Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Catherine Pepinster

Tablet editor Catherine Pepinster must have one of the most interesting jobs in journalism. As an individual she is by turns thoughtful, though provoking and thought-leading so who better to be at the helm of the leading Catholic newspaper in such fast-changing and challenging times for faith organisations.  As she pointed out to me, whilst her predecessor at The Tablet covered the tenure of only one Pope (John Paul II) in 22 years, she is on her third pope in only 10!
But the change she is responsible for covering in her editorial role reaches far beyond the internal concerns of the Catholic Church.
I first met Catherine in the "green room" at Sky studios, preparing for a live TV debate on the subject of prenups becoming enshrined in UK law. I was rehearsing a lawyer on one side of the argument (the very impressive Mei-Ling McNab from Brachers); Catherine was presenting an opposing view as a "seasoned spiritual pundit"; she is regularly invited on TV and radio on programmes such as Radio 4's Thought for the Day and so forth. 
What's particularly impressive for someone working in a specialist title within the already narrow field of religious affairs reporting, is that she has such a broad world view. Not surprising perhaps given her role prior to joining The Tablet as executive editor of the Independent on Sunday. This outward-looking perspective is apparent as she tells me how her editing role at The Tablet has changed over her 10 years at the helm:
"A significant coincidence for me, making my job far more interesting, has been how religious affairs has shot up the mainstream news agenda compared to being the (dwindling) specialist interest subject it was just 15-20 years ago. There are a number of factors behind this:
  • First, since the impact of 9/11 in 2001, people feel a greater need to understand religion, particularly fundamentalism and particularly Islam. Religious fundamentalism was seen as the new threat and suddenly everyone wanted to know more about what drives these people.
  • Second, the immigrant population in the UK has grown exponentially, and many of these immigrant groups bring a faith from overseas whether Catholic (e.g. from the explosion in Eastern Europe immigrants) or Islamic, or other.
  • Third, we have seen an increase in clashes between the Church and politicians in recent years over a number of high-profile public interest topics such as faith schools, same sex marriage, etc.
  • And lastly the lid has been blown off the Church's cover-up of sex abuse by its priests, which is of widespread public interest.
All these developments have had a big impact on the content we need to provide for our own readers, as well as how the magazine relates to and engages with the outside world."

And of course Catherine is facing the same challenges as all other senior editors of the media, guiding their titles and their businesses through the digital revolution. As soon as we met, Catherine and I connected on Twitter. The magazine has its own Twitter identity too, sharing a certain amount of free content to 'entice' people in, more available with a subscription.
"I love the interactivity you can have with readers in the digital environment" (for example, when she invited readers to say what they thought of new Pope Francis a year on from his election she had no less than 1600 replies almost immediately),"and the richness of the content you can provide for them", for example including hyperlinks to reports and documents referenced in their news reports.
The Tablet today is published in print, online and app formats and includes blogs and a Twitter stream as well as conventional editorial, i.e. news and features. The online archive now includes every single edition dating back to its very first issue in 1840. This magazine has a long history and is celebrating its 175th anniversary next year. Right now it is doing very well, turning a modest profit each year at a time when most national broadsheets are operating at a huge loss. And given Catherine's sense for moving with the times and embracing all things new, its future looks bright too.
Was this shoe app made just for me?? Loved this story about ASAP54 which uses similar recognition technology to Shazam, enabling you to take photos of desired items of clothing, whether your own favourite pair of shoes that's about to die or your best friend's dress you want to copy, then search the internet for where to buy the closest match. This app has my name on it! (At least I'm so convinced of it I'm even thinking of changing my name to ASAP54 by deed poll!)
Prize for selfie of the week (but not in a good way) goes to a Mr Daniel Thomas who posted a photo of himself on Facebook taken inside Mold Crown Court ... with the judge and the court crest in the background. He said he didn't realise it was a criminal offence but was still fined £400. Ouch.

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