Matthew Gambino

Good news about the state of journalism may be news in itself, given the declines in readership of print newspapers in recent years. In Philadelphia a welcome word of good news is emerging at CatholicPhilly.com, the digital successor to The Catholic Standard and Times.

Ever since the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s weekly newspaper ceased publishing in June 2012, CatholicPhilly.com been the primary means of communicating Catholic news and Catholic teaching in the archdiocese.

The website’s traffic, using one measure of unique visitors per month – think of it as the number of people visiting the website at least once in a 30-day period – has risen 72 percent since July 2012 to 43,000 visitors at the end of February 2014.

Those numbers mean that today CatholicPhilly.com reaches more people through its website in a month’s time than The Catholic Standard and Times did in an average month since 2010.

The transition from print to an all-digital operation has been one of trial and error, with no guidebook on how to do it. We’ve used a three-pronged strategy all along — raise readership, increase editorial content, provide better technology – and using free or inexpensive tools as much as possible.

Of course the overarching mission of the Catholic press (even if our news isn’t printed on a press anymore) is to tell the “good news” of the Gospel as it’s lived by Catholic Christians in our day and age. One of the most important ways we’re telling the good news on our website is through social media.

Our 4,300 Twitter followers and 2,700 Facebook fans see posts not only about the stories on CatholicPhilly.com, but reposts of Catholic content from all those followers. It’s a virtual Catholic community in which we’re sharing not only our good news, but everyone else’s too.

It all leads to trust in our brand name, and that leads to higher traffic, which leads to higher revenue from advertising. The more visitors and the more pages they see, the more ads we sell.

Using the same techniques as the largest media companies, we sell advertising on a CPM basis – the cost of an ad per thousand impressions. When an ad appears on a page it can be said to make an “impression.” An advertiser buys a certain number of thousands of impressions, for a certain price over a given period of time.

This new style of advertising sales has been successful, which means we can continue to serve Catholic news and information to Catholics in the Philadelphia area and beyond. It also means we’re on the right track as we continue to change the way we think of how to produce news.

We focus on telling local Catholic news stories, with sharp photos, professional videos, links to more information, reader comments and that important social media interaction — and coming soon, podcasts of our content.

Gone are the days when we told the news once a week or every two weeks, and in only the constrained space that the print format would allow. Today we have to tell the news every day throughout the day – speed is essential to readers. That means getting the story right and getting it posted right away.

Not everyone wants to read their Catholic news on a computer, tablet or smartphone. Of those who do, we know that our core demographic trends younger than that of the CS&T. A reader survey in 2009 showed 85 percent of respondents were over age 65.

Today, readers of CatholicPhilly.com tend to be middle-aged – 21 percent are age 45-54, 20 percent age 35-44 and 14 percent age 51-64. Another 16 percent are age 25-34, certainly not middle aged.

We are now reaching younger Catholics than before with our evangelizing message. That’s where a larger challenge presents itself.

More information is available to people through the Internet than at any time in history, and people seem to be reading text, watching images and communicating with other people all the time.

With our minds processing all that information constantly, it is perhaps no surprise that studies are finding people don’t read deeply anymore, but rather scan texts for key points of information.

Technology is changing many things, including the way we receive information and now, it seems, even the way we think – especially among young people. We are becoming a culture of people who form decisions based on impressions from images and sounds, plus small bits of text-based information from multiple sources.

This is the new landscape upon which Catholic communicators – that’s every Catholic, really – need to understand their readers/viewers/listeners.

For the young and increasingly for their elders, technology is always on and always with you. Whether you respond to the constant media stream or not, it’s present. And so must be the Catholic Church with its good news of people joyfully living their faith in God through the church in a challenging, messy, blessed world.

The most effective evangelizing message of the believing person is a joyful heart. That person’s story is one CatholicPhilly.com will continue to tell by continuing to adapt to the tastes of our media consumers.

The Gospel “good news” doesn’t change, but the good news is that it’s being communicated today in new ways to people in the way they want it.

***

If you’re not one of the 3,000 subscribers to our free weekly email newsletter, sign up today at CatholicPhilly.com/newsletter.

***

Matthew Gambino is director and general manager of CatholicPhilly.com.