How Many Victims Will the Revolution Claim?
We are in the throes of a media revolution, much like the one Ray Bradbury predicted nearly sixty years ago in his seminal work, Fahrenheit 451: Lifestyle trends, modern reading habits, and the diffusion of technology have collided with a worldwide economic crisis to threaten the viability of the printed word. Readership of books and periodicals is down across the board -- Western culture is experiencing a protracted decline of interest in intellectual pursuits and, therefore, ideas themselves. The younger set has been lured away by the dazzling lights and undulating pulsations of ever newer types of visual and audio media; entertainment, and access to entertainment, trumps all. The older set in our go-go world largely considers sitting down to read a luxury, not an exercise necessary for the formation of a healthy, active mind. Informational tidbits, quickly acquired via sound bites, tweets, headlines, news roundups, and bottom-of-the-screen tickers, and histrionic insta-punditry, bane of the "new media," now satisfy the age-old yearning to grapple with the Great Ideas. Time is money, don't you know, money to pour into time-saving technology, technology like broadband, digital cable, Wi-Fi, TiVo, iPhones, laptops, blue tooth, and "tools" such as IM, texting, Twitter, blogspots, Google, etc. The revolution marches on.
As anthropologists know, technology is a good indicator of a culture's direction. Technology expresses its creator's needs and wants. Our technology, and what it delivers, is an expression of what we have become: all flash, no substance; impatient, superficial, measured in pixels and gigabytes.
The media revolution is really symptomatic of larger cultural crisis, a crisis that could be summed up in a bumper sticker one is likely to come across in Berkeley, the land of bumper-sticker ideology -- another condensation of critical thinking. Quoting Eleanor Roosevelt, it reads, "Small Minds Discuss People, Average Minds Discuss Events, Great Minds Discuss Ideas." We are witnessing the vanishing of great minds in Western culture.
If you are reading this, it's because you are one of the remaining few who understand the role ideas play in the world and in the life of the Church. Ideas have consequences, as the old cliché goes, whether or not people take the time to acknowledge their existence. Ideas have traditionally been disseminated and discussed in written form on a printed page -- lectures, homilies, and discussion groups notwithstanding. And it is the printed word that is edging toward endangered-species status.
If you think we exaggerate, consider what some observers have described as the extinction of the daily newspaper. There's even a website dedicated to chronicling its demise, www.newspaperdeathwatch.com. The Newspaper Association of America has reported that daily newspaper circulation fell from its peak of over 63 million in 1984 to under 50 million in 2008. (Meanwhile the U.S. population rose from roughly 225 million in 1980 to 350 million in 2009.) Several major metro dailies have recently shuttered their print operations, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Denver's Rocky Mountain News, the Cincinnati Post, the Albuquerque Tribune, the Baltimore Examiner, and the Tucson Citizen.
Hard times have fallen on the survivors as well. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, from spring 2008 to spring 2009 daily circulation at the Boston Globe fell 13.6 percent; at the Miami Herald it fell 15.8 percent; and at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution daily circulation fell a whopping 20 percent. Even The New York Times has had to turn to a major foreign investor to keep operations going. So much for the discussion of events.
But the damage isn't restricted to newspapers. According to a report in Time (Apr. 13), magazine sales at supermarkets, drug stores, and big-box merchandisers fell by over 17 percent from February 2008 to February 2009. During the same time period, according to the Nielsen Co., wine and liquor sales were up -- over eight percent for the former. So were "family-planning products," such as condoms and over-the-counter female contraceptives, which enjoyed dollar-sales increases of 10.2 percent in the first two months of 2009. This offers us further insight into what people are doing now that they aren't spending their time reading. Clearly, they aren't planning to raise children. Magazines -- and offspring -- have become "discretionary items," but liquor and condoms haven't.
Venerable weeklies Time and Newsweek are attempting to reinvent themselves in order to stay relevant. Even The Remnant, the flagship publication of the Catholic traditionalist movement, has had to make adjustments. "Our articles have become much shorter," writes Editor Michael J. Matt (Aug. 15), "we have more pictures and few long' articles. Why? Survival!" His readers are finding it "difficult," he says, to finish 2,500-word articles.
Yes, it should come as no surprise that if the slick newsstand magazines are hurting, Christian publishing apostolates are really taking it on the chin. It was with sadness that we received news of the struggle facing the good folks at Touchstone magazine. Touchstone, which began in 1986 as a quarterly, was for its first eleven years run on a shoestring budget. According to Executive Editor James Kushiner, when their funds "had nearly run out, a generous family stepped forward and began underwriting" Touchstone, infusing the magazine with some four million dollars over the next twelve years. In that time Touchstone was able to increase its output to six and eventually ten issues a year. But "recent economic losses" have forced this family to cut its financial support, which translates to an immediate loss of $200,000 per year. As a result, they've had to roll back the number of issues per year from ten to six beginning this summer, and undertake a massive fundraising effort.
