Glancing to the Past, Bracing for the Future

July-August 2013

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If Joe Biden, riffing on Shakespeare during the 2008 vice-presidential debate, is correct that the past is prologue to the future, then what does the recent demise of so many Catholic magazines mean for the NOR? Publishing has always been risky business, but Catholic publishing is generally conducted on a wing and a prayer. The roll call of Catholic print magazines whose wings have been clipped over the past five years has grown to include Crisis, Catholic Men’s Quarterly, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Catholic World Report, 30 Days, and Envoy, which, we recently learned, lost its institutional endowment over a year ago and has, according to publisher Patrick Madrid, “taken an indefinite hiatus from publishing the print version.” Are these magazines merely the first to fall? Which one of us will be next?

The Catholic niche is a microcosm of the publishing world and, as such, it reflects in miniature the trends in the industry. According to MediaFinder.com, an online database of North American publications, an astounding 1,948 print magazines folded from 2008 to 2012. The diverse list includes such big-brand titles as Gourmet, Spin, Modern Bride, Men’s Vogue, CosmoGirl, Country Home, both BusinessWeek Small Biz and Fortune Small Business, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, and most recently, Human Events and Pro Football Weekly.

How bad have things gotten in the print industry? So bad that, according to author and tech journalist Paul Gillin, “Google’s advertising revenue now exceeds those of the entire print media industry.” Gillin operates NewspaperDeathWatch.com, a website where masochists can chew on nuggets like this: “newspapers are the fastest-shrinking U.S. industry.”

Things are so bad that newspaper reporter was recently ranked as the number-one “Worst Job of 2013” by CareerCast.com. (Lumberjack and “enlisted military personnel” came in second and third, in case you’re wondering.) Newspaper reporter was also ranked as the eighth “Most Stressful Job of 2013,” incredibly coming in directly ahead of taxi driver and police officer.

Things are so bad that Gillin is quoted by CareerCast.com as saying, “The print model is not sustainable. It will probably be gone within the next 10 years.” Shall we set our watches?

If past is prologue, then it would be a mistake to dismiss Gillin’s forecast as eager doomsaying. Many industry insiders are struggling to read the proverbial writing on the wall, as fewer and fewer people read writing on the printed page. Fr. Matt Malone, for example, the new editor of America, ruminating on the demise of Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report, wrote, “Like most magazines, we will probably stop publishing an edition in print someday” (June 3). America celebrated the centenary of its founding in 2009 (as 428 other publications went to their graves) and has a circulation four times greater than that of the NOR. The thought that such a venerable and robust publication might someday be forced to cease producing a print edition is an unnerving one.

But Fr. Malone was quick to add that “that day is not anytime soon.” He feels confident that his magazine is “better positioned than most to meet the challenges of the digital age.” America boasts a full-service website and, not coincidentally, offers its publication on a variety of e-reader platforms.

And this is where the hope for publishers lies: in Kindles, Nooks, iPads, and the like. A recent industry study found that 23 percent of tablet users, or 16 million people, read digital magazines on their tablets at least monthly. Those figures are projected to grow exponentially in the coming years. Digital ad spending (tablet and Internet combined) reached a high-water mark of $36.6 million in 2012; it has been predicted to reach $80.2 million by 2016. These numbers resonate because a publication’s two primary sources of income are subscription sales and advertising revenue. It is hoped that print losses can be made up in digital gains.

The NOR too has hope for the tablet market. As explained in our December 2012 editorial, we have set a fundraising goal of $197,000 for two purposes:

(1) To make the capital and technological investment necessary to make the NOR available on tablet platforms. To, as Fr. Malone put it, better position ourselves to meet the challenges of the digital age.

(2) To restore order to our financial house. From the end of our 2011 fiscal year to the end of our 2012 fiscal year, our income was down by over $99,000 and we had to use up over 20 percent of our emergency savings in order to cover operating expenses. These are crippling figures for a shoestring nonprofit like us.

