newspaper fame

How to Get 112% Parish Engagement

Hoover AdamsWhat if 112% of Parishioners read your Church bulletin/website/Facebook page?

"No one reads the bulletin" is a commonly heard lament in Catholic churches, right up there with "No one cares about our parish website" and "No one ever knows what is going on in the parish".  Our churches have plenty to offer and plenty going on, but getting the members of your church to listen can be like trying to yell through a brick wall.

In 2001 in the small town of Dunn, North Carolina the local newspaper The Daily Record achieved 112% market penetration.  In laymen terms: they were selling more newspapers on a consistent basis than there were homes in the town.  Either people from outside Dunn were buying the newspaper, or some homes in Dunn were buying multiple copies.  (Not enough to go around the house maybe?)

To say everyone read The Daily Record was literally an understatement.

How does a small local newspaper get over 100% penetration in their town?

Enter Hoover Adams

In 1950 the World War II veteran Hoover Adams founded The Daily Record.  Hoover began coordinating a military-like campaign to make his paper the best and most read newspaper in town.  Hoover's strategy: "names, names, and names."

Hoover had a laser-like focus on two things: getting as many names in the paper as possible and reporting on local news over and above everything else. 


Hoover was known for stating that if The Daily Record printed the entire phone book in the next edition of the paper, people would pick it up and read it just to see if their name made the cut.  He impressed upon his staff that reporting on the lives and events of people in Dunn took precedence over everything else.

It is a simple fact of human psychology that we are interested in ourselves first and foremost, then people we know, and then events or people indirectly related to us.  Think about it - when you see a group picture of you and your friends, whose face do you look for first?


The local story, no matter how mundane, was more important than anything happening outside of Dunn.  For example, in 1995 fifteen people died in an airplane crash in nearby Raleigh.  The front page of The Daily Record covered the story of a bear hit by a pickup truck in Dunn.

This created a strong community aspect of the paper.  You felt in touch with the community by reading about people you knew about.  In a way, the entire town of Dunn connected to each other through the newspaper. And it made sense that the people of Dunn were interested in the local story.  If you see two news stories online, one about your neighbor and one about a man from another state, which do you read first?

Being Relevant

In a past post, I argued that being relevant means addressing the cares and concerns of people above anything else.

Hoover Adams knew people in Dunn had plenty of options when it came to newspapers, but The Daily Record would speak to the most important concerns and cares of his readers more than anything else.  No event was too small, and if you go to their website you'll still see pictures and stories on everything from  the local salvation army to birthday parties.

To figure out how to address the cares and concerns of your parishioners when creating a bulletin, website, Facebook page, or any other communication media, ask yourself the question "Who is involved?" and "Why would people care about this?".

If you build community and connections by addressing what people care most about (themselves and the people they know) they will feel more connected to the church community and be more willing to listen to what else is taking place in the parish - the event you really want everyone to know about. _____________________________________________________________________________

Some practical Do's and Dont's...


Don't write only about what YOU care about, write about what THEY care about.

Okay: Bible Study Group this Wednesday Better: Want to meet young married couples your age?  Newlywed Bible study is this Wednesday.

Don't only communicate events and schedules to people.

No one reads a newspaper because they want to know what every single organization in their area has planned for that weekend.  If you want people to be interested in what is going on in the parish, include names and stories.

Okay: Rosary Making Group - Every Sat. at 7am Better: Mary Jane is starting a "Rosary Making Group" with Sue Smith and Billy Bob that meets every Saturday at 7 a.m.  They would love your help!


Build community by connecting people to each other.

Include lots of pictures of people and events over and above cool graphics or stock images.  Even if that photo of the basketball team isn't that great, people will recognize little Timmy and care instead of seeing a posed photo of some kid model no one knows.

Give people what they want - stories about them and the people they know.

Report more frequently about the people in your parish community.  Add photos of parishioners to your Facebook page and website.  Tag people on a regular basis.


“Say What?” Monday Catechism Series #4 - Newspaper Fame

A new series on this blog. Each Monday I’ll be posting a gem from our Catechism of the Catholic Church that is interesting or remarkable. (I missed Monday this week, so here is the belated Monday post.)

This week’s Interesting Catechism talks about forsaking everything in the world that does not give true happiness, for we find happiness in God alone, "the source of every good and of all love".  It includes a great quote from John Henry Cardinal Newman addressing the lures of the world that include even "newspaper fame".  Challenging words for a blogger like me who can get caught up in chasing after page views.

1723 The beatitude we are promised confronts us with decisive moral choices. It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else. It teaches us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement - however beneficial it may be - such as science, technology, and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love:

All bow down before wealth. Wealth is that to which the multitude of men pay an instinctive homage. They measure happiness by wealth; and by wealth they measure respectability. . . . It is a homage resulting from a profound faith . . . that with wealth he may do all things. Wealth is one idol of the day and notoriety is a second. . . . Notoriety, or the making of a noise in the world - it may be called "newspaper fame" - has come to be considered a great good in itself, and a ground of veneration.
(John Henry Cardinal Newman, "Saintliness the Standard of Christian Principle," in Discourses to Mixed Congregations (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1906) V, 89-90.)



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