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The Christian Science Monitor: Not so Christian Science-y

Last week, on the "Beat the Press" installment of WGBH's "Greater Boston," I suggested that the Christian Science Monitor's transition to a web-based model--with a weekly print edition replacing the daily paper--had been eased by the CSM's religious affiliation. More specifically, I argued that Christian Scientists* would be more likely to pay for a new weekly incarnation of the publication founded by Mary Baker Eddy than, say, your average Globe reader would be if the Globe made a similar leap.

Judging from a comment posted by CSM editor John Yemma at the Beat the Press blog, though, I overestimated the importance that religious allegiance is playing in this particular case. Writes Yemma (emphasis added):

Thanks for turning "Beat the Press's" attention to the Monitor last week. I appreciate the time you took in coming over to our offices and letting us tell our story.

Several points were raised during the panel discussion that I thought might be worth clarifying:

- Yes, the Monitor enjoys support from Christian Scientists who are readers. I wish we had more of these, but only 20 percent of our subscribers are Christian Scientists.

- Yes, the Christian Science church has generously subsidized the Monitor for a number of years. Non-sensational international news doesn't come cheap. Our aim in shifting from a daily print emphasis to a Web-first approach (which includes a print weekly, an email-delivered Daily News Briefing, and upcoming applications for the Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook) is to decrease that church subsidy over a five-year period. We need to move toward self-sufficiency. We are only six months into this strategy. So far, so good.

-Emily wondered how we could be growing while other media outlets are struggling. I can't speak for others, but our growth comes largely from having unharnessed the newsroom from daily print and turned attention to the Web. This has energized our website, CSMonitor.com. I'm not advocating this for other news organizations because they have to protect their existing, if decreasing, print subscription base. But because most news organizations are still supporting print first, the Web is a secondary consideration to them.

Thanks again for your interest. We aren't making great claims. We are just acknowledging progress so far in a long transition we've undertaken.

*NOTE--Not "Christian Science practitioners," as I originally wrote. A reader explains:

Strictly speaking -- and using their lingo -- if the circulation of the Monitor were limited to Christian Science practitioners -- i.e., those who were specifically trained and had hung out a "shingle" as such -- said circulation would be even more limited than it is now. What I believe you were trying to say was that either Christian Scientists or members of the Christian Science Church (technically, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, but you probably know that) or even -- again, their terminology, "students of Christian Science," in order to describe the potential "universe" of people who could be counted on as "loyal" members and thus subscribers.

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