A Fresh Look and a New Direction for a Revered Publication

Catholic Digest’s new editor, Danielle Bean, discusses the magazine’s new focus, the joys and challenges of being a writer, and the future of print media in an increasingly digital world

Last fall, publishing company Bayard, Inc. announced it was taking its 76-year-old publication, Catholic Digest, in a new direction—in addition to an updated format and focus, the Catholic-media stalwart would also be receiving a new editor: award-winning Catholic author and blogger Danielle Bean. 

A mother of eight, Bean is the author of My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom (Pauline 2005), Mom to Mom, Day to Day: Advice and Support for Catholic Living (Pauline 2007), and (with Elizabeth Foss) Small Steps for Catholic Moms: Think. Pray. Act. Every Day. She is also a co-host on the CatholicTV Network show The Gist. She recently spoke to CWR about her work as a writer and editor and about the future she sees for Catholic Digest.

Catholic World Report: Going back a bit—when and how did you decide to pursue a life of writing, editing, blogging, and wordsmithing in general?

Danielle Bean: I think God kind of decided that for me, and I’ve just been along for the ride. I have always enjoyed writing and I thought I might like to do some freelance work someday, but when I started sending out submissions via snail mail almost 10 years ago, I could never have envisioned what it might lead to. The Internet was in its infancy and most of us were just beginning to figure out what kind of tool it might be. When my freelance work led to a regular column and my regular column led to a book, I tried out some online stuff as a way to promote the book and connect with other Catholics. It was an exciting time to try out new things and meet new people through new media. I was blogging for about a year before I even knew what a “blog” was.

CWR: What have been some of the highlights, so far, of your career in writing and editing?

Bean: When I made the move from freelance writer to part-time editor (at Faith & Family magazine) that was a big change for me, and an opportunity to develop some new skills. As a writer, I had a limited view of what an editor does. As an editor, I really enjoyed learning about the creative process of not only bringing out the best in other people’s work, but also seeing a larger picture—a way in which many smaller works and images can come together in a magazine to encourage and inspire the reader. It is a real challenge and I enjoy that process very much.

Also, being named editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest, a publication that I grew up reading and that has such a long and respected history, is a real honor. Though these are challenging times for the publishing business, I think God has big plans for us. I am committed to doing my very best for Catholic Digest and its readership.

CWR: What is most enjoyable about writing and editing, and what is most difficult? What pithy advice would you give to aspiring writers and editors?

Bean: I always tell aspiring writers to just do it. Stop waiting around for all that free time to open up in your schedule so that you can start writing, because it is never going to come. Early on, I had to force myself to believe that I could write in 20 minutes at a time, in small spots that I found in my days.

We writers are also some of the most self-conscious and insecure people on the planet. We waste a lot of time wringing our hands and cringing at the thought of other people reading our words. It can be hard to get there, but I really think it’s important to detach ourselves a bit from the things we write. That might sound odd, because so often what we write is deeply personal, and that’s the reason for the cringing. But with practice, you can do it. I’m not perfect, but I am better at doing this myself. It begins with involving God in the process of your writing from the very beginning. Ask the Holy Spirit to inspire you and dive into your writing with confidence that the project is in God’s hands. Then, when you send it off or share it, pray that God’s will be done with it. That might mean hitting your target audience with words that move and inspire them, but it might also mean that you are rejected or criticized in a way that helps you grow in humility and shift the focus of your work. We probably would never willingly choose the latter for ourselves, but those kinds of experiences have been some of the most helpful for me personally in my writing career.

CWR: Catholic Digest has been published for nearly 80 years and you read it growing up. How did you arrive at being editor of Catholic Digest?

Bean: Last year, Bayard Inc., the publishing company that owns Catholic Digest, bought Faith & Family magazine, where I was serving as editorial director. In the months that followed, they made changes to the publications and determined that it was time for a re-design and re-launch of Catholic Digest, with a new focus and a new voice. I was honored that they chose me to take on the re-design and we re-launched in March 2012, with our first issue of the new Catholic Digest. I really want the new magazine to serve our readers’ needs, so I am eager to hear from readers about the ways in which we can better serve them and encourage them in faith and family living.

CWR: You’ve noted that your debut as editor of Catholic Digest also marks some other changes to the magazine. What are those changes?

Bean: First of all, the magazine has a new size, a slightly larger 6”x9”. It’s still small enough to tuck into a purse or bag, but large enough so that we can add some new design elements and visual appeal to the pages. We are also moving away from reprints in favor of filling the magazine with the voices of contemporary Catholic writers—people like Steven Greydanus, Simcha Fisher, Daria Sockey, Rachel Balducci, Susie Lloyd, Hallie Lord, Lisa Hendey, Marc Barnes, and Amy Welborn are featured in the new Catholic Digest. I also believe that beauty is an important part of a magazine reader’s experience, and I hope to use the beauty of words and images to highlight the attractive truths of our shared Catholic faith.

CWR: How would you describe the content, focus, and goal of Catholic Digest today to both readers and potential readers? Can you give some examples of articles and columns that can be read in the magazine?

Bean: My goal is to encourage and support many different kinds of Catholics, from many different kinds of backgrounds, in their faith lives. It is my hope to publish content that encourages those who are just beginning to learn about their Catholic faith as well as content that supports those who are facing challenges in their faith lives and maturing in their faith. The variety of voices and experiences within the Catholic Church inspires me and it is my hope that Catholic Digest can be a source of unity and inspiration for all of us.

Our March 2012 issue, for example, featured a thoughtful piece by Daria Sockey about getting through times of spiritual dryness, current movie and DVD picks from Steven Greydanus of DecentFilms.com, an article about grandparenting across the miles, a fun and insightful article by Hallie Lord on communication between the sexes, as well as some adorable ideas for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day as a family. We also have a look at the liturgical year with ideas for feast days and a new section, just for men, that we call “His Turn,” featuring content by, for, and about Catholic men.

CWR: The world of magazines and newspapers has changed a lot in the past decade or so. What are the challenges involved in publishing and editing a print magazine in general and for Catholics specifically? What are some ways in which you will take on those challenges with Catholic Digest?

Bean: All print publishers face the challenge of meeting readers’ changing needs in a more and more digital world, and Catholic Digest is no exception. But I firmly believe there is a place for print publications, and magazines especially, in today’s publishing world. Magazines offer a reading experience that inspires and encourages through beauty and quiet in a way that online communications simply can’t. As someone who started out writing online, however, I am very aware of the ways in which digital communications can enhance our readers’ experience with Catholic Digest. I am currently focused on making our print publication the very best it can be, but I do have future goals of growing online and making our content available in digital form.

From the very beginning, God has been good to me through my work as a writer and editor. My personal challenge as I take on Catholic Digest is to make sure, in all the editorial decisions I make, that I am putting God first. Whatever the future holds for Catholic Digest, I want this to be God’s work and not my own. He hasn’t let me down yet!

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