Beginning on Christmas Eve, I walked away from the website. I took my wife and children to midnight Mass and stayed up way too late putting presents under the tree while enjoying some excellent bourbon. On Christmas day, we exchanged gifts, then feasted together with those of my siblings and their families who were in town and could make it. (My wife knows how to put together a celebratory meal, let me tell you.)
Beginning the day after Christmas, it was time to just unwind. To play with new toys and eat leftover rib roast and drink the unopened bottles of wine and watch movies (including the new Star Wars flick) and play board games and just…be. It’s the first break I’ve taken in a year, and it was very much needed. I admit, I had some backlogged work I had originally hoped to get to, but I didn’t. I spent the better part of ten days just doing nothing, and it was almost everything I hoped it could be.
All of this is not to say that my brain wasn’t quietly processing ideas in the background. I took a first crack at goal setting for 2016. There’s a lot I want to do with 1P5 that I simply haven’t gotten to because of the frantic pace of content production. I took some time to begin plotting out next steps. We had a very successful year last year as our audience and influence grew, and I have no doubt we can and will do it again in 2016.
But there are questions that need to be answered, too.
- What makes us different than other Catholic publications?
- What do we do best?
- What do we need to improve?
- Where can we add value?
- Where are we wasting time or effort that could be better spent?
- How can we produce more of the content that people love under our current time, budget, and staff constraints?
- What new features can we add that will be of greatest interest to our audience?
- What are we trying to accomplish as an organization?
For most publications like ours, I expect many of these would be considered internal questions. But I want to have that discussion with our audience. Without you, we’re just talking to ourselves.
In 2015, we had just shy of 3.4 million pageviews. Our top ten posts (by pageviews) were as follows – in descending order:
- Sister Lucia: “Final Confrontation between the Lord and Satan will be over Family and Marriage.”
- Who Would Dare to Love ISIS?
- What Did the Saints Say about Islam?
- Should Girls Serve at the Altar? A Former Altar Girl Weighs In
- The Schism is Here. Right Now.
- Was the Eucharist “Desecrated” At a Papal Mass in the Philippines?
- Ten Reasons To Attend The Traditional Latin Mass
- Bishop Lynch and the Dismantling of Summorum Pontificum
- A Warning About the So-Called “Latin Mass Society”
- Is Nigeria Experiencing a Marian Miracle?
What does this list tell us? That our readers are concerned about the state of the Church and the battle for marriage. That the jihadist threat — specifically through the rise of the Islamic State — is on their minds, and they want to better understand how to mount a proper Catholic response. That appropriate, reverent liturgy is — as always — of paramount importance. That the corrective intercessions of Our Lady in the affairs of men hold great interest in our troubled times.
Notably absent on this list is anything specifically about Pope Francis. I believe this reinforces what many of us already suspect: that while his influence in the Church has not been a positive one, his papacy is a symptom, not a cause. I have no doubt that he’ll continue to be a top newsmaker in 2016. I expect that when the post-synodal apostolic exhortation (or whatever other form the post-synodal document may take) is published, there’ll be some very serious and concerned discussion about its contents. But as Catholics, our concern is much more for the effect of all these things on the faithful, and upon the shape of institutional Catholicism for some time to come. Popes come and go. Catholicism is forever.
There is a subtext here. While I didn’t publish the total number of pageviews for each of the top ten posts, the first article had just less than double the pageviews of the second, and easily more than numbers three and four combined. It’s clear that not a few Catholics are wondering about how God will respond to the machinations of bad bishops and cardinals, and whether He will, in fact, intervene in a dramatic way.
Let me share some further thoughts with you.
I may have mentioned this in the past, but I’ll say it again: my skill as a publisher and editor comes down almost exclusively to the quality of my instincts – the choices I make, the essays I am willing to run, the talent I decide to work with. Many (if not most) of these are intuitive decisions. My gut told me in the spring of 2014 that a website like 1P5 needed to exist, and I felt strongly that God was calling me to do it, so I launched it that August. I believed that there were Catholic voices out there that hadn’t been heard and deserved a forum, so I published them. I believed that every Catholic had a story worth hearing, regardless of writing experience, and I was willing to do the work with them to help them get their thoughts into circulation.
