Typical readers of The Catholic Spirit are:
• Committed Catholics who regularly practice their faith.
• Active volunteers.
• Regular donors to both their parish and to charities.
• And, according to researchers, they hold their archdiocesan newspaper “in high regard.”
They read The Catholic Spirit consistently, spending on average 35 minutes with each issue. They say their Catholic newspaper helps them understand church teachings and provides information other news sources do not.
Those are among the findings of the most recent survey of those who receive the print version of The Catholic Spirit.
The survey, conducted by Stillwater-based Readex Research, sampled 1,425 randomly selected households from The Catholic Spirit mailing list. The survey generated a 35 percent response rate. The response yielded a margin of error of + or – 4 percent, resulting in a 95 percent confidence level.
Valuable tool for the church
It’s heartening to see these kinds of results because they confirm that The Catholic Spirit continues to play a valuable role in the lives of Catholics in our community.
Pastors and parishes that make the newspaper possible can look at these findings and be assured that funds spent on getting The Catholic Spirit into the homes of their parishioners is money well-spent. People are reading The Catholic Spirit, they are being kept connected to their faith with this reminder that comes in their mailbox, and they are being informed about their faith and inspired to better live it.
What’s more, the readership study shows that The Catholic Spirit motivates its readers.
When you see that two out of three readers say they’ve taken at least one action as a result of reading articles or columns in The Catholic Spirit, you can’t help but see the benefit to our parishes and to Catholic ministries.
Findings in the 2011 survey, conducted Oct. 5 through Nov. 18, are very similar to results from surveys Readex did of The Catholic Spirit mailing lists in both 2006 and 2003.
As they have in the past, more than half of survey respondents said they pick up a copy more than once before they are finished reading it.
More than half say they discuss with others items they’ve read about in The Catholic Spirit.
One-in-four pass on to others an article they’ve read.
However, there is food for thought in the survey results.
The average age of The Catholic Spirit readers who responded to the survey jumped from 62.1 to 64.8. The percentage of respondents under age 44 slipped, while the percentage of those over age 45 grew.
There is a message in that statistic: Catholic Spirit readership is aging — not unlike the membership of many of our parishes. The question is, is the web the answer to reach the younger crowd? Everyone in publishing is after the answer.
Working at web solutions
Lord knows we’re trying to find the answer, too.
TheCatholicSpirit.com continues to be updated to better serve the needs of those who want to use a computer, a tablet or a smartphone to access Catholic news and information. Analytics our staff watches closely show that, on average, some 5,000 people (unique visitors) come to TheCatholicSpirit.com every week.
This latest readership survey showed that print readers who ever visited TheCatholicSpirit.com jumped from 5 percent in 2007 to 13 percent in 2011. But tellingly, 83 percent of print readers had not visited The Catholic Spirit’s website.
To reach the audience that isn’t reading the print version and isn’t likely to go to TheCatholicSpirit.com either, we launched another website back in August.
CatholicHotdish.com delivers information and inspiration with a less-formal style and via a growing cadre of blogs on all kinds of interests. It’s been capturing an average of just better than 1,500 unique visitors every week.
But — and this is the important “but.”
Earlier this year the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University did an exhaustive study of the media habits of Catholics.
A major finding was that current readers of print Catholic publications like their printed Catholic news and aren’t likely to use the web to read that content.
An even more significant finding was that, although younger people are going to the web for all kinds of reasons, they aren’t going to Catholic or other religious websites.
Hard row to hoe
CARA researcher Mark Gray put it this way: Print media may be changing, but it is not going away, and it still remains the best means of communicating with those who are the most active, the most committed and the most generous of your flock.
In Gray’s words: “Putting something online is not the same as getting something on someone’s coffee table, front porch, or even in their mailbox. The Internet is a much more vast space and is navigated by search and social network. You can’t force people to consume your content. You may not even get it on their screen unless they are interested in it and looking for it.”
At The Catholic Spirit, our approach is to continue to make all the staff produces — print and web — useful, attractive and vital no matter people’s preference for how the content is delivered.
But if the CARA study accurately describes the Catholic media situation where younger people are concerned, we’ve got our work cut out for us.
Bob Zyskowski is associate publisher of The Catholic Spirit.