Sixty years and counting

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | October 27, 2016

Compass continues to serve diocese

This week’s Compass includes an in-depth story on the diocesan newspaper’s 60th anniversary. It’s a bit of a complicated history, since the official publication of the Diocese of Green Bay has gone through a series of transitions.

If you were old enough to read in the 1960s, you probably recall The Green Bay Register. It was the first of three publications leading up to the present edition you have today. The Register, first edited by Fr. Orville Janssen, served the diocese for 14 years and was part of the Register System of Catholic newspapers around the country.

In 1970, the diocese decided to publish its paper locally and began a new publication called The Spirit. The broadsheet newspaper then morphed into a monthly magazine in 1977, but lasted only one year. For one month, no publication existed.

On Oct. 7, 1978, The Compass debuted and has been published nearly every week since then. (We currently publish 42 times a year.)

Throughout most of its history, the diocesan newspaper has been faced with a circulation challenge. According to a Compass story marking the paper’s 50th anniversary, the Register began with about 20,000 subscribers, climbed to around 56,000 in 1966 and was back down to 23,145 in 1977. Today’s circulation is around 16,500.

Print publications have faced no greater challenge to their existence than the advent of the internet and subsequent online publications. Circulation has dropped across the board and print advertising, which helps support production costs, has seen a steady decrease in most cases.

Secular newspapers have felt the brunt of these changing times (according to Pew Research Center, between 2004 and 2014, 126 daily U.S. newspapers folded), but the sting of the internet has also taken a toll on religious publications. Three Catholic newspapers in Michigan folded last January, and last month the Archdiocese of Edmonton, Alberta’s newspaper, the Western Catholic Reporter, published its final issue.

While publishing a newspaper can be a precarious ministry, many diocesan newspapers continue to thrive — even flourish. In these cases, a number of factors have to be present: A loyal readership, a supportive publisher-bishop, parish leadership that believes in the diocesan newspaper’s mission to form and inform its members, and a hard-working staff that is devoted to their newspaper.

When I think of all the people who play a role in the success of The Compass, I am reminded of a talk Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, formerly bishop of Green Bay, gave at a Catholic Press Association convention in 2011: “Sisters and brothers, a Catholic newspaper today is not a luxury. It is a necessity. And to my mind, at least for the moment, it remains the best vehicle for adult faith formation that we have.”

Bishop David Ricken also echoes his predecessor’s words. In fact, when Bishop Ricken announced the new mission and vision statements for the Diocese of Green Bay last August, he listed nine priorities that are central to these statements. Among the nine priorities: modern-day communication. The Compass is part of the mission and vision of the diocese, and, according to Bishop Ricken, its role — along with other communication tools — will be to “promote the mission of Christ and the church.”

The Compass will work closely with Bishop Ricken to implement this plan. However, it’s important that parishes accept the challenge as well. This means promoting The Compass and encouraging members to subscribe. Next to the parish bulletin, the diocesan newspaper is the most-read Catholic literature by church members. It’s also the least expensive form of adult catechesis.

So while 60 years of non-stop publishing is a major accomplishment, reaching 100 years – through the strong support of pastors, parish and diocesan leaders, people in the pews (your Catholic neighbors) and advertisers – is a goal we can all share together.

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