The Catholic Courier has improved in quality in the past five years and is an important community resource that provides information readers can’t get from any other source, according to the results of a recent readership survey.
Respondents to the survey indicated their satisfaction with the Courier’s digital offerings, but also said they’d like to continue receiving printed issues.
The survey was conducted during May and June as a means of gauging readers’ satisfaction with the printed newspaper and its electronic variations, and to help the newspaper’s staff and board of directors make decisions about future initiatives. Respondents accessed the online survey via the Courier’s website, the Courier eNews, or its Facebook and Twitter pages.
Survey questions addressed readers’ quality perceptions of both printed and electronic versions of the Courier and assessed their Internet, social media, e-reading and e-newsletter usage. The survey also asked whether readers were satisfied with the Courier’s coverage in a variety of areas.
"We hadn’t done any readership research since shortly after the Courier’s print edition switched to monthly frequency in 2004, and that survey obviously didn’t address lots of changes — both in the Courierand in media in general — that have taken place in the intervening years," said Karen M. Franz, the newspaper’s general manager/editor. "So as we begin developing a new strategic plan for the next several years, organizers of the planning process wanted to get some feedback from readers on how we’re doing at this point and on what readers are looking for from us in the future."
The majority of the survey’s respondents, 64.5 percent, said they reside in Monroe County, with 5.6 percent living in Ontario County and 5.4 percent living in Wayne County. The diocese’s other nine counties each tallied respondent percentages between 0.4 and 4.9 percent. About 4 percent of respondents said they lived outside of the Diocese of Rochester.
Franz noted that the geographic distribution of survey respondents roughly corresponds to the distribution of subscribers to the Courier’sprint edition.
Approximately 80 percent of survey respondents said the Courier provides information they can’t get from any other source, and 76.9 percent said they believe the Courier is an important local resource. Meanwhile, 69.5 percent said they believe the Courier has improved in the last five years, and 87.9 percent said they enjoy reading the Courier. The majority also said reading the Courier helps them learn about their church and faith (77.4 percent) and be connected to the universal church (77.8 percent).
Sixty percent of the survey’s respondents said reading the Courier encourages them to participate in parish and diocesan events, and 47.5 percent said reading the paper encourages them to donate to their parish, the diocese or other charitable causes.
Just over 56 percent said they read the Courier’s ads, and 42.4 percent said those ads influence which businesses they patronize. According to the survey, most readers spend approximately 34 minutes reading the Courier, and 74.9 percent of respondents said they spend more than 20 minutes reading each edition. Also, 63.4 percent of survey respondents said they keep a typical print issue of the Courier in their homes for at least a week, and the average reader keeps the Courier around for approximately 11 days, the survey indicated. By comparison, a similar 2004 survey found that 53.6 percent of respondents kept the Courier for at least a week.
The majority of respondents indicated that they were satisfied with the Courier’s level of coverage on most topics, including news involving Bishop Matthew H. Clark and the Diocese of Rochester, Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican, content for children and teens, and book and movie reviews. Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they’d like to see more coverage of issues facing the church and society, and 53.4 percent said they’d like more coverage of Catholic teaching and doctrine. More than 56 percent said they’d like to see more coverage of local news and events from their own parishes and regions.
Meanwhile, 86.6 percent of respondents said they always or usually read articles in the Courier’s Local News section, which is the A section of the printed Courierand focuses on diocesan, national and international news. Yet only 51.6 percent of respondents said they always or usually read the Courier’s Regional Life sections, which focus on events — mostly parish-related — in the Finger Lakes, Southern Tier or Monroe/Livingston regions.
"When you combine data on respondents’ request for more parish/regional coverage with their greater tendency to read the A section than the Regional Life sections, it appears we may be doing a poor job of letting people know where to find the parish-based coverage they want," Franz said. "That’s something for us to work on in the future."
Just over 70 percent of respondents said they always or usually read Bishop Clark’s "Along the Way" column; 62.3 percent always or usually read about national and international news; and 57.2 percent always or usually read the Faith & Family section, which is the B section in the printed Courier. Just over 61 percent read the letters to the editor, and 51.4 percent read the columnists.
Thirty-one percent of respondents said they never visit the Courier’s website, but 20.3 percent said they visit the site at least once a week. Of those who visit the site, 53.2 percent said they do so to read articles that are highlighted in the weekly Courier eNews electronic newsletter. Many (47.5 percent) also said they visit the site to learn more about local news that breaks between the Courier’s monthly print editions, and 37.8 percent said they do so for exclusive Web-only content, such as Bishop Clark’s weekly column, blogs and videos.
Satisfaction with the Courier’s website runs high among respondents who said they visit the site at least once a year (68.9 percent). Ninety-one percent of these respondents said the site is attractive; 82 percent said they are able to find what they’re looking for on the site, and 51 percent said www.CatholicCourier.com is among the best Catholic websites they visit.
More than 61 percent of respondents who visit the website said they also receive the weekly Courier eNewsvia e-mail. Local news and features were among the most widely read articles in the Courier eNews, followed by Bishop Clark’s weekly column and other national and international church news. Approximately 73 percent of eNewsrecipients said that they click at least one of the newsletter’s links each week to read full articles on the website.
Nearly 36 percent of the survey’s respondents said they do not use social media, but 60.5 percent said they use Facebook, 24.7 percent use LinkedIn and 9.7 percent use Twitter. More than 25 percent of respondents said they "like" the Catholic Courier on Facebook or follow it on Twitter.
Despite their apparent satisfaction with the Courier’s digital offerings, 76 percent of respondents said they believe it’s important to preserve the Courier’s print edition. Nearly 70 percent of survey respondents said they did not own smartphones (iPhones, Blackberries or Android devices) on which they could read news headlines and articles, and that they had no plans to purchase such devices. Similarly, 72.9 percent said they did not own or plan to purchase any other mobile devices with similar capabilities, such as tablet computers s or e-readers. Of those who do own or plan to purchase such devices, the Amazon Kindle e-reader was the most popular among respondents, with 13.2 percent saying they owned or planned to purchase one; 10.1 percent said they owned or planned to purchase an Apple iPad.
Seventy-two percent of respondents said they were not interested in reading the Courier’s content on a smartphone, tablet or e-reader.
"This statistic isn’t terribly surprising, given that the largest group of survey respondents fell into the 50-65 age group," Franz remarked. "For such people — who are our most engaged current readers — there appears to be little impetus, in the short term, for investing large sums of money to develop mobile apps for the Courier. These readers remain more comfortable consuming news and information in printed form."
"However, we also need to reach out to younger audiences, and data from other surveys clearly shows that younger people increasingly are getting their news on smartphones," she added. "So our strategic plan will need to address ways to attract these younger Catholics, and mobile technology in some form will have to be part of that plan."