A Note from the Chair: We are Looking Ahead
Issue #5000 is a good time to recall the proud history of The Southern Cross, but it is also a time to look to the future, writes ROSANNE SHIELDS, chair of the Catholic Newspaper & Publishing Co, which publishes the newspaper.
The Holy Spirit chose St Patrick’s Day for the birth of the concept of a newspaper for the Catholic Church of Southern Africa.
It took just over three years to get from the idea to the point of printing the first edition in October 1920 — and now here we are, celebrating issue number 5000.
I wonder whether anybody on that March day in 1917 really thought we would be here today, 99 years later, still sharing the news.
There are so many people who have worked together to achieve this: editors, journalists, reporters, business and administrative staff, volunteers, clergy and religious, advertisers, contributors, supporters, directors and you, the readers.
Growing up in a Catholic home, The Southern Cross was always on our kitchen table, a part of the general landscape. But as a teenager and student I paid it little attention.
Then when Michael Shackleton came along in mid-1995, it suddenly started speaking to me — and it has done so ever since. Now I lose sleep over it, love it like a member of the family and feel it is part of my DNA.
As a small child I remember my grandfather, Jean Pothier, being on the board and speaking “Southern Cross”. Later I shared many a stiff drink with my father, Bernard, also serving time on the board, as he worried about falling circulation. I look at my fellow directors and I know this paper has us by the heart.
Now we must look to the future. Nothing in this world stands still, the pace of the 21st century is frenetic and young people are even more easily distracted.
While our circulation has fallen at a slower rate than that of mainstream publications, this is cold comfort. Fortunately the decision was taken some time ago to embrace the digital age, and our online presence has steadily grown. With our sights firmly set on our 100th jubilee in 2020 we are increasing this presence via our website and social media.
Once our key mission was “A Catholic newspaper in every Catholic home”; now we must aim for “Catholic media in every Catholic home…and in any home where we are wanted”.
We need to count our success not by whether the paper is on the kitchen table, but by whether our children read it on their smart phones, “like” our Facebook page and share snippets with their friends. Young people are the future of our Church and we must meet them in their way, with a message that resonates for them.
While we have much to celebrate and be thankful for with this 5000th edition, there is one major issue that saddens and frustrates us. This is the lack of adequate support from many of our bishops and priests, and in some cases from parish pastoral councils.
The Southern Cross is largely reliant on marketing at parish level. This is our key point of sale and where our readership is located. Yet, generally speaking and gratefully noting glowing exceptions, so little effort is put into encouraging people to buy the paper or subscribe online. Why? Is there another national Catholic paper we don’t know about? For better or for worse, this is it.What’s more, we have been “it” for 5000 editions, published weekly, uninterrupted, surviving a world war, various political crises, economic recessions and now the inefficiency of the South African Post Office. In all of this time we have not cost the Church hierarchy a cent.
No other mainstream church in Southern Africa has anything like The Southern Cross. Our paper deserves better.
Here at The Southern Cross we will continue to serve our readers and the Church as best we can by reporting on the work of the Church in the modern world, analysing the challenges that Catholics and those of other faiths or no faith must face, providing insights and diverse views, always reflecting the Gospels, Church doctrine and Catholic Social Teachings.
We will carry different viewpoints because this stimulates dialogue and thereby deepens our understanding of our faith.
The editor is not alone in this. He has the support of the directors and draws on the wealth of experience of those on the newly-established Editorial Advisory Board, coming from the fields of communication, social development, theology and academia.
Special thanks must go to all of our associates who have helped us to get to this point. It would not have been financially possible without you.
Sincere thanks also to editor Günther Simmermacher and our current staff for their hard work in putting this special edition together.
The Southern Cross has a unique opportunity now to embrace new forms of communication and we invite you to join us on this journey, one described so powerfully by Pope Francis for the 48th World Communications Day: “We are called to show that the Church is the home of all. Are we capable of communicating the image of such a Church? Communication is a means of expressing the missionary vocation of the entire Church…”
Let’s grow and promote our paper because none of us knows when the Holy Spirit is speaking to the young man or woman with a vocation, the social activist who needs encouragement, the long-serving priest or sister who deserves recognition or the letter writer who seeks an expression of their faith.
Don’t let it lie dormant at the back of the church.
Rosanne Shields is the first female chair of the board of directors of the Catholic Newspaper & Publishing Company.