Los Angeles archdiocese transforms media outreach

“Today, more than ever, we need a vital and independent Catholic media presence.”

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles made this observation in his announcement of Angelus News, the new archdiocesan print magazine and online news outlet, launched July 1. “We find ourselves in a highly secularized society,” Gomez said. “Sadly, most Catholics today get most of their news and information about their faith from secular sources that are hostile to the Church.”

While The Tidings, the archdiocese’s newspaper since 1895, was well-written and reached 60,000 readers a week, Gomez — with 5 million Catholics under his care — saw that more needed to be done. As John David Long-Garcia, editor-in-chief of Angelus News, told Our Sunday Visitor, “Our motto has been ‘To battle for the truth’ … but it’s also important for us to be telling it in a way that people hear.”

So Archbishop Gomez expanded the archdiocese’s communications. He hired people like David Scott, formerly editor-in-chief of Catholic News Agency, to head up the communications department and Matt Meeks, a former advertising and media expert at Warner Brothers, to oversee the communications department's new digital media team.

Then what began with an idea of rebranding grew into a 32-page glossy magazine and a multimedia news platform called Angelus News. The scope of articles is now much broader: from Catholic L.A. and California to U.S. and world news, as well as social issues, sports and faith. The online culture and entertainment section — covering film, TV, music, art and books — already boasts dozens of articles.

“We’re definitely L.A.-focused and L.A.-based, but we’re blessed to have contributors from different parts of the country and world,” Long-Garcia said. The Angelus News website includes a section called “Voices,” with links to Catholic writers from the wider Church. These contributors include Vatican analyst John Allen Jr., popular writer/speaker Bishop Robert Barron, Scripture scholar Scott Hahn, Vatican correspondent Inés San Martin and many others.

While the Angelus magazine and the Spanish-language newspaper, Vida Nueva, respectively continue to go out weekly and monthly, now there will also be daily digital news updates available. The new “Always Forward” newsletter will be sent directly to subscribers via email, and updates post throughout the day on the multimedia news outlet, Angelusnews.com. “With this new platform,” Long-Garcia noted, “we’ll be able to share the truth and the Good News with a lot more people that weren’t paying attention before.”

The launch date was chosen because it is the feast day of the recently canonized St. Junípero Serra.

“We wanted the saint that built California to be the saint behind the mission of our magazine,” Meeks told OSV. The name Angelus is not merely a homophone for Los Angeles. “There’s a connection with the prayer and the Blessed Mother; we count on her intercession for us and what we do,” Long-Garcia said. The city is named after Our Lady of the Angels, and the Angelus is the prayer between Mary and the angel, St. Gabriel. And with San Gabriel being the first mission built by Junípero Serra, it’s all the more appropriate.

Digital media team

The technological and marketing savvy behind Angelus News and all the archdiocese’s new communications projects are provided by its recently created digital media team. Led by Meeks, chief digital officer, the team comprises videographer/photographers, web developers, graphic designers, social media community managers, an analyst providing feedback on which messages are resonating with people and a project manager coordinating it all.

Together, they form a full-service marketing agency. “The mission of the team,” Meeks said, “is to be an agency at the service of the Church in the Archdiocese of L.A. free of charge (underwritten by the archdiocese), serving the parishes, schools and ministries of the archdiocese.”

Their services are making a difference. Using analytics on the data gathered in the past year, they’ve had significant success in targeting niche groups with particular campaigns. For instance, the team ran a Facebook campaign seeking marriage ministry volunteers; they targeted married couples ages 30-45 within a certain zip code who not only identified as Catholics but had also “liked” certain Catholic pages on Facebook. The results: 120 volunteers arrived at the first meeting.

Similarly, some parishes received the digital media team’s assistance in promoting “24 Hours with the Lord.” With this initiative, Pope Francis urged churches worldwide to stay open for 24 hours on March 13-14, offering prayer, contemplation of the Eucharist and an opportunity for confession.

“We created target profiles for Catholics that hadn’t been involved for a while, to bring them back into confession and into conversation at the very least,” Meeks said. “All the parishes we were working with reported lines out the door, through the night.”

Using the latest digital media methods has also made a substantial impact on fundraising. For the priest retirement fund, the team created a video showing a day in the life of retired priests and the ways they still serve the Church. It was distributed online, and donations doubled those of the year before. Instituting online donations and crafting a video for “Together in Mission,” the annual archdiocesan appeal, resulted in a rise in donations “to the tune of millions of dollars” Meeks said.

So far, the team has built and manages 30 parish websites (out of 160 needed). Altogether, they currently manage more than 75 sites, which have links and notices mutually driving traffic to each other. “We had almost no social media when I started,” Meeks said. “The diocese was reaching 60,000 people per week through the newspaper; now we are reaching anywhere from 3 to 7 million per week through the channels we’ve built.”

Vision and hope

Long-Garcia and Meeks agree that all this really stems from the archbishop and his vision for the archdiocese.

“Archbishop Gomez believes that providing solid news from an authentic Catholic perspective is vital for forming Catholics who are able to live their faith with joy and confidence and proclaim Christ in a secular world,” Scott told OSV. “Catholic media is absolutely essential to forming Catholics for engagement in our society.”

This is the largest and most culturally diverse archdiocese in the United States, with Mass being said in more than 40 languages. Gomez told his communications staff that if they could find ways to use new platforms and technologies to communicate the Gospel in Los Angeles, it could become a model for the global Church.

According to feedback they’ve received from the Vatican and interest from dioceses in Canada, Australia and Germany, it seems this hope is already becoming a reality.

Jeanette Flood writes from Ohio.

A version of this story appears in the July 31, 2016, issue of OSV Newsweekly on Page 6.