Last printed issue of the Western New York Catholic
News reporting will continue despite lack of physical paper
This issue of the Western New York Catholic will be the last printed copy produced by the diocesan Office of Communications. Although we will lose the hardcopy of the paper that traditionally has been read on the ride back home after church, or before Mass, maybe during; the same news will continue to be delivered through the WNYCatholic.org website, as well as social media. The Communications staff did an unexpected test run of the all-digital format this past spring when the coronavirus pandemic prevented the printing of the May and June issues.
The benefits are mostly financial. It cost $130,000 a year to print a standard 48-page paper. That cost is covered by parish assessments and advertising. COVID-19 has limited parish events, which cuts into advertising. Having no Masses or 25 percent capacity Masses, makes those assessments harder to manage. Some might have noticed that the past few issues of the diocesan paper have been a mere 20 pages.
A digital news site will cost only a few thousand dollars a year and allow us to the staff of the diocesan Office of Communications to expand the talents into
video production, podcasts and slideshows, as well as providing the traditional black and white text stories.
“It’s been talked about probably as far back as 2006, when they were merging parishes during the Journey in Faith and Grace,” explained Patrick McPartland, managing editor of the paper. “(The Chancery) looked at the building here and thought about what they can do to change things up. There was a real push for the internet. That’s when all the departments started getting internet pages.
It was looked at as the Western New York Catholic would have two components (physical and digital). Somewhere down the line we would have to go all digital. It was just inevitable with dropping advertising rates, increase in how much it costs to print a paper, and declining readership.”
McPartland points to how readers get their news nowadays. His teenaged nephews read the WNYC online through their iPads. They see every issue, but never picked up an actual copy of the paper.
“That’s a group we need to evangelize to more, so we’ll reach out that way,” he said. “They say preach the Gospel where people are. Well, they used to be in the public square. Now they’re online. That’s where they are and that’s where we have to reach out to them.”
The decision to stop printing finally came down October 2018. The original plan called for the last
issue to roll out February 2019. Due to a hold up with the website, the decision was made to extend the contract with The Buffalo News, who did the printing, until the end of the 2020 fiscal year.
“It saves money for the diocese. Hopefully some of the money that’s saved can be used to better ourselves in the digital world,” McPartland said. “We have a pretty good foothold. We’re doing very well with what we have, but with a little bit of this extra money, we can do other things. It would allow us technology to allow us to do things quicker because we have a smaller staff. We used to have an advertising coordinator and a bookkeeper. Now one person is doing that. If we can put a tool in there to help that person do it quicker, it will allow them to do other things. It frees them up.”
One drawback of the move is that the large elderly population, who traditionally pick up the hard copy, will not be able to have their news the way they are most comfortable. The new website, which will be up and running by October, will include big photos with large print for easy navigation. McPartland said he is looking into providing a simple way to produce a hard copy of stories for those who want it.
People can expect the same news they have read in the past despite the reduced staff, which now includes only one reporter, a photographer, an online media coordinator and a managing editor.
“The website is going to be a lot more dynamic than we have,” explained Nicole Dzmira, the online media coordinator and designer of the website. “It will be much more navigateable. It will highlight certain stories on top, other stories on the bottom. It’s also going to have a more daily publication turnaround.”
Stories, slideshows and videos will populate the site with daily updates. A link to Catholic News Service, which will give content from the Vatican, will be included, allowing readers to examine issues of the day through the Catholic lens.
“Our goal is to modernize our Western New York Catholic website to current design standards. Basically, allowing our viewers to access our stories more easily.” Dzimira points out that the current site does not have the capability of resizing the page to fit mobile devices, but the new site will. “It’s the kind of thing we have to pay attention to because our readership is slowly moving towards phones over the last decade. I read all my news on my phone. I know people my age and younger who do not even have a desktop computer.”
The new site also has long-term benefits in regards to design. Designed on WordPress, and industry standard, the design of the site can easily be updated.
“I am excited to see the WNY Catholic going digital,” said Sister Mary McCarrick, OSF, chief operating officer of the diocese. “The new format will allow us to be more timely in presenting information and ideas of value to the Catholics of the diocese. We will be able to connect with national news through links and present the local connection to national stories as they develop.”
People have spoken out against ending the physical copy of the paper, but in these days of low church attendance, a move towards the future is necessary.
“Times are tough. I don’t want to get rid of the newspaper,” said McPartland. “You can’t hang a news story on the refrigerator with an iPad. At the same time, with the money being spent, I stand back and say, I can help more people with us shifting in this direction. A lot of people are saying, we’re losing young people. You lose young people from 17 to their 30s. It’s a time of change. Hopefully they can reach out to their faith. They’re not reaching for newspapers. They’re reaching online. We want to be there for them when they do have do Google their questions.”
The staff encourages everyone to contact them to let them know what is happening in the parishes, schools and organizations throughout the diocese.
“We rely on the Catholics of Western New York to invite us to cover stories through the eight counties,” said Sister Mary. “What is happening in the church in your area? Each area has a story to tell and we want to share your story though the diocese so we can encourage each other and learn from one another.”
It could be said that the Western New York Catholic will no longer be the paper in the back of the church, but the paper being delivered to your digital doorstep.