Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Getting the word out

Staff at religious publications and church newsletters are devoted to their readers, too

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Mennonite Brethren Herald staff with their latest issue: from left, advertising and circulation manager Helga Kasdorf, associate editor Karla Braun and editor Laura Kalmar.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Mennonite Brethren Herald staff with their latest issue: from left, advertising and circulation manager Helga Kasdorf, associate editor Karla Braun and editor Laura Kalmar. Photo Store

Like many magazine editors, Laura Kalmar worries about declining readership, escalating costs and the best way to reach new readers.

As the editor of a national faith-based publication, Kalmar has another set of interests to consider. How can she and her staff of six cover the news and issues while still toeing the denominational line?

"If you start playing around the edges of any theological debate, then the denomination looks more carefully and is more cautious about what is presented," says Kalmar, editor of the Winnipeg-based Mennonite Brethren Herald for the last nine years.

Staff at denominational publications has always had to juggle many interests, a task now more complicated by the pressure to keep up an online presence as well putting out a good print product, says the president of Canadian Church Press, an organization representing about 60 Christian publications across the country.

"So many of our people work in one- or two-person offices so they really appreciate meeting with their colleagues annually to get feedback and encouragement and professional development," says Ian Adnams, a freelance communicator and event planner from Vancouver.

About 40 members of the CCP meet in Winnipeg April 30 to May 2. For the first time in their 50-year history, they will merge their annual convention with that of the Association of Roman Catholic Communicators of Canada.

Most of the 130 or so Catholic members work at the diocesan level, distributing newsletters, monthly publications and publicizing events, says Pam Aleman, communications and public relations manager at the Archdiocese of Hamilton.

"We try to share the wonderful things that happen in the diocese," says Aleman, a member of the convention planning committee.

"It's such a joy, but it's a lot of work."

This year, the convention will focus on helping journalists providing good content to readers, whether it is delivered through the mail or online, says Adnams. The organization also plans to vote on whether to extend membership beyond journalists to include people working in communications in Christian organizations.

"We've been agonizing over delivery systems over the last four or five years, but we if don't have the content, we don't have the readers," says Adnams, former editor of the Canadian Lutheran.

"So we're focusing on the right stories for the right medium."

Sometimes, the right medium might just be the tried-and-true paper publication, says Kalmar, who finds the younger demographic among her 15,000 subscribers across Canada pay attention to her magazine because it is delivered to their mailboxes, not their inboxes.

"Print suddenly becomes cool and interesting because you're not getting as much in the mail," she says.

The bigger issue remains how religious news gets covered beyond the denominational press, says Kalmar, who worries that less attention in the mainstream press has negative effects on church publications.

"If the news media doesn't have a faith section, where does the story get told? What's the role of the denominational papers to keep the stories alive?"

In addition to workshops, business meetings and the annual award ceremony, the conference has a free public event. Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie, formerly of the Archdiocese of Keewatin-Le Pas, speaks about the challenges of communicating the Christian message on April 30 at 7 p.m. at the Delta Hotel at 350 St. Mary Ave.

brenda@suderman.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2014 D15

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