On Oct. 5, 1889, the Catholic Journal — the newspaper now known as the Catholic Courier — published its first edition. In the nearly 115 years since, the publication has gone through numerous name and format changes, with one more on the way. In April, the existing Courier will be replaced with two new publications — a monthly newsmagazine and a four-page weekly newsletter — plus a vastly expanded Web site.
Catholic Courier Monthly — which will be launched during Holy Week — will contain at least 40 pages each edition and will be mailed to every Catholic home in the diocese for which the diocese has a valid address. The Catholic Courier Weekly — to be launched the weekend of Palm Sunday, April 3-4 — will be produced in three customized versions, one for each of the diocese’s three regions: Southern Tier, Finger Lakes and Monroe/Livingston areas. Catholic Courier.com, the paper’s existing Web site, will again be expanded to feature all stories that appear in Courier print editions as well as breaking news and some Web-only feature content.
The interrelationships among the three products will enable the Courier to be more timely in its news reporting, even as the core publication is transformed into a monthly, according to Karen M. Franz, the Courier‘s general manager and editor in chief.
The Catholic Courier Monthly will be printed on a heavier, bright-white newsprint and will offer the same level of high-quality, full-color photography that has appeared in this newspaper since October 2002. It will feature background and analysis of news of interest to Catholics, as well as "Faith and Family" feature stories, Catholic columnists and Bishop Matthew H. Clark’s "Along the Way" columns.
The bishop’s columns also will appear on the Web site and in the weekly newsletters, which will feature region-specific news and feature stories, calendars of events, obituaries and advertisements. Occasionally, news that is especially relevant to the entire diocese will appear in all three editions of the Catholic Courier Weekly.
These changes are necessary in order to make the Catholic Courier a more user-friendly publication, according to Father Joseph A. Hart, diocesan vicar general, moderator of the Pastoral Center and vice president of the Rochester Catholic Press Association Inc., which publishes the Courier.
"The change is (being made) because we’ve changed," Father Hart said, noting that many people no longer get all their news in traditional ways. "It seems (the Web) is one of the waves of the future we ought to ride," he said.
Discussion first began about the change several years ago, according to Father Hart. At that time, Bishop Clark announced that, as part of the diocese’s new strategic communications plan, he wanted the Courier to be on the "kitchen table of every Catholic household in the diocese." The bishop appointed an ad hoc committee to look for ways of making the Courier a more efficient communications vehicle, Father Hart said.
"Everyone who tells a story tells it from his or her own perspective," he said. "The bishop really wants Catholics to understand it from the religious perspective, from the Catholic perspective. When a story breaks and the local news has only bits and snippets of what’s important, you really want people to turn on their computer and go to www.CatholicCourier.com and find what they’re looking for."
Father Hart said he hopes that the bigger, brighter and more colorful look of the Catholic Courier Monthly will "allow this paper to sit around for a while … much like a magazine. When it sits around, it’s more thoroughly read."
Along with news and analysis, the Catholic Courier Monthly also will include a broader range of feature material, including "Faith Alive!," a syndicated adult faith-formation package; a Catholic crossword puzzle; sports features; and articles aimed at helping Catholics live their faith in today’s society. The monthly paper also will include a greater number and variety of columnists.
Later this year, a Spanish-language version of the Catholic Courier Weekly will be launched, Franz said. This edition will include local, national and international news of interest to Spanish-speaking members of the diocese.
The Courier is currently read by approximately 90,000 people in 45,000 subscriber households, according to Franz, who added that more than 250,000 people in approximately 130,000 subscriber households will read the Courier come April.
Printing and postage savings produced by the switch to monthly frequency will enable the Courier to afford sending the paper to almost three times as many subscribers, Father Hart said. Franz added that increased advertising sales are also expected to help pay for the change. The dramatic readership increase in the Catholic Courier Monthly will make it more attractive to larger advertisers, she said, while the ability to target readers in the three diocesan regions will make the Catholic Courier Weekly appealing to smaller, regional businesses.
"Advertisers, both current and prospective, have indicated that they favor the versatility of the monthly, weekly and Web-site venues. There has been much positive feedback regarding the increased size and quality of the paper and the quantum leap in circulation, allowing advertisers to reach three times as many readers," said Daniel Zollo, the Courier‘s advertising director.
Historically, about 30 percent of the Courier‘s revenue has come from advertising sales, while 70 percent has come from subscriptions, Franz added, noting that this pattern is common throughout the Catholic press. Parishes pay for about 90 percent of the Courier‘s subscriptions through a program of mandated circulation, another staple of the Catholic press, Franz said. An agreement made in the early 1980s between Bishop Clark and the diocesan Priests’ Council stipulated that parishes were to pay to provide the Courier for 50 percent of their parishioner households.
"A program implemented in January 2002 is gradually moving under-quota parishes up to the 50-percent level, but this plan will not increase parish billing above that point," Franz said. "In fact, parishes that have been paying to provide the Courier to more than 50 percent of their parishioners actually will experience a decline in Courier billings effective in July 2004."
Bishop Clark said he is looking forward to the changes the Courier will undergo in the coming months.
"I am very excited about the changes coming for the Catholic Courier," Bishop Clark said. "I hope all Catholics will take this opportunity to learn more about the ministries of the local church and use the newspaper’s many new features to teach their children and further educate themselves about their faith. I believe the weekly bulletin insert, the dynamic and improved Web presence and the expanded monthly edition will enable us all to better keep pace with the issues and opportunities ahead."
The coming changes represent the Courier‘s dedication to meeting the communication needs of parishioners, Father Hart said.
"We’ll keep exploring to find the ways that people want to receive information from us. We’ll keep our ear to the ground and keep updating to meet the needs of our diocese," he said.