Catholic weekly 'The Tablet' re-launches

As Catholic weekly 'The Tablet' seeks to build on its recent successes with a re-launch, Ciar Byrne talks to its editor, and assesses the impact of the Christian press

The case of Abigail Witchalls, the pregnant 26-year-old attacked as she walked with her young son in the Surrey village of Little Bookham last year, gripped the nation's press. But her family were reluctant to talk to the media, fearing their privacy would be invaded.

Knowing that Sheila Hollins, Witchalls's mother and the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, was a reader of The Tablet, the editor of the Catholic weekly, Catherine Pepinster, asked her to write an article. And when Professor Hollins wrote forgiving her daughter's attacker, national newspapers immediately swooped on the story - the Mail on Sunday made it their splash. Pepinster had shown that the religious press, often perceived as the fusty domain of clerics and churchwardens, could have something to say of interest to the wider public.

Two years after Pepinster joined as The Tablet's first female editor, the title has relaunched to appeal to a new generation of Catholics. Marking the start of an era, the latest issue includes a special supplement on the 100 most influential lay Catholics in Britain today. At the head of the list is the BBC director general Mark Thompson, followed by the Education Secretary Ruth Kelly, the Prime Minister's wife Cherie Booth, the Speaker of the House of Commons Michael Martin, the Tesco chief executive Terry Leahy and the television cook Delia Smith. Pepinster pronounces the success of this new Catholic elite a cause for celebration. "Members of a Church that only 40 years ago was still viewed with some suspicion are now at the heart of British public life," she writes.

If there is a new Catholic power nexus in the UK, The Tablet has positioned itself as the main forum for debate. Contributors include well-known journalists such as Mark Lawson and The Daily Telegraph's Christopher Howse as well as leading academics, while Mrs Blair has also written for the weekly. Illustrious contributors from previous decades included Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. Nor is the readership confined to the Catholic Church. The title is popular with Anglicans, including the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and his wife, Jane, who has written a Lenten reflection in the latest issue.

Since the arrival of Pepinster - a former Independent on Sunday journalist and convent-school girl who took up religion in earnest a decade ago - the magazine's weekly circulation has risen by five per cent to 23,500 with an estimated readership of 65,000. The only Christian weekly to be officially audited by the ABC, this places The Tablet, which is profit-making, on a par with the New Statesman.

When the new editor arrived, the average reader was aged somewhere between 55 and 65. "We can't just sit around and wait for the occasional person to turn up and join, we have to go out and find new readers," Pepinster says. The new readers she wants to attract are Catholics in their thirties and forties who are rediscovering their religion as they become more preoccupied with education and what values to instil in their children. Bearing in mind the recent example of The Sunday Telegraph, which haemorrhaged readers after Sarah Sands alienated the old faithful with a frothy redesign, Pepinster has been careful not to put off existing subscribers.

"It's the kind of publication where you're not going to attract lots of new readers overnight. We want to bring in a new audience without losing loyal readers. We've seen in national newspapers the huge dangers of going for a dramatic change in tone and content," she says.

Consequently, she has overhauled the design, while staying true to The Tablet's reputation for liberalism and intelligence. The new-look magazine is printed on better-quality paper with a new red, grey and black palette and more white space to help navigate text-heavy pages. Picture bylines for columnists have been introduced and there is greater use of colour.

Despite friends in high places, the journal, owned by an independent charitable trust (the Independent News and Media owner Tony O'Reilly is a trustee), has invoked the wrath of some clerics for its coverage of controversial issues including the use of condoms in the prevention of Aids, sex-abuse scandals and contraception. Some parish priests have even banned the title, which has traditionally been sold through churches as well as by subscription. "They think it's a bad influence on their flocks," says Pepinster. "It is particularly annoying when a priest has a subscription and is keeping tabs on us himself, but won't allow it in his church."

While she claims not to feel the weight of being the first female editor of The Tablet, she admits to being annoyed at the "odd one or two priests and bishops who insist on writing to me in letters which start 'Dear Sir'."

While The Tablet has served the highest strata of British Catholics since its foundation in 1840 by Frederick Lucas, a convert from Quakerism, the Herald serves the religion's more traditional elements. Born out of late-19th-century Catholicism, after centuries of repression, the Herald was founded to preserve the identity of the Catholic community and offer news from a Catholic perspective. Like The Tablet, it has impressive journalistic alumni, including the Observer editor Roger Alton and the former Daily Telegraph editor Martin Newland, while current writers include Matt Thorne.

Today, the Herald has a circulation of about 20,000 and a readership of 43,000. The editor, Luke Coppen, says that, thanks to last year's events in Rome which reawakened the interest of many Catholics in their faith, subscriptions have increased by 10 per cent in the last 12 months. "Our readers are mainstream Catholics who fill the pews on Sunday," he says.

In contrast, The Universe and The Catholic Times, based in Manchester, which have traditionally catered for mainland Britain's once largely working-class immigrant Catholic population, have suffered decline.

One of the that reasons leading Anglicans are attracted to The Tablet may be the lack of an equivalent publication in their own church. Anglicanism's leading journals are the Church Times, founded as a high-church mouthpiece and The Church of England Newspaper, which caters for the evangelical wing of the church. Both are read predominantly by the clergy and members of parochial church councils. The Church Times, which has broadened out from its Anglo-Catholic roots, has a circulation of 29,000, while The Church of England Newspaper sells 8,200 copies a week. Other Christian weeklies include The Baptist Times and the Scottish Catholic Observer. The Christian Herald, a Protestant ecumenical title that tried to straddle all denominations, closed at the end of January.

Pepinster believes titles like her own have an increasingly important role to play. "Secular Britain was caught out by September 11 and its repercussions," she says. "We were living in a country which thought religion didn't really matter any more, but it showed that religion still plays a really significant role in the world at large."

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Graduate Sales Executive

17.5k + Commission (£18.5k after probation period): ESI Media: You will be res...

PPC Account Managers

£25k - £30k (DOE): Guru Careers: Two expert PPC Account Managers are needed to...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn