The Catholic Review, which has chronicled Catholic life in Baltimore in its weekly publication for nearly two centuries, has cut back to biweekly issues.
The decision came after months of strategic planning and improvements to the publication's Web pages and social media sites, said Chris Gunty, its editor and associate publisher. The change is a move to preserve the paper and tailor it to the 21st-century reader, he said.
"We are not cutting back," he said. "We are enhancing and adding to our content. Like secular newspapers, we are trying to figure out what our readers need and what the market will bear. This is just one piece of the puzzle in our effort to reach a lot of people in a lot of different ways."
In April, the publication began circulating to 13 parishes a "Review in the Pew," a separate biweekly update, on the weeks it does not publish. About 13,000 copies arrive by UPS at the parishes in time for weekend Masses. Eventually, the quick overview will be available throughout the archdiocese's 150 parishes, Gunty said.
"Review in the Pew is a quick read that tells what is available online and what is coming the next week in print," Gunty said. "We know a lot of people in the pews don't subscribe and would rather read us online. This is a way to reach out to them."
The Catholic Review, the newspaper of record for an archdiocese with about 500,000 Catholics, is mailed to about 50,000 subscribers. Circulation is down from about 62,000 10 years ago.
Faced with increased competition for both readers and advertising dollars from the Internet, print media companies have seen their finances squeezed in recent years. The recession further crimped ad spending even as printing costs rose. Many mainstream and niche publications encountered financial difficulties. The Baltimore Jewish Times, a weekly established in 1919, was sold in April after nearly two years in bankruptcy stemming from a dispute with its printer.
Samir Husni, professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi and a media industry consultant, said religious publications are coping with the same issues as the rest of the media — the instant availability of news and multiple competitors.
"For weeklies to survive, they almost have to deliver a collector's edition every time," Husni said. "If your message is too old in this era of instant news, it has to change. You may have to get out of the news cycle business and get into news analysis. That is harder and more time-consuming to create. But religious publications can survive, if they are willing to change."
Comparisons between the secular and religious press are difficult, since Catholic publications are often funded through their respective dioceses and are the voice of the presiding bishop, said Timothy Walter, executive director of the Catholic Press Association, based in Chicago. The association includes 150 newspapers, including the Catholic Review, and 70 magazines that reach about 12 million households, he said.
"Our advertising model has never been what it is in the secular world, and our print circulation is not declining in the same way," he said. "These papers are not supported by individually paid subscriptions, but distributed primarily as the tool of the diocese."
Other Catholic publications have made similar decisions to cut publication schedules, he said. In Cincinnati, for example, the Catholic Telegraph went from a weekly to a monthly and is now reaching more households in the diocese, he said. The ever-changing times have forced publishers to test many different formats, he said.
"In most cases, the cost of postage has prompted changes because most of these publications are delivered to homes by mail," Walter said.
The rising costs of postage played a role in the Catholic Review's decision, Gunty said. But editions are heavier now, so the decrease in mailing costs by switching to biweekly has been negligible. The paper has also added two reporters to its staff of 23 full-time employees to bolster its content in print and online.
"We are adapting," Gunty said. "Right now, this is the right combination for us. We may be a model for others who want to restructure."
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Chris Gunty's title. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error. Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts