What’s the Future of The Southern Cross?
What is the situation now for The Southern Cross? Editor Günther Simmermacher answers questions about the present challenges and the vision for future
Q: How has lockdown affected The Southern Cross?
A: The lockdown effectively took away our points of sale—the parishes—in one fell swoop. That means that the only income we receive is from advertising, digital subscriptions and donations.
While all that helps, it doesn’t cover our overheads. Our board has had to make tough decisions, including salary cuts for all staff.
Happily, our landlord, the archdiocese of Cape Town, agreed to a significant reduction in rent for the lockdown period. So at the moment we are drawing from our already thin reserves.
Of course, we receive no subsidy whatsoever from the Church.
Will The Southern Cross survive the crisis?
Nobody knows what will happen next. Even the massive sports industries have to play it by ear. The longer churches are closed or congregations are heavily restricted, the more pressure we feel because we can’t print and sell our editions.
So if one day our reserves run dry, there’ll be no more Southern Cross, which nobody in his right mind would want. We already know that there won’t be a bailout from the bishops’ conference, because they have lost all the funding they raise every year with the Lenten Appeal.
It really would be a shame if this newspaper were to go under just a few months before it would celebrate its 100th birthday.
Having said that, from the beginning, the staff and board were committed to work hard to keep The Southern Cross alive. We do our very best to continue to produce a topclass newspaper, and to promote it as best as we can.
The rest we place in God’s hands.
How is The Southern Cross produced during lockdown?
The newspaper appears as it would in print, only digitally now. And all that is done from our respective home-offices. The staff haven’t seen each other since March 25, the day before lockdown, and still we are able to produce a newspaper while maintaining our high quality.
All that is being done through digital communication, which I never thought would work. But we quickly found our rhythm and systems. Not having to drive in rush hour to work is a bonus.
I find, though, that working at home, I put in many more hours than I did in the office.
Has the digital Southern Cross been well-received?
I do hope so.
We certainly have people reading The Southern Cross who didn’t do so before, through the free edition which we make available every Sunday.
The point of making the digital editions free — though accessible later than for the subscribers — was to make sure that those who used to buy the newspaper at Mass on Sundays would still have access to it.
We also wanted to bring the Church to the people at a time when they can’t go to church.
And, of course, we are hoping that those who have discovered The Southern Cross through the free issue will want their Catholic newspaper when we return to print, or even subscribe now to the digital edition.
And has that succeeded?
Well, we’ll see when we print again. But the digital subscriptions have increased, and the engagement with our digital presence has been really encouraging.
I hope that many people will go to their parish priest and ask that they increase their order of The Southern Cross, or stock it if they didn’t do so before.
But print media is on the way out. Why not just stay digital?
Research shows the opposite: print media is still valued and valuable. The trick is to see how print can best work in conjunction with digital.
That is the challenge for us.
If we survive this crisis — which, with God’s help, I think we will — it’s important that we review and then implement various options. So we might find that a different format, like maybe a magazine, would serve our readership and community better than the present one.
These discussions are already underway, with some exciting ideas.
Does that review also include the bishops?
The bishops’ conference is represented on the board of directors, through the president and secretary-general, as well as a lay representative.
If a bishop wishes to contribute ideas, one way to do so is through these board members.
Of course, they can also communicate directly with me, also to send in news or opinion articles.
As The Southern Cross, we have done a lot to engage with the bishops over the years, and we have even requested a session at a plenary at which we could exchange ideas with all the bishops in our region.
I really hope that this will still be possible in the future.
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