WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Readers of the Western Catholic Reporter turn to the weekly newspaper for Church news and help in applying their faith to daily living.
The Western Catholic Reporter is by far the most important source of Catholic news for readers who completed the WCR’s readership survey in November.
Eighty per cent of the survey respondents said the WCR is a major source of Catholic news. The next highest rated on a list of 14 possible news sources was the weekly parish bulletin which was a major source for 49 per cent of respondents. Third came “your parish priest or members of the pastoral team” at 35 per cent.
There was strong support (85 per cent) for the current method of funding the WCR through a five per cent assessment on parishes. Sixty-one per cent of the priests surveyed also support that funding method.
The survey drew well over 1,500 responses either from a lengthy online survey, a survey published in the Nov. 8 WCR or from telephone interviews of clergy. That response was roughly three times as large as the last WCR readership survey in 2001, which was available only through the newspaper.
The survey is part of an overall revisioning process of the Western Catholic Reporter facilitated by consultant Bryan Froehle of the firm Essential Conversations. Essential Conversations was chosen to oversee the project because of its extensive involvement in similar projects with U.S. Catholic media.
The revisioning is the most extensive evaluation of the WCR since the newspaper was founded in 1965. Decisions on the future of the paper will be made by the WCR board of directors in consultation with Archbishop Richard Smith.
Froehle said the readership survey drew “a remarkable response. This fine response speaks very highly of the WCR’s engagement with its readers.”
The high degree of support for the newspaper, “seems to be best explained by the degree to which the paper connects with them personally.”
Survey respondents also made many “thoughtful responses and comments,” he said. “It was a joy to read many of those comments and to understand the depth of the esteem the readers who responded to the survey have for the Western Catholic Reporter.”
When asked in the readership survey what they hoped would come out of the revisioning project, 10 per cent said they want no change in the WCR while 62 per cent wanted “some adaptations to improve what we already have.” Sixteen per cent want a completely new direction for the paper and 13 per cent were unsure.
Sixty-one per cent of respondents want to see the WCR continue publishing 44 times a year. Other potential paths the newspaper could take drew much lower percentages.
Eighty-six per cent of respondents disagreed with the statement that the Edmonton Archdiocese does not need a newspaper. Two per cent of respondents thought the WCR should be shut down.
Readers showed little interest in a major expansion of the WCR’s Internet presence. Only two per cent of respondents say they favour reducing the print publication and eventually replacing it with an Internet-only edition.
Only three per cent said the WCR website is their main way of reading the newspaper and only five per cent said it is of major importance to them. About 20 per cent of respondents use the website to search for articles in previous issues of the newspaper.
Fifty-five per cent of survey respondents say they do not have Internet access at home.
The average age of those completing the survey is 61, roughly the same average age as on the 2001 readership survey. Seventy-three per cent of them say they have been reading the WCR for at least 10 years.
Froehle said that average age is well below that of the average age of other diocesan newspapers.
The readers, by and large, do not see the WCR as an official communications arm of the Edmonton Archdiocese.
The survey asked which of two statements comes closest to their expectation of what they read in the WCR.
Thirty-eight per cent opted for the statement, “The archbishop agrees with the views expressed”; 62 per cent agreed with the statement, “It tries to engage a range of views among Catholics.”
When asked whether the WCR is “the official newspaper” of the Edmonton Archdiocese, 25 per cent agreed. The remaining 75 per cent said, “The WCR is sponsored by the archdiocese to serve the Catholic community.”