By Daniel Conway
The Catholic press is not immune to the diseases which infect the secular newspaper business today. A decline in readership with the resulting fall off in advertising and subscription revenues challenges newspapers and journals everywhere. Diocesan publications are no exception.
That’s why it was sad to read that The Catholic Universe Bulletin, the bi-weekly newspaper published by the Diocese of Cleveland for the past 140 years, will discontinue its print edition in 2015. In his formal announcement Cleveland Bishop Richard G. Lennon said that this regrettable decision was made for financial reasons. The paper has lost money for 13 of the past 15 years, the bishop noted, and its readership has declined from a peak of 125,000 households in the 1960s to around 35,000 today. According to Bishop Lennon, a study group has been formed to explore alternative means of communicating with the 225,000 registered households in the Diocese of Cleveland.
For the past several years, I have served as a member of the Editorial Board for The Record, the weekly newspaper published by the Archdiocese of Louisville. I’ve also had the privilege of writing for other diocesan newspapers in different regions of the United States. The Archdiocese of Louisville is blessed with an award-winning weekly newspaper that is vibrant, financially healthy (in spite of ongoing challenges) and fully dedicated to the mission of the church in Louisville and central Kentucky. Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz serves as publisher of The Record, and he is assisted by a team of outstanding communications professionals who are keenly aware of the newspaper’s critical role in carrying out the work of evangelization. Archdiocesan pastors, parish life coordinators and other pastoral leaders, who have plenty of financial challenges of their own, support The Record by making it available to their parishioners throughout the Archdiocese of Louisville.
The Record is not simply a newspaper, a publication that is printed on newsprint and mailed to Catholics throughout our archdiocese. It is also an instrument of social media with an active website and a strong presence on Twitter and Facebook. Local news complemented by stories of national and international interest are communicated from the unique perspective of our Catholic faith. Editorials and regular columns address contemporary challenges facing the universal church as well as the church in Louisville and central Kentucky.
Could this archdiocese survive without The Record? Of course. Could the archbishop find alternative means of communicating with his people? Yes. Would these alternate means be as effective or successful in carrying out the archdiocese’s mission to proclaim the Good News? I doubt it.
There is no question that the church must continuously examine the effectiveness of its instruments of communication. (Pope Francis dedicated a significant section of his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, to the importance of the homily as an instrument of spreading the Gospel. He also tweets daily!) We must all search for the best ways to use new media in our communications ministry.
But it’s also important to make the case for diversity in communications media in order to reach people “where they are” and in order to take full advantage of the opportunities we now have to inform, inspire and invite our sisters and brothers to experience the joy of the Gospel. In this process, it would be a serious mistake to abandon the primary instrument of communication available to us today, the archdiocesan newspaper.
Am I prejudiced in favor of The Record? Absolutely. Do I have good reasons for praying that this weekly newspaper will remain a vital part of this archdiocese’s ministry for many years to come? I certainly do.
Those who say that print media is a relic of the past are partially correct. Newspapers will never again serve as the exclusive means of communication for society or for the church. Still, there is a strong case to be made for a diocesan newspaper like The Record as an integral part of a diverse, multi-faceted program of evangelization sponsored by the Archdiocese of Louisville as it proclaims the Good News of Jesus Christ to the people of this community and beyond.
I wish my colleagues in the Diocese of Cleveland every success in their search for new ways to reach Catholics in northeastern Ohio. I’m keenly aware of the many obstacles they will face, and I know first-hand the hard work — and financial investment — that will be required. I also know from personal experience at The Record and other diocesan newspapers I have had the privilege of writing for that the work of communicating the Gospel is well worth the sacrifices it demands.
Dan Conway is Senior Vice President for Mission, Identity, and Planning at Marian University in Indianapolis, Ind.