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Online California Catholic Publisher . . . Tells About Beefing Up Coverage

January 6, 2018 Frontpage No Comments

By DEXTER DUGGAN

SAN DIEGO — Black-and-white newspapers brought current events to Victorian mansions housing well-to-do readers more than a century ago here in the Golden Hill neighborhood rising above downtown San Diego.
Sharp color photos of breaking news events weren’t possible in papers back then, printed with hot-metal methods. Popular commercial radio was in the future, and the possibility of the global Internet unthinkable.
But decade succeeded decade, technology changed, newspaper pages were designed on electronic monitors, and this San Diego neighborhood no longer was so upscale.
From an office building in Golden Hill, above the first-floor Flying Panther tattoo shop and Ballet Basics studio, successful local publisher and pro-life activist Jim Holman looks out on a changed media environment.
Thanks to technology, Holman closed one of his endeavors in late 2006, the hard-copy editions of four monthly, lay-produced tabloid-size newspapers for California Catholics, and replaced them with a news-and-feature website, California Catholic Daily (cal-catholic.com).
The website announced early in November that more changes were on the way: more original stories by California writers, videos of live events in the state, “YouTube links for the best liturgies and homilies from the previous Sunday,” and “links to the best in Catholic radio from the current week.”
One reader’s online feedback to this news said CalCatholic “is a one-of-a-kind resource. If it fails, it would be impossible to find out about the goings-on in our Golden State.”
CalCatholic keeps readers updated on pro-life activities and, while reporting on Church controversies, can be considered to look favorably on what might be called orthodox Catholicism.
The Wanderer sat down with Holman the morning of December 27 to chat about his online newspaper and a little of the Church scene. It’s “kind of an interesting time for CalCatholic,” he said, with clicks going “up and up and up every year. . . . Get a lot of traffic.”
As a lay-run enterprise, CalCatholic doesn’t submit itself to control by Church agencies, but publishes news developments concerning them.
Holman said he wrote a letter to San Diego’s current bishop, Robert McElroy, when he first arrived here in 2015 after serving as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, but no relationship developed between them.
McElroy is regarded as a political “progressive” who injects that view into Church life.
“This bishop is completely avoiding me. I don’t care,” Holman told The Wanderer. “…He wants Rome to change doctrine.”
As to familiar speculation that McElroy would like to succeed 77-year-old Donald Cardinal Wuerl as archbishop of Washington, D.C., Holman said, “That’s what everybody says.”
Before the meeting at his Golden Hill office, The Wanderer had submitted a list of questions to Holman that he replied to by email. Here is that lightly edited Q-and-A.
Q. How long ago did you shut down the four print editions and start California Catholic Daily?
A. We shut down the San Diego News Notes, L.A. Mission, San Francisco Faith, and La Cruz de California (all of which had been printed since the 1990s) at the end of 2006 and started the daily website California Catholic Daily on January 1, 2007.
Q. What was your total print circulation versus your current reach?
A. I believe it was roughly 20,000 per paper, so that would have been 80,000 a month total circulation for the four papers. Now our daily number of visitors is 5,000-10,000, so, depending on how many times a person visits per month, I would estimate the monthly readership between 75,000 and 200,000.
Q. Presumably you had very little foreign print readership. Some from Mexico? What are your online foreign contact figures? From where?
A. (Editor) Bob McPhail can best answer this; we have a map showing where readers come from. (McPhail replied: Specific numbers are not available, but locations are. For example, in the last 24 hours, as of 7 a.m. Pacific Time, December 28, California Catholic Daily has had visitors from the following countries: Nigeria, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Belgium, the United Kingdom, France, the Philippines, and Austria.)
Q. The advantages to ending the print editions were, I imagine, minimizing staff costs and production and distribution costs, plus having no hard monthly deadline when you can update daily. But what were the disadvantage(s) to ending print? Did you print all the editions at one location? If so, you trucked the other cities’ editions to their locations, or used some ground delivery service?
A. We printed in San Diego, L.A., and the Bay area. All were sent via U.S. Mail except La Cruz, which was delivered in bundles by drivers to churches in Baja and parishes in southern California with large Hispanic populations. All four papers cost roughly $900,000 a year to support.
