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Michigan Catholic newspaper to close, be replaced with online news site

The transition to a digital-only publication does not mean the archdiocese is abandoning its dedication to Catholic news.

The Michigan Catholic, one of the state's oldest newspapers, is ceasing publication after nearly 150 years.

The paper will be replaced later this year with a digital-only news website called the Detroit Catholic, Archdiocese of Detroit officials said. The last print edition will be Aug. 24.

Mike Stechschulte, managing editor of The Michigan Catholic, said Wednesday in a letter on the newspaper's website that circulation has steadily declined over the past two decades amid rising costs, the same challenges facing newspapers all over the country.

The transition to a digital-only publication does not mean the archdiocese is abandoning its dedication to Catholic news, he said.

"Rather, it will allow us to focus even more on the stories of faith, hope and love that abound in our community, telling those stories in new and innovative ways, and delivering that content to you in a more timely and engaging format," he said.

Five Michigan Catholic staffers are losing their jobs, according to Free Press columnist John Gallagher, president of the Newspaper Guild of Detroit. The newspaper has a staff of seven.

The Detroit Catholic website will launch in November.

As part of the transition, Michigan Catholic subscribers will receive two Catholic publications for free: Our Sunday Visitor Weekly for three months, and The Word Among Us Catholic Mass edition magazine for six months.

The Michigan Catholic was founded in 1872 as a weekly newspaper covering a range of topics that impacted the lives of Catholics in Metro Detroit. It is the official newspaper of the archdiocese, and is believed to be the second-oldest newspaper in Michigan.

In 2010, after the archdiocese eliminated the newspaper’s $250,000 annual subsidy, publication was reduced to twice a month.

Currently, the paper's total print run is 26,000. About 6,000 copies go to individual subscribers, and the rest are delivered in bulk to parishes and schools, said Holly Fournier, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

The Michigan Catholic has won several awards over the years. It previously was named "Newspaper of the Year" by the Catholic Press Association.

Msgr. Patrick Halfpenny, who was editor from about 1993 to 1996, said the paper aimed to help Catholics better understand their faith while being a place where people could learn about the church's perspective on a variety of matters.

"Sometimes, that meant they would read about things in The Michigan Catholic that they wouldn’t read about in other papers," he said.

Halfpenny said he remembered a particularly outstanding series in the mid-1970s about the history of black Catholics both in the universal church and in the archdiocese. Halfpenny, then a deacon, was a contributor to the project.

In a letter to parishes, Edmundo Reyes, director of communications for the archdiocese, assured readers that the new website will regularly publish important stories.

"Our proud and award-winning history of reporting the news will continue and grow as we aim to publish a minimum of one local story each weekday, while continuing to share national and global church news," Reyes said. "We’ll also continue to offer extensive coverage of key archdiocesan events, as we did for the beatification of Blessed Father Solanus Casey."

Officials said moving to a new digital-only news site reflects Archbishop Allen Vigneron's call in his pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel, to make evangelization a top priority.

Vigneron, in a letter about the change, said that in addition to finding news on the Detroit Catholic website, readers will be able to subscribe to free e-mail news summaries.

He also said the archdiocese will launch a "multi-channel faith-formation and evangelization communications effort" next year that will include online and print publications.

Officials plan to contact current Michigan Catholic subscribers and advertisers later this week with more details about the transition.

An advertisement for The Michigan Catholic that appeared in an October 1952 edition of the Detroit Free Press boasted that the paper's weekly circulation had surpassed 100,000.

"It has become one of the greatest family weekly newspapers in the United States," the ad said.

Contact staff writer Ann Zaniewski at 313-222-6594 or azaniewski@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter: @AnnZaniewski.

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