Just two months after The Compass launched its redesigned website, which features more content, photos and social media offerings, a study by researchers at Georgetown University says more active Catholics are getting their Catholic news from print than from online sources.
The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, based at Georgetown University, presented findings from their latest survey of Catholics Oct. 10. Melissa Cidade, director of pastoral assistance surveys and services, and Mark Gray, director of Catholic polls, spoke to Catholic editors attending the Catholic News Service-Catholic Press Association Liaison Committee meeting at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops headquarters in Washington, D.C. I attended the meeting, representing diocesan newspaper editors from Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri.
The CARA report included other information, such as factors behind U.S. parish closings (fewer priests and population shifts were the main reasons), but most of the discussion focused on church communication.
According to CARA, the most widely used communication tool in the U.S. church is the parish bulletin.
“More Catholics tell us they read the parish bulletin to get information than anything else, including those who don’t go to Mass,” said Gray. That assumes they read the bulletin on the parish website.
Diocesan newspapers and magazines are the second-most popular source of Catholic news and information, according to the researchers. They said that one in four Catholics have read a printed edition of their diocesan newspaper in the last three months and that eight in 10 readers rate their diocesan newspaper as good or excellent.
Just 13 percent of U.S. Catholics who attend Mass on a weekly basis say that they use the Internet to get news from Catholic websites and blogs. Seventeen percent view religious materials on YouTube.
“Even most Catholics would prefer a funny cat video to a religious video,” Gray observed.
The figures presented by Cidade and Gray were surprising and challenging. For the last decade, Catholic publications have been mobilizing their time and talents to offer news and information online. Now they are told that active Catholics, both young and old, still prefer the printed word.
“We put an enormous amount of effort into our websites,” said Rob DeFrancesco, CPA president and associate publisher of The Catholic Sun, newspaper of the Phoenix Diocese. “I would say … when the rubber hits road, it’s still the print edition that reaches many more Catholics. That’s something to think about when using our limited resources.”
So should Catholic newspapers rethink their strategy for communicating electronically? Should they cut back on web and social media content? Not at all. It’s important to note that the CARA report surveyed Catholics who attend Mass. As we know, many people who consider themselves Catholic do not attend Mass regularly. Others do not attend church or have left the church. It is these people, the fallen-away, those on the outskirts, who need to be evangelized. These people probably don’t have access to a diocesan newspaper. They do have access to computers. If the Spirit moves them, they may happen upon The Compass website and be inspired by what they see or read.
So, while it’s edifying to know the print edition is still relevant, electronic communication will continue as an important evangelization tool.