By Maurice Hart
THE CATHOLIC HERALD. unlike many overseas newspapers serving the same Faith, is independent of official control. If some cry "More's the pity" they are probably speaking for one of two reasons: either they don't like the way the paper is edited or they take the view that its existence is too dependent on advertisements and a subsidy would solve the problem.
Another view was given recently by the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. They said that the policies of some papers rely far too heavily on advertising and too little on selling prices.
It said that when the inevitably higher costs of running the smaller-publishing operations have to be met mainly from advertising, a vicious circle is set up. Advertising rates have to be kept high, which makes such media uncompetitive with larger newspapers and television so that revenues are still further reduced.
Both organisations agreed that if selling prices were revised, the increase in revenue would permit these media to introduce more competitive advertising rates. However, they said it. seemed there was a fetish among publishers, for prestige reasons, of avoiding even marginal circulation losses, which generally follow a price increase.
The current economic squeeze has shown that the pulse of the religious Press in Britain, comprising abOut 25 journals, like that of the secular Press, fluctuates with the economic health of the nation.
It all depends on what proportion of advertising to editorial content the reader would like in his paper, and whether he would be prepared to pay more for his paper to lessen the paper's dependence on the advertiser. On the Continent, some papers do contain less advertising but then they cost more than twice the price of their British counterparts. The Austrian Catholic newspaper "Die Furche", for instance, costs more than Is., compared with the Catholic Herald's 6d.
The proportion of adver tising in the Catholic Herald in the second half of last year was about 33 per cent, compared with about 40-45 per cent, in previous similar periods. This brought in 49 per cent of its revenue, against 51 per cent from sales. These figures assume significance when it is realised that out of the 6d. at which the Catholic Herald is sold, only just over 3d. is received by the publisher (nearly 3d. goes to the wholesaler and retailer) and this barely pays the printer's bill.
All other publishing costs — transporting the papers throughout the country, rent for offices, salaries. fees and other payments—have to be met from advertising revenue. This is the extent of its dependence.
It has 40 people on its London and Scottish staffs.
Its headquarters are in Fleet Street but it has . branch offices in Glasgow, Leeds and Dublin. Its group circulation is 96,145 and combining that of the Universe and Catholic Times it is estimated that one in 13 Catholics takes one of these papers.
One of the most admirable productions in the religious Press group is the Jewish Chronicle. It charges 9d. for an average of 52 tabloid-size pages, and although it sells 47 per cent of its space to advertisers the other 53 per cent covers a broader front than most of the Christian papers. For instance, it gives more than a page to provincial news, has a university news section. sport and club news, finance and industry section, and reports on art, ballet, the theatre and music.
It has branch offices in Manchester, Leeds and New York, and maintains a staff of 60. Its circulation is showing a slight increase.
The Church Times serves Anglicans but carries a regular article on Roman Catholic affairs. In fact, last week's issue contained an article by Ca rd i na 1 Heenan. The Methodist Recorder and the Baptist Times are also oldestablished newspapers. The Sunday Companion says it aims "to inform, entertain and spiritually advise readers belonging to all Protestant denominations, who are mainly conservative in outlook. We appeal to people of a senior generation."
The War Cry is well known as the Salvation Army's newspaper. It only carries Salvation Army advertisements. It says it aims arc, first, to make Christianity relevant to the nonchurchgoer and, secondly, to propagate S.A. news and views.
A healthy sign in the religious press field is the appearance of newcomers. The New Christian, for instance, is published fortnightly at ls. 6d. and already has a circulation of 11,500. —more than The Tablet. It has a 20 per cent advertising content, which provides 15 per cent of its revenue, and sales provide 85 per cent. These are mainly by subscription, which is often the case in the U.S. but rare for the U.K.
Catholic Education Today, a hi-monthly costing 2s. 6d., is officially sponsored by the Catholic Teachers Federation and Catholic Training Colleges. It too is mainly sold by subscription. but although its first issue sold only 5,000, with 30,000 Catholic teachers in the country it obviously has a big potential circulation.
Catholic educationalists should give it their support because it provides a necessary forum for subjects relevant to their profession. Its first issue contained an article on laymanship by Professor A. C. ;F. Beales, Catholic Educati6n and Commitment, Helping the Young to Pray and the Function of the Diocesan Inspectorate.
At an intellectual level Catholics are served by the Clergy Rev iew, Tablet, Ampleforth Journal and New Dominican, among others.
The illustrated monthly Sunday, whose trustees include the Anglican Bishop of London, announces in its current issue that it is setting up a fully inter-denominational editorial board under the chairmanship of the Anglican Bishop of Coventry and also that the management is to be in the distinguished hands of a new board of directors under Mr. W. W. Hill-Wood, managing director of the Morgan Grenfell Merchant Bank, and with Sir Maurice Parsons, Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, as honorary financial adviser.
An interesting production has emerged in the West Country as a result of the moves towards church unity. This is Contact, a 6d. monthly tabloid which has achieved a circulation of more than 30,000. Sponsored by the Bristol Council of Churches, it has 30 editions throughout the West of England and carries news of all denominations.
Its editorial board includes representatives of all the churches, including Mgr. Joseph Buckley of the Sacred Heart. Westbury-on-Trym. Bishop Butler was a member of the board of directors until his consecration and it is expected that another Catholic will be appointed soon.
Founded in 1963, "Contact" has an annual budget of about £17,000 and last year made a surplus of £450. The founder and editor, the Rev. Derek Palmer, is also active in helping parish magazine and news bulletin editors to raise the standards of their productions. These parishioner editors have formed themselves into an association which already has 100 members of all denominations throughout the country.
The association has arranged training courses in London and this year it is hoped to hold courses in various provincial centres. Mr. Philip Barron, who recently conducted a national survey of local church publish■ng for the British Council of Churches, believes that the standard of parish magazines has probably risen more in the past 10 years than in the previous 100.
"Many clergy and parochial church councils have at last realised that editing a magazine is a skilled job. Rising costs have caused editors to question old ways of doing things. They have become acutely aware of the quality gap between the average church magazine and the other reading matter with which it has to compete for attention."
Like its bigger brothers of Fleet Street, the religious Press in Britain is faced with growing production costs and an economic squeeze which is cutting its advertising revenue, but its increasing circulation among an enlightened readership presents it with a legitimate cause for optimism.