By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
CHARLESTON — The New Catholic Miscellany has a long and storied history, including the distinction of being the first Catholic newspaper founded in America in 1822. While the publication has grown immeasurably, now, in the information age of the 21st century, there are a variety of sources to receive Catholic news and information.
Last fall, The Miscellany commissioned Marketing Analysis Associates (MAA) of San Diego to undertake a readership survey designed to ascertain information about the reading habits of recipients. The last such study was undertaken in 1995, in conjunction with the diocesan stewardship office.
The newspaper has a distribution of close to 29,000. MAA selected 1,850 households on the basis of probability sampling to receive a questionnaire. In addition, each priest in the diocese received a copy of the survey.
In early September, a postcard signed by Bishop Robert J. Baker was sent to all potential respondents advising them that they would be receiving a questionnaire. Subsequently, the surveys were sent to the respondents. By the time results began to be tabulated in early October, questionnaires had been received from 483 families and 85 clergy.
“That is a phenomenal rate of return,” said Walter M. Gerson, Ph.D., owner of MAA and a professor of marketing at San Diego State University. Gerson said his firm had recently completed studies for two California diocesan newspapers, with their rate of survey returns being half the number of questionnaires submitted by Miscellany readers.
A variety of subjects were included in questions sent to households and clergy.
Among them were frequency of readership; amount of time spent reading issues of the diocesan newspaper; preferences for future articles and features; itemized rating by readers of overall design, photography and content; other sources of Catholic news and information; access to the Internet; day of the week on which the paper is received; additions, changes or deletions they would recommend to the publication; ministries respondents believe should be given priority in the diocese; length of residence in South Carolina; and demographic information such as marital status, age, residence, and education level.
Based on the responses received on completed questionnaires, MAA researchers offered several observations.
Among recipient families of The Miscellany, 82 percent read four out of four issues. Among clergy, 98 percent read at least three out of each four issues.
“Coupled with the rate of return on this survey, this is outstanding loyalty to the publication,” said Gerson.
Nearly three-fourths of households spent up to an hour reading an average issue. A similar amount of time is reported by the clergy.
As to the most read features, front-page news topped the list with 72 percent, followed by diocesan news at 43 percent, Bishop Baker’s monthly column at 41 percent, letters to the editor at 37 percent, and “Seminarians At A Glance” with 31 percent.
Respondents were also asked to choose from a list of proposed stories they would like to read more about in the future. Households chose, in order of preference, Catholic beliefs, diocesan news, Vatican news, prayer/spiritual growth and national news. Priests listed diocesan news, Vatican news, national news, world news and Catholic beliefs.
Asked to evaluate the overall content of The Miscellany, 86 percent of households rated the content as “good” or “excellent.” Among priests the findings were also quite high, at 81 percent.
Gerson said, “This clearly indicates that the readers of The Miscellany are generally very pleased with the present product.”
Finally, 95 percent of households and 89 percent of priests are of the opinion that The Miscellany keeps them informed about important diocesan events.
“The recipients are a well-educated, stable audience who are overall well-satisfied with The Miscellany,” said Gerson.
Respondents were given an opportunity to participate in a give-away of a $250 gift certificate to the King Charles Inn, located in downtown Charleston. Later this month, Bishop Baker will select the name of the prize recipient, which will be publicized in The Miscellany.