By Barb Arland-Fye
Don Wooten, founder of WVIK NPR radio, invited me to talk about the upcoming closure of Catholic News Service’s U.S. operations during the Scribble Podcast which he co-hosts with Rebecca Wee. He wanted to know how that decision would affect The Catholic Messenger. I accepted the invitation knowing that the conversation would help me to unpack my feelings about the decision, announced May 4.
As a client of CNS, The Catholic Messenger received an electronic notice stating that the news service would close at year’s end. “This painful decision was prompted by the changing media landscape and a need to prioritize available resources,” said James L. Rogers, chief communications officer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The U.S. bishops founded CNS in 1920. Rogers said the closure accompanies a broader reorganization of the USCCB Communication Department.
“While the news service’s Washington and New York offices are being closed, the Rome bureau will continue with its current staffing and will continue the Holy Father’s ministry to the people of the United States,” Rogers said. “The USCCB has made a long-term commitment to fund the Rome bureau and make its journalism available to every diocese.”
The loss of the U.S. operations of CNS saddened my colleagues and me in Catholic media across the U.S. and in Canada. We counted on the excellent reporting, news and analysis that CNS staff provided consistently through the decades. Knowing that CNS had the endorsement of the USCCB assured us of ethical, balanced, high-quality content — an essential commodity in an era of divisiveness, mistrust and highly opinionated social media.
The Tablet, newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, observed “Today’s ‘environment’ needs more trusted news sources, not fewer, especially because so many Catholic publications rely on CNS to supplement their own coverage” (May 10, 2022). I agree wholeheartedly!
In an email message to the CNS staff and to Greg Erlandson, director and editor in chief, I wrote:
“The Catholic Messenger benefits significantly as a client of Catholic News Service, which is an excellent, reliable and neutral source of faith-based journalism. Our readers have commented on the quality of our weekly, diocesan publication as a well-balanced source of diocesan, state, national and international news. We rely on Catholic News Service to provide high quality, timely national and international news coverage. We are deeply saddened that the U.S. bishops have decided to close the U.S. operations of CNS. Our sense of loss extends to you, the staff, who demonstrate commitment to excellence, variety, our Church and your client publications. You are in my thoughts and prayers.”
Erlandson responded back with a gracious note of appreciation, concluding, “It has been an honor to serve you and your fellow editors in the Catholic press.”
Wooten asked me how The Catholic Messenger and other diocesan media would fill the void. I assured him that The Catholic Media Association, of which our newspaper is a member, is pursuing ideas and options with input from all of its members. The discussions encourage me. We have a talented network of Catholic media professionals who will figure this out.
One Catholic publisher announced in breaking-news fashion during the Catholic Media Conference earlier this month that it would be launching a new Catholic news service. Other Catholic media companies have also expressed interest in providing national and international content. With input from our publisher, Bishop Thomas Zinkula and our Board of Directors, which he leads, The Catholic Messenger will examine the options. We are committed to providing national and international news that round out our award-winning diocesan newspaper in its various media forms, print and digital.
That is the message I shared on Scribble. I left the radio station in Rock Island, Illinois, feeling optimistic about the future of Catholic journalism in general and The Catholic Messenger in particular.
(Contact Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)