Saint John — Brunswick News, which currently owns nearly all daily, weekly and alternative papers in New Brunswick, is expanding its publishing empire once again.
Standing in front of a worn-out Xerox machine in a Wesleyan church office in Saint John, and flanked by church officials from several Christian denominations, a Brunswick News spokesman announced yesterday that it has acquired the rights to the church bulletin production facilities and staff of several of New Brunswick’s most righteous weekly publications — Catholic, Presbyterian, Unitarian, Wesleyan and Anglican bulletins among them.
“We all know that the publishing industry is being squeezed. There’s not a lot of room for expansion in New Brunswick, so this was the next logical step for us,” said the spokesman, who insisted that there will be no immediate changes in day-to-day operations.
Ila Petipas, nonagenarian church secretary at St. Arthur’s Catholic Church in Rexton, says she’s produced that church’s weekly newsletter on a temperamental photocopier for the past 27 years, and on a mimeograph before that, but she wonders whether she’ll have the same creative licence under new ownership.
“Father Augustine is very strict about mass and confession times,” she said, “but he’s given me free reign in the ‘Parish News’ section to pursue stories that interest me. I don’t mean to brag, but my story on what to bring to an advent retreat broke new ground. The reminder to bring sunscreen on your prayer walks? That was me.”
Brunswick News is promising to take a hands-off editorial approach to its new acquisitions. Petipas, however, has questions about what it all means.
“I don’t honestly think anyone from head office is going to come down here and say, ‘Kill that piece about keeping Christ in Christmas and run a story with God’s byline on the benefits of an east-west pipeline,’ but it might be in the back of my mind. What if I self-censor?”
Some have wondered whether the bulletin business is still profitable, but Brunswick News stands behind its policy of keeping all online news behind a strict paywall. In fact, it will be extending that business model to what it calls the “collection-plate wall.” Church ushers will be directed to pluck bulletins from the hands of any of the faithful who don’t contribute at least a few toonies.
Brunswick News claims it’s just being pragmatic: “Look, if parishioners are going to continue to get quality suggestions for which missionaries to pray for, week after week, they’re going to have to pay for that. When Jesus had something to say, did he just stand up on, say, a mount, and deliver a sermon for free? Of course not. He stood behind a wall.”
If the sample editions on hand at the press conference are any indication, churchgoers might be in for a shock come Sunday morning. Some of the stories appearing in the glossy first editions are “Get Jesus’s Six-Pack Abs … Without All the Fasting,” “Famous Pipelines of the Holy Land” and “Crucified Man Put in a Tomb: You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!”
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