By Barb Arland-Fye
On the steps of St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh, following Mass celebrating the centennial of the Catholic Press Association, my colleagues and I were absorbed with our electronic communication devices.
What better way to wait for a bus than to send a text message to someone, call a friend or family member or check email? The technological revolution is moving at a dizzying speed and we communicators pride ourselves on adaptability. But we’d just spent the past couple of days at the annual Catholic Media Convention trying to figure out how to remain relevant to a broad audience of Catholics — those who read newspapers, those who visit websites and Facebook and those who get their news from a variety of media.
Our workshop presenters advised us to become proficient at what essentially amounts to juggling — publishing newspapers that meet the needs of informed and enlightened Catholics while also providing daily engaging, interactive faith-based communication on our websites, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. And, oh, by the way, with the same level of staffing or less than when we were publishing newspapers only.
Was it easier for my predecessors 100 years ago — in the days before the Internet, television, and even regular radio broadcasting? Apparently not, according to a history of the Catholic Press Association (CPA) produced for the organization’s centennial.
Edward Cooney of The Providence Visitor opened the CPA’s first meeting in 1911 “outlining the aims and purposes a professional association of Catholics ought to pursue: publicizing news of Catholic interest, securing national advertising, combating the evil influence of some parts of the secular press and agitating against higher postal rates for religious publications,” wrote Jim Doyle, the CPA’s executive director from 1958-1988.
The Catholic journalists of that day recognized the need for collaboration, if their own publications were to thrive. Doyle cited Father Peter Blessing, also of The Providence Visitor, who observed at that first CPA meeting: “Throughout the length and breadth of the land there is resounding a clarion call from an interested and intelligent laity for greater knowledge of what the Church is doing and the reason why she is persecuted. The world is girded with information and in every place there are men well equipped to find and send us the truth. Are we big and broad enough to join forces to take advantage of these modern means that lie within our reach?”
One hundred years later, we the successors of these Catholic journalists had gathered in Pittsburgh to ponder questions about how to “take advantage of these modern means that lie within our reach.”
While writing this column, I received a phone call to cancel a subscription for a woman living in a nursing home who is no longer able to read. My staff and I have been exploring the possibility of providing an audio version of The Catholic Messenger to people just like this woman. We’re looking at “modern means” to be able to accomplish this goal at a reasonable cost.
Striving to tailor The Catholic Messenger to the diversified communication needs and desires of Catholics throughout the Davenport Diocese and beyond is exciting and challenging. This is no time to write the obituary on the diocesan newspaper. I was especially encouraged with remarks Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik made during a panel discussion June 23 at the Catholic Media Convention. While noting the importance of using every means of social communication available today, Bishop Zubik said it is incumbent upon the bishops and the Church to maintain a vital Catholic print presence.
It is through his diocesan newspaper, the Pittsburgh Catholic, that Bishop Zubik reaches the people of the Pittsburgh Diocese on a regular basis. “A Catholic newspaper today is not a luxury. It is a necessity.”
However the Catholic Press Association evolves, journalists will always be needed to share the Church’s story and put it into context for each generation of Catholics. Collaboration remains our ticket to success.