MAGAZINES AND PERIODICALSOur intention here is to deal with those publications that come in the size and shape of newspapers, as well as those in the format of magazines and reviews. Whatever their content, they all have the characteristic of being distributed at regular or irregular intervals.
Distribution of magazines and periodicals
In our times, when everything is swift and standardized, many people read, but few have the time and the means for deep study. Most want concise information, happy to skim quickly over the most complex
and diverse subjects and to acquire a spontaneous and a pointlessly dazzling education.
Thus the periodical and the magazine prevail: weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quarterly, with and without illustrations. Indeed, the non-illustrated reviews, which have a greater scientific and serious look to them, enjoy a wider circulation.
Specialized magazines and periodicals that include a bit of everything and cater to the needs of the times find an ever-expanding readership. Every possible and imaginable title is on display.
Many people prefer them to books because of their low cost, ready availability, the little space they occupy and their wide variety of topics.
Indeed, one can say that this type of lore is a real competitor to the book, when it does not supplant it. It typifies the small personal library of the middle class. More than any other kind of printed matter it points to the haste of our age, its amateurism, the longing for knowledge and the little time and desire to acquire it. It responds, in sum, to the transformation and growth of indulgent and modern readers.
Value of magazines and periodicals
Magazine readers have generally an almost blind faith in what they read; this then becomes the core of their thinking, their reasoning and their conversation.
Because such readers are so numerous, it can be said that much of present-day opinion - public, religious, political and social - lives on and satiates itself with this tabloid food, without reflecting that it is often harmful to both knowledge and the soul.1
Not all of this is to be condemned; indeed it is often to be supported because it helps spread knowledge and responds to the needs of the times. But, and precisely for this reason, if the journalist has a serious responsibility, all the more so has the magazine and periodical writer, to whom readers turn in a special way for accurate, reliable and expert information. His readership in general is the less informed, the less educated and the busiest people who place almost blind trust in him.
Ordinarily the periodical and the magazine have a far greater influence than the book. A reader generally chooses the latter according to his discretion and not always according to need. In practice, even if a book is bought by design,
its effect is lessened because it deals simply with one topic. A book easily tires the reader or, at least, it does not lend itself to be easily read again because the common tendency is to look always for something new.
Contrariwise, the magazine and the periodical are appealing and often their pulling power lies in their pictures and unusual articles. Still, this variety that ought to constitute their worth is, not infrequently, a carrier of venom. The excuse that a magazine is for all tastes is very often the Achilles heel whereby error and bad advice filter into people's minds.
But it is also true that if the magazine and periodical are sober, properly presented and solidly based, then they become a great means for popularizing topics that would not otherwise be accessible to most people. Above all, they become a means of fruitful apostolate because it is constant, widespread and generally well received.
Norms for the apostle
Apart from the negative aspect of dissuading people from reading magazines and periodicals that do not conform to religious principles, the apostle must look at the much more active and positive aspect of keeping his present readers and remaining on the lookout for new ones.
He is not to think that his present readers
need no help. The apostle is aiming to do good, not to make money. For him (even more so if he is a religious) the exercise of the vow of poverty, dependent on his situation, consists for the most part in supporting those magazines and periodicals which, although in the red, are sure to do real good. This is the almsgiving not of bread but of the word of God; a charity that goes unrecognized or not appreciated by people, and is indeed at times disapproved of because of the risks involved. But it is always a heroic and highly meritorious form of charity that will gain for him in paradise an unexpected reward.
When the means and conditions allow it the apostle himself may and indeed must launch magazines and periodicals that respond to the spiritual needs of people, of both those who are looking for them and of those who are not. If these publications are to achieve their purpose and not be rejected, their content, style of presentation and distribution method has to appeal to the reader.
It is accepted that the magazine and periodical are among the most difficult and demanding of publications because they go to people in all walks of life and respond to a need that reflects a collective, changeable and often puerile sense of taste.
This is why they need, as does the daily newspaper, a competent editor who
is able to oversee personally every detail of the three stages - editorial work, printing and distribution, and administration.
As regards the editorial stage he is to take particular care to achieve his purpose by using a variety of features.
The specific purpose of the apostle's magazines and periodicals is religious formation. The editor is to see that the topic of religion, which is superior to all others, is dealt with fittingly. The characteristic of this subject must be twofold: it is to be explored in such a way as to make people prefer it to harmful reading, and it to be directed to the mind, the will and the heart of readers so as to raise them up wholly to God.
Ways are to be found at the opportune time to give preference to all that makes up the Catholic faith, morals and worship, so that the reader comes, almost imperceptibly, to an understanding and practice of the Christian life in keeping with his state. While yet holding firmly to the principles of religion, one may and, at times, one has to talk about politics, seize on a historical fact or set a personage in his or her own milieu, or at other times deal with sport, poetry, the arts, science, miscellaneous features, and so on.
Care is to be taken to see that there is plenty of variety. Woe betide monotony!
The more the readers' curiosity is satisfied (they may be likened to a child, the eternal and never-satisfied questioner), the more the editor will touch on the problems that reflect the times and thus make the magazine more appreciated.
It is not the editor's task to simply fill the pages but to find space also for wide-ranging variety. As well as the editorial he should periodically have a question and answer session with his readers, just as does the teacher in the class or the preacher in the sermon. He is to get to know his readers as much as possible and to adapt his articles to their mental ability and to what they prefer in such a way that they not only enjoy the magazine but eagerly looked forward to it.
Let him see that stories vary, common forms of expression be used, and problems touched on rather than discussed.
The technical aspect is not to be overlooked. Although of lesser importance it is what hits the reader and gives the initial reaction of like or dislike.
The editor is to set out rules as regards page layout, choice of typefaces and the use of white space. The cover and headline titles, as all the rest, should be eye-catching, excite [the reader's] curiosity and give a sense of good taste.
Lastly, he is to supervise the correction of the proofs, the printing, the cover, the dispatching and the administration.
The editor's work does not conclude with the editorial and the technical side. It also includes distribution.
The readers are the editor's particular students and, at times, if we may so express it, his spiritual children. He is to consider and to treat them as such. He is not to lose anyone. He is to keep in touch with them frequently, either through the newspaper's pages or privately. He is to make his own their wishes and needs. Readers are to experience his paternal affection as well as his vibrant and encouraging help.
Let him never be happy with the number of his pupils. His is not a closed class. Having won over committed readers he is to look for new ones. To this end he can utilize the periodicals themselves by way of publicity pieces2 and articles... as well as getting readers interested in finding new subscribers... Practical know-how and zeal will suggest the means.
Since the editor cannot attend to every individual reader he is to have helpers. But he must oversee everything and everyone. He is the teacher.
A magazine's life depends to a great extent on administration. Here too the editor is to be directly involved. He is to set the subscriber's offering and to use all means to avoid liabilities that would put the magazine or periodical into the danger of coming to an end.
1 Naturally we are not referring to the scientific review, which almost always proves how valuable it is.
2 * The Italian text has: Reclami sta per annunci pubblicitari.