Minnesota Catholic paper starts second century with a head start on reaching audience in the digital world

January 7, 2011

SpiritBlog

(The following is the text from Bob Zyskowski’s talk at The Catholic Spirit newspaper’s 100th anniversary party in downtown Minneapolis Jan. 6. His talk included a seven-minute video that demonstrated the new http://www.TheCatholicSpirit.com)

Many of you know Father John Malone. I see from the chuckles that you do.

Well, Father Malone has a brother named Jim.

Jim Malone came home from the office one day, and before he could get his coat off his wife, Kath, who worked for years in the office at Hill-Murray, said, “Jim, you gotta read this.”

She held out a copy of the Catholic Bulletin to him.

“Could I take my jacket off first,” Jim asked.

“Nope. You gotta read this.”

Turns out a column I’d written had touched Kath, and she had to share it with Jim because she knew it would touch him the same way.

That was more than a few years ago, but touching lives is something that has happened pretty regularly over the last century, thanks to the Catholic Bulletin and its successor, The Catholic Spirit. And we know that because people tell us we touch their lives.

A catechist in Hopkins let us know she uses The Catholic Spirit to prepare teenagers for Confirmation.

A teacher in Woodbury orders 25 copies each school year so that everyone in his class can keep up to date with the news of their church.

A small faith-sharing group in Maplewood — a RENEW group that still meets — uses articles from The Catholic Spirit as discussion starters.

A pastor in Roseville told me at every parish meeting he goes to somebody brings up something they read in The Catholic Spirit.

These are just some of the anecdotes that confirm in my mind a philosophy I’ve pushed our staff to live by: I don’t want The Catholic Spirit to be liberal or conservative – I want it to be useful.

It’s a philosophy that has earned The Catholic Spirit national recognition. Over the past century this newspaper has done tremendous work, but during the past six years The Catholic Spirit has become one of the very best diocesan newspapers in North America. For this medium-size archdiocese out on the prairie to have its Catholic paper named No. 1 four times – and never lower than third – in competition with New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and Baltimore — says a lot about the newspaper, but it says so much about you, our readers – about the excellence you expect from us.

What’s more important than recognition by Catholic journalism judges is that you appreciate what we do. You truly are friends of The Catholic Spirit. Your being here tonight to celebrate with our board and our staff is testament to the fact that you understand the need for our church to communicate in the best possible ways.

There are lots of friends of The Catholic Spirit. We hear from readers all the time that as soon as the paper comes in the mail they read it cover to cover.

But we also get this type of note, and

Stephanie Anderson, sent this, and it’s printed right off a computer screen.

“Being a single mother of two very active and smart kids, I don’t always have the time to read the actual paper when it comes in the mail. It’s nice to be able to read articles online through Facebook.”

While so many of us appreciate holding our reading material in our hands, a growing audience lives in the digital world, and our church must as well.

For us, the future has arrived. TheCatholicSpirit.com this year was named the best diocesan newspaper website.

But we’re not resting. Shortly after we came back from New Orleans with that award in June, our web guru, Craig Berry, told me he was dumping the old site and creating something new. By September that “best website” has been completely revised. As we take a look at it today you’ll get a peek into how The Catholic Spirit is spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ as it begins its second century.

We’ve jumped into social media so that we can touch even more lives. We push out our stories by promoting them on Facebook.

We send an e-newsletter to several thousand folks, giving them the headlines and the gist of stories and a link they can click on to send them right to that story.

And as of yesterday morning, TheCatholicSpirit had 18,540 followers on Twitter. That means that every time we post a story 18,540 people get a tweet with a link to our website.

As Catholic newspapers have for 100 years, Catholic media today – through e-mail and video and smart phones and iPads and Facebook and Twitter and whatever comes out next, as well as through printed publications – will have the same charge:

  • Spread the Gospel and the teachings of the church.
  • Form consciences and values.
  • Deepen spiritual and prayer life.
  • Challenge Catholics to live morally and justly.
  • Connect Catholics to their faith, to their parishes, to their fellow parishioners, to the archdiocese and to the wider church.
  • Report stories that affirm others’ faith and inspire even more noble acts.
  • Celebrate Catholic traditions, strengthen Catholic identity and enliven the Catholic community.

I’ll be honest. There are days when I wish I were five years older and could have retired before all this new technology entered our lives.

But most days I’m excited to be part of this great movement in Catholic journalism. God is giving us a great opportunity to reach and inspire not only those faithful readers of The Catholic Spirit but thousands more who see our work on their computer screens.

It’s a great way to start a second century, don’t you think?

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About Bob Zyskowski

Bob is the Client Products Manager for the Communications Office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A 42-year veteran of the Catholic Press, he is the former Associate Publisher of The Catholic Spirit. You can follow him on twitter or email him at zyskowskir@archspm.org.

View all posts by Bob Zyskowski