Yes, most publications’ primary sources of financial sustenance are subs and ads; but our magazine is sustained by a third source: you, our readers. (We don’t receive, and never have received, an institutional endowment.) Without your assistance, our little print publication would have folded years — nay, decades — ago. Thanks to your generosity during our current fund drive, we have raised $162,035 as of this writing. That means that we are just under $35,000 shy of our goal. We must ask you to dig a little deeper, one more time, in order to push us across the goal line.

Once we reach our goal, we are confident — cautiously, not overly — that our planned foray into the tablet market will allow our apostolate to stand on three pillars: print, web, and tablet. This, we hope, will allow us to continue offering the NOR in a print format for years to come. Call us stubborn or unrealistic, but we don’t ever want to have to go all-digital, à la Newsweek. We know, of course, that there are no guarantees, especially in the publishing industry. Can we survive Paul Gillin’s ten-year deadline? Frankly, we aren’t comfortable thinking that far ahead, not when our immediate survival is at stake.

While refraining from gazing too far into the murky future, we have taken a long look into our gracious past. One aspect of the expansion of our reach into the digital realm is the online archiving of back issues of the NOR. We are pleased to announce the addition of another year’s worth of issues to our archives (http://www.newoxfordreview.org/archives.jsp). The year 1991 was a momentous one in world history. This was the year the Soviet Union went through its final death throes, collapsing with a whimper — not the expected nuclear bang — and ending, in improbable fashion, the Cold War that defined the latter half of the twentieth century. Only fools and the benighted would not see in this event the hand of God at work in human history. Meanwhile, the world’s other superpower, the United States, leading a U.N.-backed coalition, waged a hot war in a far-flung Persian Gulf nation, unleashing Desert Storm with the stated aim of “liberating” the oil-rich nation of Kuwait from the grip of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

On the Catholic front, Pope John Paul II was midway through his historic pontificate. His efforts to prevent the conflagration in the Middle East went unheeded, and his role in the dissolution of the USSR was yet to be fully appreciated. Amid the fanfare of his pastoral visit to his homeland of Poland and the struggle to reorganize the Catholic Church in the former Soviet Union, the major event of the Wojtyla papacy in 1991 was the promulgation of Centesimus Annus, his encyclical commemorating the hundredth anniversary of Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. In this landmark work, the Holy Father, assessing the major historical events of the time, gave communism one last kick on its way out the door and warned, with perceptivity and perspicacity, of the dangers of consumer capitalism.

Each of these events was cause for great concern to the NOR in 1991 and provided the impetus for bringing Christian social teaching to bear on our examination of the history-forming events of that banner year. Notable topical pieces in our pages included Dale Vree’s editorial “The Triumph of the Playboy Philosophy in the Persian Gulf” (April), Thomas Molnar’s “Toward a Russian Junta?” (June), and Robert N. Bellah’s “The Triumph of Market Capitalism — or the Rise of Market Totalitarianism?” (Nov.). In many ways, the world is still dealing with the ramifications of the events of that year.

Then as now, gun control was a front-burner topic. Our January-February 1991 issue featured an article by Sheldon Vanauken in defense of the right to bear arms, followed by rebuttals from Gordon C. Zahn, a Catholic pacifist, and Dale Vree, editor of the NOR. This topic is as pressing as ever, given that, as Grant Duwe, director of research and evaluation at the Minnesota Department of Corrections, writes in the Washington Times (Jan. 3), “more victims were killed and wounded in mass shootings in 2012 than in any previous year.”

In 1991 our “Vital Works Reconsidered” series was reaching a stage of maturity; four entries made their way into print that year:
- #7: Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex, treated by Michael E. Smith
- #8: Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, treated by San Francisco Archbishop John Quinn
- #9: C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, treated by Vanauken
- #10: Michael Harrington’s The Other America, treated by Msgr. Charles Owen Rice
With F. Douglas Kneibert’s treatment of Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory (June 2013), the Vital Works series now boasts thirty-five entries over the course of twenty-four years — incredibly, we’ve managed not to repeat ourselves; each Vital Works entry reconsiders a unique title. And, better yet, there’s more to come!

