Five weeks ago, Rhode Island Catholic, for the time being, published its last print edition. That week, as the COVID-19 pandemic prompted growing directives to citizens across the country to stay at home, schools and businesses began to shutter in quick succession. The chancery, which houses the newspaper’s offices, was also closed. And as was also the case with several other departments, we had to furlough three of our five total staff members. Our planned advertising, the financial lifeblood of any newspaper, which brings in much-needed revenue to fund operations, evaporated in a matter of hours as parishes, schools and local businesses cancelled events and promotions and pulled their ads.
In light of these rapidly changing events we quickly developed a plan to utilize our long-established website as the primary means of showcasing our coverage for the time being. Even if we had the staffing and facilities to continue producing a printed paper, we would have realized an operating loss of $50,000 through the end of April. That figure alone covers only the costs associated with printing and mailing the newspaper to our readers’ homes. Without advertising revenue to offset these sizable expenses, it would be difficult for the newspaper to recover financially.
We sincerely understand that for readers who enjoy receiving a print edition in their mailbox each week, or who may not have ready access to the internet or even a smartphone, publishing online is a big change. I have spoken with a few readers who’ve called about this and have even offered to print stories from my home and mail these to them if they don’t have a family member who could help relay the online information to them.
But given the challenges presented, publishing online for now is the only option that will position the newspaper to survive this crisis at a time when other publications, including some large diocesan newspapers, have shuttered completely.
A bright spot in this transition for us, however, is that our viewership analysis shows that the number of readers visiting Rhode Island Catholic’s website tripled for the end of March alone, when we moved to publishing online. These numbers are expected to climb even higher once we can analyze our full April statistics.
While it has indeed become more difficult to report on all the great things normally happening in our diocese when our churches are closed for public worship, along with our Catholic schools, which host so many enriching and inspiring programs, we have spoken with many readers about how they have been contending with this health crisis.
From these conversations one thing is abundantly clear: being separated from participation in public Masses has fueled an intense hunger within their souls to begin receiving the Eucharist again.
In a pastoral message on Divine Mercy Sunday on the State of the Diocesan Church in the Age of Coronavirus, our publisher, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, wondered whether this time of quarantines and social distancing would be a humbling experience for those used to living and worshipping without restrictions.
“Has it challenged our smug presumption that the Church and the sacraments will always be there for us? Has it reordered our priorities and re-awakened our thirst for God, the God ‘in whom we live and move and have our being?’” the bishop asked.
From the interactions I’ve had so far with our readers, it is apparent that if any of those faithful may have taken their regular public worship and access to the sacraments for granted, they no longer will.
Please remember that we will all get through this crisis together, and emerge even stronger in our faith on the other side.