These are among the things discovered in the Catholic Herald’s survey of more than 4,200 readers and non-readers who attended Mass in fall 2010.
In the first survey of its kind since 1995, the Catholic Herald collected data through print and online surveys using a stratified random sample of parishes in the Milwaukee Archdiocese to learn more about what people think about its content.
David Pritchard, Rachael Jurek and Malynnda Johnson, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, conducted the survey from Oct. 10 through Nov. 1, 2010.
“We figured things had changed and it was time to find out how and why,” said Brian T. Olszewski, general manager of the Catholic Herald.
The survey revealed that people definitely know of the Catholic Herald – a whopping 96 percent of respondents said they were aware of the publication – but while 40 percent said they read it, only 27 percent said they lived in households currently subscribing.
Results also showed that 85 percent of respondents subscribe to the Catholic Herald to have a source of Catholic information, and 80 percent do so to receive official news from the archdiocese and to be aware of events taking place in the archdiocese.
“That was an affirmation, because we really are (providing a source of Catholic information), and it tells us that, in the readers telling us, we’re fulfilling our purpose, which is to serve the Catholic community,” Olszewski said.
The survey showed that other respondents subscribe to the Catholic Herald to enhance their understanding of church teaching, to read about what parishes are doing, to read national and international Catholic news, to be inspired, to have an affordable information source, and to get information about local fish fries.
Olszewski said the results showing what respondents want to see in the Herald were what he expected.
About 82 percent of respondents said they thought the Catholic Herald’s strongest emphasis should be on local content, though, many also commented that national and international news shouldn’t be omitted. Local stories are the most-read section by subscribers at 77 percent, followed by the Herald of Hope, with 75 percent, and letters to the editor, with 70 percent. Other content that respondents found important, listed in order of decreasing percentages, were People of Faith, Scripture Reflections by then-Fr. Donald J. Hying, and Fr. Joseph Juknialis, national news, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser’s column, obituaries, world news and Happenings.
The survey also showed that Mature Lifestyles is the most-read of the Herald’s niche publications, read by 75 percent of subscribers, followed by the Directory, 60 percent; Marriage, 31 percent; Parenting, 28 percent; and myfaith, 18 percent.
About 42 percent of respondents viewed the Catholic Herald as a community newspaper, while about 38 percent saw it as a weekly catechism. Other views included a company newspaper, scholarly journal or “supermarket tabloid.”
In terms of story length, 84 percent of respondents thought that Catholic Herald stories were the right length, while only 12 percent felt they were “a little too long.”
But some respondents, about 43 percent, said they don’t have time to read the Catholic Herald and therefore don’t subscribe.
“The challenge for us is to make this so valuable, so relevant, that they would find time to read it,” Olszewski said.
Twenty-five percent of respondents don’t subscribe to the Catholic Herald because it’s too expensive while another 9 percent share a copy with a friend or relative.
Other responses from non-subscribers included non-familiarity with the Catholic Herald, the paper was too liberal/conservative, the type is difficult to read or that they don’t trust any church publications.
About 56 percent of respondents said the Catholic Herald’s annual subscription fee was “about right,” 43 percent thought it was too high.
If the Catholic Herald lowered its subscription rate, 27 percent of non-subscribers said they might subscribe. Other non-subscribers said they might subscribe if the paper published a wider variety of views, though most respondents, 63 percent, considered the Catholic Herald’s ideology to be middle of the road; 26 percent considered it conservative, while 10 percent said it was liberal.
The respondents in this survey were more oriented to the traditional print edition of the Catholic Herald, than to the online content. The survey showed that compared to subscribers, non-subscribers who read the Catholic Herald are more likely to read it online, 32 percent, than in print, 8 percent.
About 71 percent of respondents were women, a median age of 66, many of whom are generous with their time and treasures: About 86 percent are willing to provide financial support to a wide variety of Catholic organizations and causes, including parish and parish schools. They are also regular Mass attendees with 91 percent attending Mass at least once each week, and are involved in their parishes – 23 percent are “very involved” and 51 percent are “somewhat involved.”
Respondents at 30 participating parishes, chosen based upon size and geographic diversity, were invited by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki to participate in the survey. The Catholic Herald awarded $500 to the two parishes with the highest percentage of parishioner participation: Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Milwaukee, and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish, North Lake, won with about 84 percent each.
Olszewski hopes the readership survey helps the Catholic Herald better serve its readers.
“I would hope the results got the people in the (Catholic Press) Apostolate here in Milwaukee to re-embrace the mission we have that we are touching people, that we are serving a purpose,” he said. “Sometimes we put out these hundreds of words week after week after week and you wonder does it have an impact? Well, we’re touching people, and like I said, touching people who are willing to invest $39 a year to welcome us into their homes and it reminds us of the responsibility we have toward them.”