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Study: Catholics Pay Attention to Catholic Media, Especially Print

(Photo: OSV News/PDPics, Pixabay)

WASHINGTON — According to a new study, Catholics, not surprisingly, are using websites and social media more than they did almost 20 years ago, and they increased this usage during the pandemic. What might be a surprising find, except to those reading this story in print, is that Catholics still like their print publications.

The report, issued this summer by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), based at Georgetown University, shows that 41% of adult Catholics in the United States would prefer a print publication from their diocese and 62% of weekly Mass-goers believe the print version of their diocesan newspaper or magazine is an essential part of how the diocese communicates. 

This data comes after some big closures in Catholic print publications, including last year’s closing of the Catholic New York, archdiocesan newspaper of New York, and the Catholic Sentinel, archdiocesan newspaper of Portland, Oregon. There was also the shutdown of U.S. operations of Catholic News Service, a wire service that provided news to diocesan newspapers and Catholic publications. 

As far as keeping Catholic diocesan publications going, 54% of weekly Mass-goers said they would be upset by any suggestion that their diocese stop producing a print version of its publication compared to 53% of monthly Mass-goers and 31% of those who go to Mass a few times a year or less. 

The study of Catholic media usage was the third conducted by CARA which ran similar studies in 2005 and 2011. This year’s online survey of 1,019 self-identified Catholics from April 21 to May 5 was commissioned by FAITH Catholic, a Michigan-based publisher of Catholic magazines around the country.

The study points out that FAITH Catholic was not involved in the research process or the writing of this report. 

A comparison of the three CARA studies on Catholic media shows a jump in the number of adult Catholics saying they have watched religious or spiritual video content in the past three months (45%) compared to 24% in 2011 and 28% in 2005. There was also a similar uptick in the number of Catholics listening to religious or spiritual content, with 29% doing so this year compared to 13% in 2011 and 12% in 2005. 

If this survey was a report card on diocesan publications, the overall grade from recent readers would be satisfactory: 33% say the quality is excellent while 56% say it’s good, 10% give it a fair rating and 2% called it poor. 

Of the survey’s respondents, 49% read their diocesan publication in the past three months: 17% in print, 21% online, and 10% both in print and online. Not surprisingly, younger respondents tended to read these publications online and older Catholics more frequently read in print.

Twenty-one percent of respondents said their household subscribes; 29% said their parish pays the subscription, and 50% did not know about their subscription. 

When asked what they’d like to see in the diocesan publication, respondents gave top votes to prayer, current events, church history, and Bible study followed by advice for Christian living, Catholic culture, and theology. At the bottom of the list was apologetics and their bishop’s schedule. 

One form of church communication that got top marks was the parish bulletin, with 61% of respondents saying they had read this in the three months, and 90% of weekly Mass-goers typically reading it — primarily in print, while those who attended Mass less frequently tended to still read the bulletin, although mostly online. 

The most frequently used sources for information about Catholics’ parishes, dioceses, and the faith are their parish bulletin (45%), word of mouth with others (22%), diocesan publications (21%), and Catholic television (20%). 

The CARA study didn’t just look at the spiritual media people are watching or reading but at their Mass attendance prior to and post COVID-19. The results show that 21% of adult Catholics in the United States attend Mass at least once a week which is similar to the 23% who did so according to an early 2020 survey. 

Currently, 3% of Catholics watch livestreamed Masses. 

In other news, 85% of adult Catholics pay “a great deal” or some attention to national news compared to 12% who pay very little attention and 3% who pay no attention at all. The secular cable news of choice for adult Catholics is Fox News at 34%, followed by CNN at 25%, and 15% without a preference. 

With other print publications, 32% of adult Catholics subscribe to a daily newspaper, a decline from 44% in 2005. 

Mark Gray, a research associate professor at Georgetown University and CARA’s director, authored the group’s Catholic media use study. Writing about the findings in CARA’s research blog, “1964,” he gave it the headline: “The Catholic Media Renaissance?

In the post, he said, “A lot has happened in the past few years to say the least,” noting that in terms of religious practice since the pandemic, “Mass attendance is mostly back to normal” and that Catholic media use across the board has gone up. 

As he sees it: “Catholics in the United States are paying attention to Catholic media” and urged readers of the study to consider what the Church should be communicating.