CLEVELAND (CNS) — The Catholic Universe Bulletin, which has served Catholics in the Diocese of Cleveland for 140 years, will cease publication of its print edition at an unspecified date in 2015.
Bishop Richard G. Lennon of Cleveland, in announcing the news Aug. 22, said he would begin exploring an alternative means of reaching Catholics in northeast Ohio.
“The profound changes in how people receive their information have had a great bearing on the effectiveness of a biweekly newspaper. Much like its secular counterparts, readership has declined and there is no indication suggesting that trend will reverse,” Bishop Lennon said in his statement.
He said he has asked a committee of laity, clergy and religious to suggest “an alternative that will not only serve our various Catholic audiences but also be financially viable as well.”
“This is all still in the planning stages. We don’t know what we’re going to be replacing it with,” said Joe Polito, the newspaper’s associate publisher and general manager. “Everything is going to be looked at prior to going into the new product, whatever that might be.”
The Catholic Universe Bulletin began in 1874 as a weekly newspaper, converting to biweekly publication in 1982. Circulation peaked at about 125,000 in the mid-1960s, but dwindled to today’s circulation of about 35,000.
The staff, which had 16 members in its Newspaper Guild bargaining unit a quarter-century ago, is down to six staffers and freelance contributors. Recently, the newspaper redesigned its website, CatholicUniverseBulletin.org, which is updated daily.
“This is no easy decision, but it follows extensive research conducted in conjunction with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ initiative for strategic diocesan communications planning,” Bishop Lennon said. “Many audiences, including the priests of the diocese, laypersons, observant Catholics, non-practicing Catholics, Cathedral Square staff, and diocesan lay consultative bodies have concluded that a new form of print publication is needed to serve the diocese.”
The Catholic Universe Bulletin had for 50 years formed a partnership with the Catholic Chronicle, Toledo’s diocesan newspaper, called the Catholic Press Union. When the Diocese of Youngstown was founded in 1943, its newspaper, the Catholic Exponent, joined the consortium. The diocesan papers handled their own local news, but national news services, layout, typesetting, printing and preparing the papers for mailing has been done centrally in Cleveland. Toledo and Youngstown withdrew from the Catholic Press Union in 1988.
The departures followed Universe Bulletin cost-cutting reorganization that resulted in the firing of its four-member editorial staff and its business manager. Even then, the diocese had said the paper could close, noting it had lost money in 13 of the previous 15 years and that in 1987 it had gone $124,000 in the red.
But in 1990, when its circulation was about 50,000, the Catholic Universe Bulletin mailed two issues, including its Thanksgiving issue, to all 275,000 registered households in the diocese to tout its new design. The mailing was financed by the paper, as it received no subsidy from the diocese.
Cleveland was also the last home for Catholic Major Markets, a national advertising service for the Catholic press jointly owned by more than 20 diocesan papers until it closed in 1990.