Also feeling the pinch are our friends at This Rock, the apologetics magazine put out by Catholic Answers. According to publisher Karl Keating, "the recession has thrown our entire apostolate for a loop." And so Catholic Answers, a highly diversified organization, can no longer afford to cover the annual deficits This Rock incurs. Like Kushiner, Keating sees no other alternative than to decrease output: This Rock will go from ten issues per year to six. Its fundraising machine has also been revved up.
Likewise our friends at Envoy magazine. Editor Patrick Madrid has announced that, due to rising costs and a budget shortfall, Envoy, a longtime bimonthly, will become a quarterly, reducing from six issues per year to four.
Even the mighty National Catholic Register, funded by one of the wealthiest religious orders in the Church, the Legion of Christ, has been forced to reduce issues, going from a weekly to a biweekly schedule during the summer, a time when publications typically experience the dreaded "summer slowdown." In a recent development, longtime editor Tom Hoopes resigned his post at both the Register and its sister publication Faith & Family to pursue a career at Benedictine College in Kansas. The Register, however, is in a unique situation and has more complex concerns than the rest of us: The Legion of Christ, currently under investigation by the Holy See, faces an uncertain future now that details of founder Fr. Marcial Maciel's "secret" lifestyle are being made public. (For more on the Legion turmoil see our New Oxford Notes "The Self-Destruction of a Cult of Personality," Apr., and "Can the Pope Save the Legion of Christ?" June.) The Register too has had to step up its fundraising initiatives.
Not only these, but The American Conservative, Patrick Buchanan's political magazine, was on the rocks earlier this year and its demise seemed certain. But it has somehow managed to right the ship and sail on -- as a monthly rather than a biweekly. And Chronicles, another "paleocon" magazine, has been trying to raise funds in order to "keep the doors open the next six months," according to Editor Thomas Fleming.
The worst-case scenario occurred at the Christian Science Monitor, which folded its print operations entirely earlier this year, settling for an online-only format.
Optimists might point to the recent economic crisis as the cause of the decline of print media and hark to the wishful proclamations of Ben Bernanke that we're coming out of the woods economically. But realists will look deeper and see the impact that the revolutionary technological and cultural changes of the past ten years have had on print publishing.
The turbulence experienced by our colleagues hasn't bypassed us here at the NOR. We too suffer the annual deficits that plague This Rock -- Catholic magazines almost never turn a profit. Unlike our friends at This Rock, however, the NOR has never had the backing of a multifaceted, high-profile Catholic apostolate like Catholic Answers to cover losses. Unlike our friends at Envoy, we've never had the benefit of an affiliation with a reputable, orthodox Catholic institution of higher learning like Belmont Abbey College, which hosts the Envoy Institute. Unlike the Register, we've never had the financial backing of a lucrative religious order like the Legion of Christ. Indeed, we have no institutional backing to speak of. And unlike Touchstone, we've never been graced with a single major donor to keep us afloat. Rather, we've always relied on the contributions of a small pool of donors -- namely you, our readers. We've never had a financial safety net.
Yes, hard times have come to the NOR. Printing costs are up, insurance premiums are up, postal rates increase on a yearly basis; advertising revenue is down, donations are down, renewal rates are down, and new subscribers are increasingly hard to come by. The situation is simply untenable. Something's got to give.
In the past we've been reluctant to raise our subscription rates, despite the encouragement we've received from both readers and colleagues. We haven't raised our rates because we want to keep the NOR affordable, especially in these difficult economic times. To our way of thinking, it would be counterintuitive to raise rates now -- it would be a disincentive to new subscribers and would shut out a portion of our current subscribers.
We would be remiss if we didn't take this opportunity to remind readers of our discounted rate of $16 per year for the unemployed, retirees, and students. And for those in serious economic straits, we maintain a small Scholarship Fund, through which gratis subscriptions are given to those who cannot afford them. We also encourage readers to take advantage of our Christmas gift-subscription rates of $19 for the first subscription (including your own renewal) and $17 for each subsequent subscription.
The NOR has, since day one, operated on a shoestring budget. We don't ever expect that to change. But the benefit is that it has forced us to practice fiscal discipline. Our black-and-white newsprint format saves us considerable monies required for glossy paper and splashy color graphics; we place a premium on content over appearance. Hence, we don't feel compelled to continually upgrade our office equipment; we get by with outmoded computers and software programs. We don't have a travel budget; although we would love to, we don't wine and dine high-roller donors or public figures, and we don't host fancy cruises (wish we could!). We don't maintain fancy offices in New York City or Washington, D.C.; our staff work out of their homes. We employ only a handful of people; nobody here has a secretary or a fill-in. We don't work the speakers' circuit (we don't have the time); we keep our noses firmly glued to the grindstone. Nobody on our staff receives a bloated salary; in fact, some of us have taken voluntary pay cuts again this year. We don't pay our writers -- we never have. The great writers whose work we present write for one purpose alone: to proclaim the truth.
