Persons, places and things: Good news for Catholic newspapers


By Barb Arland-Fye


College journalists huddle in their office on campus at St. Ambrose University in Davenport to discuss story ideas for The Buzz, the university’s student-produced bi-monthly newspaper. I sit in on one of their planning sessions — on Monday — at the invitation of Alan Sivell, their advisor and news director in the university’s communication department.
My goal, I tell the journalists, is to foster collaboration between The Buzz and The Catholic Messenger and to encourage the students in their pursuit of journalism as a career. “We need young people like you to contribute stories to The Catholic Messenger, to help inspire our readers,” I say. “Our readers want to know what’s important to you as students at St. Ambrose.”
Our society is in the midst of a technological revolution, perhaps comparable to the industrial revolution in terms of impact. Whatever changes occur in delivery of print and digital news, our world will always need capable journalists to provide news that is balanced, accurate, informative and insightful. I share that message with the journalists. It is a conviction that has guided my career for 33 years.
“What kind of stories are you looking for?” Alan asks. “Stories that inspire readers, convey information about people making a difference in the lives of others, and that motivate readers,” I say.
Naturally, because The Catholic Messenger is a Catholic diocesan newspaper, our focus is on stories with a faith element. These stories might tie into social justice, stewardship of the earth and respect for life, among other issues.
Tom Prior, editor-in-chief of The Buzz, expresses enthusiasm about collaboration.  Tom is a senior majoring in radio/TV production, journalism and theology, with a minor in Catholic studies. He’s worked at The Buzz for four years and said he gladly accepted the editor-in-chief position for 2013-14.
I share with Tom and the other student journalists a desire to participate in some future planning sessions as we work on practical details of collaboration. Leaving their offices in Cosgrove Hall, I can’t help but reflect on a positive article about Catholic newspapers that appeared Oct. 11 on the Catholic News Service wire.
Carol Zimmerman’s report says “The most widely used communication tool in the Catholic Church is the church bulletin, followed by a diocesan newspaper or magazine — in print form — which one in four adult Catholics have read in the past three months.”
Researchers from Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) provided that finding and others to a group of editors in Washington, D.C., attending a Catholic Press Association /Catholic News Service Liaison Committee meeting Oct. 10.
Catholic Press Association President Rob DeFrancesco said the study affirms the good work the Catholic press is doing and also highlights the work they still have cut out for them in balancing print and online efforts, Zimmerman wrote.
DeFrancesco said “the study reveals how ‘younger Catholics are not clamoring for news online’ — which could be disheartening to Catholic journalists who focus on their online product, but also needs to be balanced with the finding that one in four Catholics overall have read a diocesan newspaper recently — primarily in print — and eight in 10 readers described these papers as excellent.”
DeFrancisco is editor and associate publisher of the award-winning Catholic Sun, newspaper of the Phoenix Diocese. I appreciate the depth of his understanding of readers’ interests pertaining to their Church.
The CARA report provides optimism about the future of Catholic newspapers. Collaboration with the St. Ambrose students, the next generation of journalists, can only build on that optimism.

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