Catholic media adapt to challenges of changing landscape - Catholic Courier
A closeup of a video camera.

The Catholic Courier films a Holy Week Mass April 7, 2020, at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. (Courier file photo)

Catholic media adapt to challenges of changing landscape

In recent months, the Diocese of Rochester has seen an uptick in the number of men expressing interest in becoming diocesan priests, according to Father William Coffas, one of four priests on the diocesan Priesthood Vocations Awareness Team. Father Coffas attributed this rising interest to two factors, the first being the power of prayer.

The second factor, he said, is a series of nine videos the Catholic Courier produced last spring at the suggestion of Bishop Salvatore R. Matano and in collaboration with the vocations awareness team. The series profiles the vocational journeys and current ministries of nine priests and one seminarian, featuring clips of several diocesan priests talking about the need for more men to say yes to God’s call.

Combined, the videos have been viewed more than 13,800 times on YouTube, with some of those views even coming from outside of the United States, according to the Courier’s marketing manager, Heidi Huntington.

They have clearly resonated with young men, Father Coffas noted.

“The net has been cast in a broader way,” he said, observing that the Called to Priesthood video series is a perfect example of how the Catholic Courier can be used as an evangelization tool.

Rochester Catholic Press Association publishes Catholic Courier and multiple digital offerings

The Catholic Courier is published by the Rochester Catholic Press Association, a nonprofit corporation whose mission is to serve as the conduit for timely, compelling and trustworthy information about the Catholic Church and faith, as well as the Rochester Diocese, local parishes and their charitable activities.

“We use digital, print and social media to support lifelong faith formation,” explained Jim Redmond, chair of the Editorial Committee of the RCPA’s Board of Directors.

Now in its 135th year, the printed Courier is mailed to nearly 92,000 homes 10 times each year. But in the last two decades, the RCPA has adopted a range of new ways to reach out to Catholics, said Redmond, a former reporter for both the Democrat and Chronicle and 13-WHAM news.

The Courier’s website, which was established in 1996, is now updated three or four times each week. New content is posted frequently on the Courier’s Facebook and Instagram pages and YouTube channel, and three distinct email newsletters are sent each week to a combined total of more than 14,000 subscribers, noted Redmond, who retired in 2021 after nearly 23 years as vice president of communications and community investments for Excellus BCBS.

“We want to make sure we’re making it easy for people to access our content,” added Jane Sutter-Brandt, RCPA’s corporate treasurer and chair of the Finance Committee of its Board of Directors.

Use of RCPA’s digital offerings grows, yet readers still value print

The RCPA’s expansion into digital media mirrors national trends in both Catholic as well as secular media, noted Rob DeFrancesco, executive director of the Catholic Media Association, which represents more than 600 Catholic publications in the United States and Canada. Many Catholic media outlets now offer blogs, social media pages and podcasts in addition to their traditional newspapers or magazines, he said.

“Different types of people have different preferences on how and when they want the news, how they want to be connected with their bishop, their parish community, the universal church and the Holy Father,” DeFrancesco said.

More than 40 percent of Catholics prefer a printed diocesan publication to an online-only publication and said they would be upset if their dioceses stopped producing their print publications, according to a June 2023 study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

Those findings echo results of a June 2021 survey of Catholic Courier readers, in which more than two-thirds of respondents said it was important to preserve the Courier’s print edition, and more than half opposed the idea of reducing or eliminating print editions in favor of digital offerings.

Yet the CARA study also found that 45 percent of adult Catholics had watched a religious or spiritual video online in the previous three months, compared to just 18 percent who had done so in 2005. Meanwhile, 23 percent of respondents in the CARA survey said the internet and social media were their primary sources for religious content.

More readers than ever before likewise are flocking to the Courier’s online offerings, Redmond remarked, citing as examples the Called to Priesthood videos and the Courier’s recent “Mass Matters” social media series.

“Mass Matters” featured videos of parishioners talking — and graphics with other parishioners’ written responses — about why they go to Mass. It reached approximately 40,000 users on Facebook and Instagram, Redmond said, noting that the Mass and priesthood series each also garnered thousands of views on the Courier’s website, which experienced a 21 percent increase in users between 2022 and 2023.

“In 2022, there were 371,745 users. In 2023, that number jumped to 448,235,” he added.

Rising costs, shrinking revenue plague media outlets

Yet the overall media industry has been beset by numerous challenges in recent years, and the Catholic press is not immune to those challenges, noted Sutter-Brandt, who worked in secular newspapers for 33 years. The expansion of technology has given advertisers an abundance of ways to reach consumers directly, leading to decreased revenue for many newspapers and other media outlets, she said.

And although media companies can sell online ad space, digital ads are much less profitable than print ads due to the abundance of online ad inventory, Redmond said.

“The adage in the news business is that print media pays in dollars. Digital media pays in dimes,” he said.

Distributing printed newspapers also has become much more expensive in recent years, with postal rates rising 35 percent between January 2021 and July 2023 and more rate hikes on the horizon, he said. Paper costs also have risen, as have the costs for health-insurance plans, Redmond noted.

“We in the Rochester Diocese are extremely fortunate because we have our bishop, our parish priests and our parishioners who see the value in the content that is produced by the Rochester Catholic Press Association … and they are willing to provide much of the revenue that we need to operate the newspaper and the website,” Sutter-Brandt said.

The RCPA has been very diligent about keeping its costs as low as possible and is looking for new ways to generate money — such as applying for grants — to relieve some of the parishes’ burden, Redmond noted.

“We’re very grateful for their support,” he said.

Tags: Faith in Action
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