We consider our streamlined operation to have been a saving grace; without it we wouldn't have lasted these past 32 years. But we still need to close the current budget gap that threatens to swallow us whole.
So, what has to give? After tightening our belts as much as possible, we have come to the conclusion that, like our colleagues, the most prudent route would be to reduce our annual output. We have decided to cut back one issue per year. Starting in 2010, we will revert to ten issues annually. For the foreseeable future, a combined January-February issue will follow the December issue.
To put it in perspective: Going from a biweekly to a monthly represents a fifty percent decrease in output. Going from ten issues per year to six represents a forty percent decrease. Going from six issues to four represents a thirty-three percent decrease. Our small cutback from eleven issues per year to ten represents a nine percent decrease, and we figure it should allow us to keep our subscription prices at their current rates for the time being.
But this small cutback won't be enough. As mentioned above, the NOR too experiences annual cost overruns. This year our deficit is especially burdensome: Operating costs have exceeded income by a whopping $90,000. Readers might recall that we made a modest fundraising appeal last December, hoping to raise $50,000 in anticipation of this year's deficit. Unfortunately, we fell short of our goal by $15,000. On top of that, the deficit, which has grown on a yearly basis, turned out to be much larger than we had expected. We have therefore been draining our modest reserves on a monthly basis to cover operating costs -- something we can't continue doing for long.
In order to account for this year's deficit and prepare for next year's, we need to raise $165,000. Rather than demand the money by raising subscription rates, we again appeal to the generosity of you, our readers. This amount will help to restore financial stability and allow us to resume advertising for new subscribers, both in print and by direct mail, which we've had to drastically curtail. We want to be able to reach more people and do even greater work for the restoration of orthodox Catholicism -- our Church and our world depend on it.
Yes, the financial report is gloomy, but on the editorial side we have good news to share. Over the past year, the NOR's family of writers has grown by leaps and bounds, adding immeasurably to the quality of our witness. Readers with long memories will surely have recognized the return to our pages of several writers from distant years past, including David Mills (in this issue), Ronald Rychlak (in this issue), Patrick Madrid (Oct.), Fr. Regis Scanlon (Oct.), Peter Kreeft (Sept.), W. Patrick Cunningham (May), Fr. Vincent Lapomarda (Apr.), and Lucy E. Carroll (Oct. 2008, Dec. 2008). Moreover, over the past year we've welcomed many new writers to the NOR, some whose names are well known in the Catholic world, including Paul Kokoski (in this issue), William V. Williams (Sept.), Matthew Anger (Sept.), R. Kenton Craven (June), Edward Peters (June), Fr. Brian Mullady (Mar.), Heather M. Erb (Nov. 2008), Maria Hsia Chang (Oct. 2008, May 2009), and Judie Brown (Feb., Sept.), who has graciously agreed to come on board as a Contributing Editor.
What this means is that we have been able to bring you some of the best writers in the English-speaking Catholic world -- not only those mentioned above, but also those who have long been valued members of the NOR family (and are too numerous to list), as well as several up-and-comers who are just now beginning to make names for themselves. And we have many more surprises in store for you in the year to come, as long as we can recover a stable financial footing.
The media revolution could spell the end of print publications; those most at risk are small, independent publications like the NOR. If we allow this to happen, if we let the discussion of ideas die off, we will become a culture bereft of great minds. If we let magazines like the NOR, which excel in discussing ideas relating to the Church and the world, die off, we will become a Church saddled with mediocrity. We simply cannot let this happen. Ideas drive culture, innovation, policy, practice, and, most importantly, the dissemination of faith. With your help we can turn back the tide of the revolution, reclaim a spirit of intellectual vibrancy in the Church, and more effectively engage the world with the depth and riches of the Catholic faith.
Over the years we have heard from numerous readers who say they have been led into the Church by the unique presentation of the truths of the Catholic faith found in the NOR. Men, sometimes in spite of themselves, crave the truth. Moreover, men crave a compelling presentation of the truth. We firmly believe that the need for a journal such as the NOR is greater now than ever before.
We ask you to please stand with us, to prop us up, amid the winds of revolutionary change that threaten to sweep us away. The NOR is poised to deliver the best that Catholic journalism has to offer, but we can't do it without your help. We implore you to help us meet our fundraising goal of $165,000.
Donations to the NOR are, happily, tax deductible. The NOR is a nonprofit religious organization and has 501(c)(3) status with the Internal Revenue Service. Please mail your donation to: New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706. Checks and money orders may be made payable to: New Oxford Review. We also 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). To make a donation, please click this link to our secure server.
To the ramparts!