The Catholic Weekly in Saginaw, the Catholic Times in Lansing and the Catholic Weekly in Gaylord all published their final issue Jan. 1.
While the papers were authorized by their respective dioceses they were published by a nonprofit corporation, GLS Diocesan Reports Inc. — the initials take the first letter of each of the dioceses — which too will shut its doors.
Seven full- and part-time employees will lose their jobs as a result of the closings, said Mark Myczkowiak, general manager of the newspapers and president of the nonprofit’s board of trustees. “We’re completely closing up,” he said.
Myczkowiak told Catholic News Service in a Jan. 14 telephone interview from Saginaw that the dioceses were aware of the papers’ precarious financial condition.
“We talked to them throughout the year, we were in communication with them early in 2015 telling them we were reaching a critical state, asking for input or direction. Our fiscal year ending June 30, I knew it was going to be tight that our reserves were going to be about gone. We lost money in nine of the last 10 years,” he said.
“Our reserves were completely exhausted this (past) year. Our board of directors didn’t want to give up quite that easily. We continued discussing things with the dioceses, and looking for some Catholic-friendly publishers on a larger scale that might take us over,” but to no avail, Myczkowiak said. “It was a last-gasp thing. We rejuvenated those efforts in the fall, and in early December, our board said OK, it’s time to give it up.”
If dioceses have alternate plans to keep the lay faithful informed with the papers’ demise, “they haven’t (said anything) to me,” he added. “We were getting a lot of calls and a lot of emails asking the same thing. People are going to miss us. How are they going to get the same information we provided? I know the Gaylord Diocese is working toward an edition of Faith magazine. Saginaw does that, and it’s only four times a year. It doesn’t really replace what we do.”
The first paper created was in Saginaw, after the diocese’s founding bishop asked Father Neil O’Connor, a diocesan priest, to start one — but without diocesan funding. “He had some family money,” Myczkowiak told CNS. After the Saginaw paper got up and running, the Lansing Diocese asked the priest to start a paper there. And when the Gaylord Diocese was created in 1971 “editions popped up there,” he said. A fourth paper serving the Diocese of Kalamazoo closed in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the nonprofit also produced a quarterly journal, Seasons, for the Saginaw Diocese.
The Michigan papers continued to publish weekly; Myczkowiak said subscription and advertising revenue losses would have more than claimed any savings achieved. The papers did shift from a broadsheet to a tabloid format in 2007 to cut costs.
Extensive parish closings in Saginaw over the past three years contributed to the papers’ losses. Even when parishes on a “parish plan” subscription merged, according to Myczkowiak, revenue from the merged parishes tended only to equal that of the larger merger partner. Nor were parishes obligated by any of the three dioceses to participate in such a plan. At the end, the papers, acknowledging their financial straits, accepted six-month subscriptions, but Myczkowiak said loyal readers continued to sign up for a full year.
Myczkowiak had worked for the papers for 34 years, starting by selling ads and working his way up to assistant editor. His retiring boss had recommended that Myczkowiak succeed him when Father O’Connor died, prompting the creation of the nonprofit and a reorganized leadership structure.