Among the numerous articles we published in 1991 were a few statements written by American bishops: two against the gathering storm in the Middle East — one each by Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles (surprise!) and Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati — and one by Archbishop Quinn on the illogic of doling out condoms to teen­agers.

Noteworthy too was the October 1991 publication of the widely heralded “NOR Symposium on Transcending Ideological Conformity,” with entries by Christopher Lasch, Robert Coles, James G. Hanink, Ronda Chervin, John C. Cort, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Stanley Hauerwas, Amitai Etzioni, James Seaton, and Ronald Austin.

In November 1991 Coles’s celebrated “Harvard Diary” column resumed after a two-year hiatus due to health problems (his column ran from Dec. 1981-Dec. 1989 and from Nov. 1991-Nov. 1996).

Also deserving of special mention are Lasch’s entries in his “Notes on Gnosticism” series. The January-February 1991 issue picks up with volume III, “The Spirit of Modern Science.” Volume IV, “Anti-Modern Mysticism: E.M. Cioran & C.J. Jung,” appeared in March, followed by volume V, “The New Age Movement: No Effort, No Truth, No Solutions,” in April. Volumes I and II appeared in our October 1986 and December 1990 issues, and though further installments were being considered, volume V would be the last. (In due course, all our back issues will be archived online.)

Other notable 1991 “must reads” include:
- Hanink’s “Examining the ‘Consensus Argument’ of Prochoice Catholic Politicians” (March)
- Charles K. Wilbur’s “Survival of the Fittest at Home & Abroad” (May)
- Ken Russell’s “The Virgin Mary: China Doll or Prairie Woman?” (June — believe it or not, this piece generated significant controversy in the Sept. letters section, also now available online)
- Lasch’s “The Soul of Man Under Secularism” (Jul.-Aug.)
- Kenneth D. Whitehead’s “Can One Be a Good Catholic & Believe Only Three-Quarters of What the Church Teaches?” (Jul.-Aug.)
- Will Hoyt, the renowned “Berkeley carpenter,” on “Finding God in the Death of Nature” (Jul.-Aug.)
- Zahn's “Clarifying the Disputed Witness of Franz Jaegerstaetter” (Sept.)
We invite one and all to browse our online archives and enjoy the fruit of the labors of the great thinkers and writers who’ve contributed to the NOR, not only in 1991 but in every year up through the present. For those without Internet access (a portion of our readership which we are determined not to leave behind), back issues containing the above articles can be purchased for $5 each. For ordering information, see the notice on page 42 of this issue.

As we glance back to the past and brace for the challenges of an uncertain future, we ask you to please keep the NOR in your prayers. Pray that we may not only survive but that we may remain ever faithful to Christ and His Truth, as found in and protected by His Catholic Church. And we ask you one more time to help us reach our fundraising goal. The last leg of any journey is always the longest. We trust that you, our faithful readers, will once again carry us to our anticipated destination.

If you value the magazine you’re holding in your hands, and would like it to continue in its present form, let us know it.

Donations to the NOR, a nonprofit religious organization with 501(c)(3) status with the Internal Revenue Service, are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. Please send your donation today to: New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706. Checks and money orders may be made payable to: New Oxford Review. We accept VISA, MasterCard, and Discover credit-card donations at our website, www.newoxfordreview.org, as well as by mail (at the above address) and by telephone (510-526-5374, ext. 0).

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“I wonder if a situation is emerging in the American Catholic society that ultimately will result in a weakening of the force of morality and of religion itself in our country…. [The] medium of mass com­munication once so vital in reporting and explaining the position of the Church [on con­troversial issues] that once was so well exercised by the Catholic press is limping. It limps to a degree because American habits of acquiring information and of communicating are changing…. The general level of catechetical knowledge is not high…. Is the Catholic print medium being dismissed too quickly?… [Let us] strengthen what we have…. Otherwise, our Church’s message soon may be unheard and support for the message unsure and diminished.”
— Msgr. Owen F. Campion, Associate Publisher, Our Sunday Visitor (Jan. 13)

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