Let this serve as a clarion call for the bishops to rethink their decision to shut down the domestic offices of Catholic News Service.
When the overworked, under-experienced journalists of the secular media need to cover something about the Catholic Church, the first place they will look for inspiration and information is Catholic media. And what they too often find, and translate to the wider public, is too often not very edifying, or even accurate. CNS was a counterweight to that trend.
But now that space will be dominated by platforms that proclaim themselves journalistic but which are little more than clanging cymbals. And the growing number of bishops and cardinals who promote their personal brands at the expense of their church will come to be seen as the voice of Catholicism. The lives of the faithful and the sense of their faith will be less visible to our wider communion. The ministry of the bishops and the pope will be drowned out by the loudest and angriest, and they will be the ones to define what it is to be Catholic, and what it means to be a Catholic journalist. Catholic leaders regularly denounce secular journalism for its coverage of the Catholic Church, but Catholic media is the real culprit….
… The real crisis in Catholic media is a crisis of professionalism, a lack of outlets and practitioners whose reputations are built on, and maintained by, following basic journalistic standards and practices.
And this is the crux of the issue: The quality of Catholic journalism is not determined by the quality of a journalist’s Catholicism. Journalism is part of media, but not all media is journalism. Journalism is a craft and a trade, and it establishes its credibility by doing its job well, which by definition is to seek the truth.
Catholic journalism is not piety or apologetics. As Martin Luther put it, “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” Or, if you prefer your wisdom from more reliably Catholic sources, consider Jacques Maritain’s advice in his well-known essay on Christian art: “If you want to make a Christian work, then be Christian, and simply try to make a beautiful work, into which your heart will pass; do not try to ‘make Christian.’ “
And there’s this, with other voices in Catholic media, from America:
Tom Demody, the editor of Peoria’s Catholic Post, wrote in an email to America that a lack of information as to how the U.S.C.C.B. plans to fill the impending content void adds uncertainty to an already stressful publishing environment.
“It is difficult to imagine no longer having the good work produced by its domestic operations as a foundation for what we do to keep our readers inspired and informed, especially about all that is happening in the church beyond our diocese’s borders,” Mr. Demody said of CNS. “And not knowing what the U.S.C.C.B. is planning to offer to fill the void in a reorganized communications department adds to the concern of many of us.”
… “Without Catholic News Service’s Washington and New York staffs, diocesan news outlets risk being left without a source of national and international Catholic news that is well reported and isn’t ideologically driven,” Teak Phillips, the editor of St. Louis Review, told America. “I routinely hear from readers that they value coverage of the universal church. Those stories will now be harder to tell.”
An editorial from the Catholic publication Our Sunday Visitor, published on May 6, warned that the closure of CNS “has created a worrisome and potentially dangerous vacuum” and lamented that “sadly, other media that have a particular agenda or ideology are seen as more attractive to like-minded members of the faithful (and even of the clergy).”