CCN PHOTO | DEBORAH GYAPONG
Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith has announced the integration of the WCR with the archdiocesan communications department.
The Western Catholic Reporter will undergo the most extensive changes in its nearly 50-year history in January.
The WCR will change from a weekly to a biweekly newspaper, publishing 24 issues a year, instead of the current 44, and will require readers across the Edmonton Archdiocese to pay a $30-a-year subscription fee in order to receive the newspaper.
Since 1973, subscriptions for members of parishes within the archdiocese have been paid for by the parishes. Parishes are currently assessed an amount based on their ability to pay – five per cent of their Sunday collection – and then place all parishioners who want to receive the newspaper on the WCR's subscription list.
As of January 2014, the parish assessment plan will come to an end. Those who want to receive the WCR will have to pay $30 a year directly to the newspaper.
The newspaper is not going away; people will still be able to receive it if they subscribe for the $30 fee.
As well, the WCR will launch a new online version of the newspaper in the coming months. It will be available on a free trial basis at first after which readers who want to read the online version will pay $15 a year (only $10 if they also have a print subscription).
Local stories and columnists published in the newspaper will still be available at no cost on the WCR's website – www.wcr.ab.ca.
Those who wish to purchase a subscription can do so by using the envelope contained with this week's newspaper, by phoning the newspaper at 780-424-1557 or making the purchase online through the WCR website, www.wcr.ab.ca.
In an interview, Archbishop Richard Smith said the money going to the WCR from the parishes has always been "managed exceptionally well. The WCR from Day One has always exercised good financial stewardship."
Smith, the newspaper's publisher, said when he became archbishop of Edmonton he was happy to inherit the WCR. He also launched an archdiocesan communications department to manage relations with local media and to examine other ways of conveying the Gospel.
However, while communications is a main priority, it was now accounting for one-third of the archdiocese's expenditures, he said. "The amount of funds involved in this are out of proportion."
The WCR will now receive a direct grant from the archdiocese capped at $350,000 a year and will seek new ways to fund its operations, such as the subscription model, he said.
Further, the archbishop said, "We want our whole communication message to be as integrated as possible."
As well as providing news, the archdiocese needs to convey teaching that forms people in the faith and reflective analysis that provides a context for assessing current events in the light of faith, he said.
Popes Benedict XVI and Francis have encouraged the Church to be involved in the rapidly developing social media "where so many, especially of our young people, receive their information," the archbishop said.
Thus, there is a need to integrate the archdiocese's news vehicles, he said. "The WCR remains in its integrity as a newspaper," but will be part of the communications department.
Smith said he has entrusted the communications department, under its director Lorraine Turchansky, along with WCR editor Glen Argan and the newspaper's staff, "to give serious thought, prayer and reflection to an integrated (communications) plan for the archdiocese."
The WCR's board of directors, necessary when the newspaper was a separate corporate entity, has been wound up, he said.
The archbishop paid tribute to the dedication of board members who devoted a considerable amount of time and their personal talents to the governance of the newspaper. "They have been a source of edification to me."
Board members also spoke strongly for the many people who desire to receive Catholic news in a print form, he said. "That's a message I have heard loud and clear."
The WCR will launch a new digital edition to go along with its website, he said. "It's a new world in which we find ourselves and the Church wants to be there; the popes have certainly called us to be there."
While the WCR's parish assessment reached thousands of people who are not weekly church attenders, the archbishop said the challenge of the new evangelization is to find new ways to reach out to people and invite them back to the church. The most effective means of evangelization is person-to-person.
"Pope Francis is calling us in no uncertain terms to grasp fully what it means to be baptized and to own what it means to be a disciple," he said. Being a disciple includes being a missionary. "We have to be reaching out" to members of our families and people who live in our neighbourhoods.
The WCR also has many readers who do not belong to a parish in the Edmonton Archdiocese and who have always paid the newspaper directly for their subscriptions.
People in that category who now subscribe to the WCR will have their subscriptions extended to account for the decreased number of issues per year.
It is expected, however, that each edition of the newspaper – most of which are now between 16 and 24 pages – will increase in size to include a greater amount of news and opinion articles.
The decrease in the number of issues will mean a significant decrease in the amount spent on mailing the newspaper, which in the last fiscal year ate up 45 per cent of the WCR's $1.5-million budget.
Catholics in the Edmonton Archdiocese have had a weekly newspaper since 1923 when the Western Catholic was founded.
The Western Catholic was closed and replaced with the Western Catholic Reporter in 1965; the WCR strives to reflect the vision of the Church that grew out of the Second Vatican Council.