I have to wonder if this will happening in other dioceses soon, too.
The historic Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper — the official weekly publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh since 1844 — terminated all employees during a conference call that came as a surprise to staff Thursday.
“We were all terminated permanently,” said John Franko, a reporter who has been at the paper for nearly 30 years. “We were expecting layoffs, but this came as a shock. I guess they did what they had to do.”
The news came during a conference call with roughly 11 employees of the newspaper. Those laid off included a mix of reporters, editors, advertising salespeople, a business manager, a circulation manager and clerical staff.
The newspaper’s editor, Bill Cone, has served as head of the paper since October 2003.
“We didn’t really expect to completely lose our jobs,” Mr. Cone said. “The operations manager and I knew that our general financial situation at the newspaper was difficult. We’ve known that for months and years. … We were thinking it would be more of a temporary thing, something like a hiatus. Now, they’re saying it could be months before the diocese itself is able to get back to normal with people going to Mass.”
Since the 1970s, Pittsburgh Catholic has operated as a separate entity from the diocese, and it receives the majority of its funding through parishes. Parishes need to receive enough newspapers for at least 40% of their households.
The circulation of Pittsburgh Catholic was about 83,000, Mr. Cone said. About 50,000 of those were mailed in bulk to the churches, and the other roughly 30,000 copies were mailed to households. In addition to circulation money from parishes, half of the budget comes from advertising.
Mr. Cone highlighted a massive decline in print interest in the last 15 years — especially since the U.S. economic crash of 2008.
“A lot of people pulled out of newspapers, especially print,” Mr. Cone said. “With parishes as the lifeblood of our funding, we knew that when the bishop ended all the public Masses due to COVID-19, we would face even greater financial issues. A lot of people in the parishes pick up their papers in the back of the church. So when they go to Mass, that’s where they get their newspapers. We knew this past Monday there would be an issue with people receiving a paper, because they’re not showing up for church.”
Mr. Franko, 57, said there’s more to the paper’s closing than coronavirus concerns.
“Times are changing,” he said. “I guess they wanted to take things in a different direction here. There isn’t a huge call for diocese journalists.”