The Anglican Journal held up a mirror to its readership recently and found a group that is, in the main, quite fond of the church’s national newspaper.
The Journal has been doing a “good job” of meeting the expectations of its readers across Canada but like other religious publications, it is having a difficult time attracting younger readers, a benchmark readership survey conducted this spring has shown.
Commissioned by the Journal and conducted by PSI Inc., the survey showed that a “significant portion” of the newspaper’s readers are eager to receive the monthly publication: 59 per cent said they immediately read some articles and save others for later while 13 per cent said they read it from cover to cover immediately.
The survey, the newspaper’s first in more than a decade, showed that there is a “sustained level of interest” in the Journal, with 30 per cent stating that they spend 45 minutes to an hour reading or looking at an issue, 23 per cent stating between 30 minutes to 45 minutes, and 22 per cent stating more than an hour. The Journal also gets around, with 55 per cent of readers living in two-person households claiming a second reader, 15 per cent living in three-person households claiming two other readers and five per cent living in four-person households claiming three other readers.
The survey – mailed to 5,000 randomly-chosen readers last May – saw a terrific response, said editor Leanne Larmondin. “We received more than 1,100 completed surveys; that’s a pretty extraordinary response rate,” said Ms. Larmondin.
Asked about their reasons for reading the Journal, 71 per cent of readers said the newspaper provides them with a link to the rest of the Anglican Church of Canada, and more than half (58 per cent) said it provides them with a link to the rest of the global Anglican Communion. Thirty per cent said it gives them a faith perspective that is missing from the secular media.
Among respondents’ comments:
- “I often go back to the paper and reread some. I think a newspaper is a necessary tool for communicating across Canada.”
- Many wrote of the Journal, “Interesting and informative;” Some readers pointed to the editorial and columns as “often good for thought and for reflection.”
- “I am 86 years old; I have arthritis and am not able to get to church – the church priest comes to me. I wait for the Journal and read it as soon as it comes.”
- “I meet with a group from our church to discuss (usually) Bible topics. Sometimes we discuss articles in the current (diocesan newspaper) or the Journal.”
- “I occasionally discuss articles I have read in the Journal with Anglican friends or other friends who have an interest in the Christian faith.”
- “Refreshing, positive, constructive. The Anglican Journal enhances my spiritual life.”
- “The Anglican Journal gives me a sense of the church as a whole.”
- “I particularly like to follow Anglican response to issues of the day such as residential school, same-sex marriage, elections etc. It is my main source for finding out what Anglican policy and thinking is on these topics.”
The survey showed other interesting results: The average Journal reader is female and is of middle-income. Additionally, women readers were “far more likely than men to see the linkages to the worldwide communion as important,” and those under 50 were “less interested in either the world wide links or the news of church personalities but more interested in the perspective provided that is missing from secular media.”
The sobering, yet not surprising, news that affects the future of the Journal is that its readership is aging, said the survey. “Sixty-nine percent of the readers are over 65 and a full 41 per cent are over 76 years of age. Only five per cent of respondents who stated their age (six per cent did not) were under 50,” the survey said. But it stated that, “The major difficulty for the publication is a challenge shared by publishers of religious periodicals throughout North America (and perhaps the world) at this period in history.
(The survey company noted that older readers are more inclined to complete direct mail surveys.)
Ms. Larmondin said that while the average Anglican churchgoer – like those in most mainline denominations in North America – is getting older, the survey presents a challenge to the Journal’s editorial staff: to attract younger readers without alienating its most loyal readers.
A majority of readers also prefer the Journal in its current form: 85 per cent of all respondents said they have never visited the Anglican Journal Web site; only two per cent said they visit it once a month or more. “It is evident from this response that the Anglican Journal’s readership is generally not interested in visiting the Web site for the publication despite their loyalty to it,” the survey’s executive summary said. “This may in part be due to the relatively low percentage that has computers and Internet access: just over half currently have this facility.”
The survey – which was intended to help both the newspaper’s editorial and advertising departments – was made possible due to the success of the 2005 Anglican Journal Appeal. Four dioceses also financially assisted the project: Saskatoon, New Westminster, Ottawa and Niagara.