Catholics steer clear of online media

U.S. Catholics, like readers of the WCR, say they prefer printed newspapers to online versions.

WCR FILE PHOTO

U.S. Catholics, like readers of the WCR, say they prefer printed newspapers to online versions.

October 24, 2011
MARK PATTISON
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – Adult Catholics in the U.S. are reading the printed versions of their diocesan newspapers to a much greater extent than they read the online versions, says a new study.

The study, commissioned by the Catholic Press Association (CPA), showed that 26 per cent of adult Catholics had read a print copy of their diocesan newspaper or magazine in the past three months, but only four per cent had gone to their computer to view the online version of the publication.

The study also revealed that readership of Catholic newspapers has held steady over the past six years, a far cry from the daily newspaper business, which has recorded continuous declines in revenue, readership, advertising and employment.

The CPA study supports the findings of the Western Catholic Reporter's readership survey last year that drew more than 1,800 reader responses.

That survey found that 80 per cent of respondents said the print edition of the WCR is a major source of Church news while only six per cent said the same thing about the newspaper's online version.

Only two per cent of respondents to the WCR survey favoured eventually replacing the print publication with an Internet-only edition. Fifty-five per cent of respondents said they do not have Internet access at home.

PARISH WEBSITES

The CPA study found a marked increase in the percentage of Catholics who visit their parish's website, up from nine per cent in a similar study in 2005 to 14 per cent in the 2011 study.

Both the 2011 and 2005 CPA studies were conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University.

The study gives solid evidence that Catholic newspaper readers are loyal to the print format.

Tim Walter, CPA executive director said CPA leaders have wrestled with how to approach the hypothetical diocesan chief financial officer who would argue that "you can put this newspaper online and we can save a lot of money and it can be just as effective."

"What it verified is that if you take away this print product, you don't have another communications tool to reach them."

YOUNG CATHOLICS

Walter said one surprising aspect of the study was a finding about "millennials," those born in 1982 and later.

"We were more likely to reach them by pushing a print product in their home than by inviting them to come to our website," he said. "If you don't put a print product in the hands of a younger Catholic adult, you have no way of reaching them, because you can't force them to come to your browser."

"Younger folks are really not looking to the Web for religious content," said Karen Franz, editor/general manager of the Catholic Courier, diocesan newspaper of Rochester, N.Y.

The CARA study also showed, Walter said, that Catholics will spend nearly five times as much time perusing a print product than a website – 17 minutes with print vs. three-and-a-half minutes on a website.

NEW PROBLEMS

Franz said the study needs close review by diocesan officials who say, "We'll look to the Web and abandon print and this will solve all our problems." Instead, she added, "it will make some new problems."

Walter said the study provides a snapshot. "This may not hold up as true 10 years from now," he said, "but I was looking for information that would be true for three to five years."

Even so, many Catholic newspapers have established a Web presence and are making forays into social media.

"We have a pretty heavy investment in Facebook and Twitter and what comes next," said Franz. "Justifying all that is tough with staff time and energy is something you have a gut feeling is not paying any dividends.

"We don't know at what point people are going to start looking to the Web or social media for religious content. And we have to be there when that time comes."