Q. It’s my impression you have less localized coverage now when you have just the one online site. Is that correct?
A. I think the proportion may be similar. But what is different is the sourcing. We had staff writing stories and we reprinted stories from elsewhere. With online, we have so many sources — stories emailed to us, some written for us, but also a lot of reprinting. Good example is story run (December 26) about a parish fire emailed to us by a San Bernardino Diocese official. Another example is Karl Keating’s Facebook posting on the Phil Lawler book we ran (December 27). The Internet opens up so many sources we never had as printed papers.
(Editor’s Note: A sample paragraph from Keating’s Facebook posting on the book Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis Is Misleading His Flock, says: “To me the most interesting parts of the book concern Francis’ background in Argentina, his personal style (preemptory, conniving, sometimes even using low language), and his very ‘Jesuitical’ machinations before and after becoming pope. In these regards he is quite unlike his predecessors — at least unlike all the other popes of my lifetime.”)
Q. Your plans for the coming year are more original stories by California writers. Is this to address a shortcoming I suggested in the previous question?
A. Yes, we hope to use many more original, unique stories. That’s why we have solicited writers on our site and on Facebook. We pay $75 to $150 per story, so a person can make some good side money.
Q. What will be involved, cost- and production-wise, to have the videos of live events in the state that are announced in your plans? Just asking people to submit videos, or will you actually have some sort of planning desk to arrange for this?
A. We encourage videos from all writers and pay them extra. Once they submit via YouTube, it is easy to embed in the stories.
Q. Same question for the YouTubes for liturgies and homilies — ask for submissions, or you schedule this in advance? If you just take submissions, will you need to do some verification process in this day of fake news?
A. We have asked for submissions for homilies via Facebook, but we are lucky to know the parishes in the state, so we can find pretty easily. We have been graced by great sermons by Fr. Anthony Saroki, Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, Bishop Michael Barber, Fr. Joseph Illo, Msgr. Steven Otellini in November and December; look forward to many more next year. Regarding checking stories, both Bob McPhail and I have a lot of experience fact-checking and source-checking, so we are lucky that way.
Q. How many are on your staff now? It doesn’t sound like you plan to expand them. What do you anticipate your expanded efforts will add to your expenses?
A. We have four full- and part-time staffers doing the choosing, editing, posting. We can increase our coverage significantly with just that staff. But we want to add as many freelancers writing about California and the Church as possible. I would be happy with 5 to 10 more writers.
Q. Does CalCatholic exist just on donations? Do you have any “angel” funding sources? Can you name any?
A. Income is about 10 percent advertising, 90 percent donations. We have two donors in the five-digit range, five to six in the four-digit range, and many smaller donations, some of whom give small amount every month. Total budget is around $30,000 a year.
Q. I guess it’d be fair to say the site is inclined toward orthodoxy. Have you had any problems with certain bishops, say, alleging that you’re restricting the embrace of the Church?
A. Interaction with bishops has been nonexistent, but not surprising since we have potential to embarrass them, even the good ones.
Q. When specifically in the new year will the changes take effect? At once or gradually?
A. A lot of the changes we talked about at our September board meeting have gone into effect in September, October, November. The adding of best homilies, weekly Catholic Answers, and Patrick Coffin shows, trailers of best Catholic movies (from Ignatius Press and a new ministry called Formed), and a category we call Elsewhere — links to minor California stories and stories from outside California. The new writer development has started, but is a work in progress.
Q. Are you also announcing the changes via any other print or online media?
A. Outside of our site, we use Facebook.
Q. What is negative and positive feedback you get to your current effort? Much of it?
A. No negative feedback; hard to measure positive — just a few casual conversations.
Q. Do you find a general awareness of CalCatholic’s presence among the a) Catholic or b) wider population? Any secular media that you know watch CalCatholic for news or ideas?
A. All we can measure is the traffic; it seems to be generally higher all along, with some spectacular days of 15,000 to 20,000 visits.

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