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Panel Discusses State Of Catholic Periodicals

Heights Staff

Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013 01:02

Panel Discusses State Of Catholic Periodicals

Graham Beck // Heights Editor

“The demographics are frightening,” said Paul Baumann, editor of Commonweal, reflecting on the readership of his magazine. “It’s very … mature, and 98 percent are Catholic.”
Are older individuals the only audience that Catholic magazines still attract, or is there a way to inject fresh blood into their audience? Panelists discussed this question at length on Wednesday evening at “The Future of Catholic Periodicals: Faith, Finances, and the Digital Age,” an event co-sponsored by the Church in the 21st Century Center (C21) and the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life.

Perhaps a primary reason that Catholic periodicals appear less accessible to younger generations, according to the experience of Rev. Matt Malone, S.J., editor-in-chief of America, is that it is no longer safe to make assumptions about their knowledge.

“I was speaking at a parish to people between the ages of 20 and 35, who had all gone to Catholic schools and had 10 to 12 years of CCD, but when we got to the Q&A portion, the questions grew more and more basic,” Malone said. “People asked things like ‘Do you think Muslims are going to Hell?’ when they realized that everyone else in the room was just as ignorant as they were.”
The moderator of the discussion, Tom Roberts, editor-at-large of National Catholic Reporter, had a similar experience with one woman who referred to her perspective on Jesus in terms of “butterflies and rainbows.”
Meinrad Scherer-Emunds, a native of Germany and executive editor of U.S. Catholic, said his publication has a section called “Glad You Asked,” filled with comprehensive answers to basic questions regarding the Catholic faith.

A key strategy has been a shift from pure print media to a more “cross-platform approach,” said Malone, who explained that when they see the articles, the young “do understand, as long as the content is excellent, relevant, and accessible.”
However, that content must be relayed in an understandable form, through “translating theology, ethics, and other topics into language that any reasonably educated reader can understand,” Baumann said.

Between “Glad You Asked” and Scherer-Emunds’s goal of avoiding jargon, Baumann’s goal of being “not authoritative for the church, but open to people of any faiths or no faith,” and Malone’s allusions to St. Ignatius’s innovation in “bringing the order from the outskirts to downtown, at the center of human activity,” all the panelists concurred in the mission of bringing their message to a larger audience.

Roberts asked, “Why does it matter that our periodicals still exist 20 years later?” The panelists noted the importance of the Catholic perspectives they represented.

“The people have a right to know,” Roberts said.

Defining the role of his publication, Baumann said, “Since Catholic periodicals do not always have the reporting resources to get on top of the story, we aim to write more reflectively, to say something that hasn’t already been said, and the issues are often bigger and deeper than the secular media makes them seem.”
“We can’t simply conform to the categories of secular media and politics, when Christianity in itself is radical,” Malone said. “When I told a reporter that the first thing I looked for in the papal election was holiness, he said to me, ‘Father, I can’t write ‘holy!’’”

Erik Goldschmidt, director of C21, said, “The periodicals featured here tonight have each played a key role in thoughtfully framing very critical issues with serious implications for Catholic communities.”

Still, the night was not without lightheartedness. Scherer-Emunds elicited many laughs as he read, “America is read by the people who want to run the Church, National Catholic Reporter is read by the people who don’t want to run the Church, never wanted to run the Church, but want to let the people who are running the Church know how it should be run. Commonweal is read by the people who are entertained by people who run the Church, and like to drop the names at cocktail parties. U.S. Catholic is read by the people who think the lay people are ready to run the Church, and have been ready since the Second Vatican Council.”

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