the budget.
“In going to a monthly newspaper and a monthly magazine there are fewer demands on staff,” he said. “I want to keep everyone we can, but the budget necessitates hard choices.”
Because of the staff cuts, the paper expects to rely mostly on freelance writers for its content, Gambino said.
Although the whole plan sounds complex, “I’m really optimistic,” Gambino said. “For the first time in many years this sets us on a path for growth rather than managing a decline.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.