I never could have expected how much we would grow, or how quickly, but I knew what we were supposed to do, so I took a leap of faith. And it worked. We were on the news. We were in the news. We shaped the narrative about some of the most important things happening in the Church today. Our writers did fantastic work, brought new insight and perspective, and broke stories not heard anywhere else. Two of them got book deals directly related to their publishing here. Others no doubt will receive similar offers in the future. We had major secular outlets reach out to us for our insight and perspective. We established our credibility as thought leaders and influencers in 21st-century Catholicism on some of the most critical issues of our time. We went from total obscurity to prominence in less than a year, all because we were simply sharing the truth of our faith in ways nobody else was, and with the support of readers who wanted more of the same.
So, what’s my read on 2016?
To be honest, I’m strangely optimistic. Despite long feeling that something ominous was on the horizon, I can’t shake the feeling that this is going to be a good year. How? I can’t say. Not yet. But it feels pregnant with opportunity. I have no doubt we’ll continue to grow. I believe we’ll be able to expand our offerings and reach new audiences. But I also believe that there’s a crucial ingredient we need to realize this growth: we have to get back to basics. We need to react less, and to be proactive more often.
You see, 2015 felt like a constant barrage of incoming bad news. Every time I tried to stop and think about editorial planning, there was some new scandal splashed across the headlines. A heretic empowered. A papal speech that left the faithful aghast. Synodal manipulation. Questions about magisterial authority in light of an inexplicable encyclical. We could never seem to establish our own narrative. We kept getting sucked back into the everlasting gobstopper of crisis stories.
Frankly, I’ve had enough of that.
I don’t know about you, but I’m done being baited by the Vatican. During Advent, and particularly as I took my break for Christmas, I noticed how refreshing it was to steer clear of the cesspool. I saw stories about Pope Francis saying inexplicable things. I was aware of certain goings on that I might have otherwise been tempted to comment on. But I wanted a positive focus as we entered the mystery of the Nativity, and so, I ignored it. All of it. And like a temptation resisted, it was swept away.
In the mean time, I had a conversation with a reader who is a recent convert to Catholicism and who even more recently discovered the Traditional Latin Mass. We spoke over the phone at some length about liturgy, and about how someone just discovering the TLM for the first time can find their way through a missal, which can at first be daunting. I had a conversation with some family members about the future of liturgy, and was surprised when one of them told me that despite their regular attendance at the Novus Ordo, they believe the TLM is the Church’s future, not just its past. I began reading some books about Catholic tradition, and found myself reflecting on what makes a persuasive argument in favor of returning to the Church’s venerable practices and what constitutes mere assertions of superiority. I want to read something that doesn’t just reach those who already believe; I want to read something that gives those who may have never considered such things a reason to believe. And if that doesn’t exist, I want to create it.
My takeaway is simply this: as a publication, we are not doing a good enough job of “rebuilding Catholic culture and restoring Catholic tradition.” While our coverage and analysis of the various crises in the Church are no doubt valuable to many, they can also be an occasion of despair without sufficient balance. I’ve heard from those Catholics who are so fatigued by the scandals perpetrated by the hierarchy that they wonder why they ever bothered becoming Catholic in the first place, or why they stayed that way.
What about them?
How do we reach the people interested in converting, who are now warily reconsidering the RCIA class they attend? How can we shore up the priests who are discovering the beauty and majesty of the Church’s liturgical and theological traditions but feel completely alone in their attempts to implement them, and entirely without diocesan support? How do we reach a new generation of Catholics, whether born into the Church or converts, who want to dive deeper into what was lost after the Second Vatican Council in an approachable, understandable way? How do we revive the practices that nourish and strengthen the faithful and clergy alike without unduly focusing on the tragedy of how they were lost?
These are the challenges we face. The same challenges we have always faced. But we need to work hard not to lose sight of them, all the while developing more effective approaches to meet these needs.
I have big plans for us in 2016, and I’ll be talking about them more as they’re closer to being ready to be implemented. If God blesses us, and our audience continues to support us, I believe we can accomplish great things.
The break was nice, and much-needed. But now it’s time to put our shoulders to the wheel and make a real difference in the Church, and in the world so desperately in need of her guidance and truth.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.