This is the script of my media piece that appeared on Saturday on Agenda. All transcripts and a very good feedback area are also available on the site. Go there.
Obviously it is better if you watch it, but this may give an idea.
Whatever happened to the Catholic media?
Agenda, March 26
Thirty-three years ago the influence of church press, and New Zealand in general, was very different indeed. It was the year of the Kirk Labour Party landslide, and in the weeks leading up to the election the prominent Catholic organ, the Tablet, threw its weight behind Kirk with an unprecedented editorial entitled ‘Time for a Change.’
“It is the firm belief of this paper that the time has come for a change in Government in New Zealand, that the destinies of the nation for the next three years should be committed to the Labour Party and that in Mr Kirk there exists a man with the potential to give the country the leadership that has for too long been lacking”
Tablet editorial excerpt, November 15 1972
Many credit this stand as galvanizing Catholic support for the still red-tinged Labour Party, and, as a contributing factor to their victory.
But that was 33 years ago. The Tablet, after over a hundred years publishing as a national magazine, closed its doors in 1996. It reappeared shortly after as the Dunedin-only Diocesan news it is today
Is this story of the Tablet symptomatic of the wane in influence of the Catholic media in general? Well, we’ll have to check on the other patient – the Zealandia.
At around the time of the Tablet’s endorsement the Zealandia was a weekly newspaper with a circulation of around 28,000.
In 1989 it moved with the times- and declining readers- and shifted to a monthly glossy magazine format under the name New Zealandia. It attracted up to 10,000 readers in its peak.
In 1996 the decision was made to shift again, this time to fortnightly editions under the name NZ Catholic. Today the paper draws upwards of 6,000 purchasers.
This publication, in its many guises, has attracted strong writers and contributors including award winning journalist Pat Booth, known for his work on the Arthur Allan Thomas case and Mr Asia.
Today Pat McCarthy is editor of the NZ Catholic. It is based here at Auckland’s Pompallier Diocesan Centre. McCarthy has been with the paper since ‘96 and is well placed to give us an idea of what state the Catholic press is in.
Simon Pound: What does NZ Catholic provide to its readers?
Pat McCarthy: Our aim is to keep the New Zealand Catholic s up to date with what’s happening in the Church, in the community, in the world. We cover all six New Zealand dioceses, we have a wide range of overseas news and we have a broad range of opinion as well.
Simon Pound: So, providing Catholics with all the information they need to make their own decisions, but nowadays, fewer and fewer people are reading religious papers – why is this?
Pat McCarthy: Well, since the heyday of John Kennedy’s tablet there has been a tremendous explosion of media in New Zealand television, radio, weekend newspapers and the internet, so all things considered I think we are doing pretty well.
Pat McCarthy is right about the fragmentation of the media. Even the Catholic Media.
Tui Motu is a contrarian Catholic publication that is at best left-leaning, at worst left-capsizing.
Around for some years and sold in an amazing twenty countries, it is continually surprising, especially considering that a good deal of what they say could have them excommunicated.
Take a look the cover of November 2004, for instance. We need go no further into the mag to find its stand. Equal space is given to a dissident theologian and the very Pope that stripped him of his title. This may not seem particularly heretical but 500 years ago they might have burnt you at the stake for this sort of carry on.
Thing is, the Catholic Church is still a very top down organisation, and does not take kindly to the kinds of suggestions that Tui Motu regularly sends back to Rome. These are on matters as varied as allowing married clergy to equating YWYH – the letters God gave Moses to describe himself – which mean ‘I will be who I will be – to a god given sanction for homosexuality.
Another point to note alongside the growth in alternative Catholic Publications, like Tui Motu, is the growth of Church Newsletters. The ability to now cheaply print, and closely aim newsletters at a congregation’s concerns is another factor offsetting the apparent decline in the Catholic press.
In fact, the Catholic Church can be seen as an unlikely example of this new media people bang on about. This decline in heavyweight titles coupled with the growth of targeted information and niche publications is the very picture of new media.
Well there you go – glad to see that the Church press isn’t taking Easter lying down.