Reporting as Cheerleading

Here’s another sign that the world is not going to the secularist dogs: the Boston Globe has started a website devoted to covering Roman Catholicism. Here’s one early story about the effort (and another):

Crux joins a small, and growing, network of sites connected to the paper, including Boston.com, BostonGlobe.com, BDCWire, and the most recently launched Beta Boston. For newspapers like the Globe, diversification typically means finding a way to spin off parts of the existing business to niche audiences inside a geographic boundary. Crux shares a strategy more common with online publishers who want to tap digital audiences through interest areas.

“We saw an opportunity to fill a need,” said Globe editor Brian McGrory. “There’s a real hunger. We’re at a unique moment.”

But since other organizations do this, why bother with Crux?

Crux is entering a crowded field of Catholic news sites like the National Catholic Reporter, the National Catholic Register, and Commonweal. Allen said many religious news sites can be too close to the story, either backed by the church or sponsored by Catholic groups.

Allen said they hope their independence and backing from the Globe will give Crux credibility and a distinct identity. “The trick is to be close enough to the story to get it right, but far enough away to be objective,” he said.

The early signs are not encouraging, since Allen’s first story (and he is a fine journalist in my estimate) is one part Chamber of Commerce, two parts devotional uplift (and oh, by the way, does Jesus matter?):

■ In India, the Catholic Church this week hosted a major conference on family farms, responding to a growing crisis of farmer suicides.

In the last 10 years, 300,000 Indian farmers are believed to have taken their own lives. Generally these are small-time rural farmers squeezed among mounting debts, declining yields, and pressure from large agriculture conglomerates.

Led by Caritas, a Catholic charitable group, the Indian church is proposing a program of support for small farmers that includes favorable tax and credit policies, price supports, organization of rural cooperatives, and stronger social security protection.

■ In South Sudan, security services loyal to President Salva Kiir raided the church-run Bakhita Radio in Juba, taking it off the air for alleged violations of national security. Most observers saw it as an effort to muzzle criticism, which was seemingly confirmed when officials said the station could resume broadcasting if it agreed not to air political programs.

Catholics are an important chunk of the population in South Sudan, and Kiir himself is Catholic. The church backed independence in 2012, but many Catholics have soured on the country’s direction. It’s mired in a civil war and, according to the United Nations, has the worst food crisis in the world, with 50,000 children facing death from malnutrition.

Bakhita Radio was a voice of the independence movement, and Kiir appears afraid it could be a threat to his power as well.

■ In Lebanon on Thursday, leaders of Eastern Catholic churches from across the Middle East issued a statement denouncing the Islamic State in northern Iraq and urging the international community to stop its “crimes against humanity.”

In a separate interview with Italian TV, Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad called for an international military effort, including Arab nations, to bring down the self-declared caliphate. He objected to the current US strikes, not on pacifist grounds, but because they don’t go far enough. If the United States was serious, Sako said, it would go after ISIS in Mosul.

In their statement, the patriarchs also warned against mounting anti-Christian pressure in Syria and Egypt, saying Christians there are being forced to migrate due to “aggression and criminally hateful acts.”

These cases are all different, but the common thread in each is that Catholicism matters.

Peter Lawler, a Roman Catholic himself, might be tempted to say in response, “not so fast”:

A plausible interpretation of America and the world at the moment is that the imperatives of the 21st century global marketplace are so powerful they trump anything religious and political leaders say or do.

Techno-economic change does not, to be sure, trump anything and everything that nature might do. We recently had the near-miss of the stormy sun disrupting our electric grid and plunging us into the 18th century, and experts think there’s a 12 percent that could still actually happen over the next decade. That’s a lot more scary, if you think about it, than the possible long-term effects on the climate of anthropogenic global warming, although I’ll admit there’s an inconvenient truth or two there, too.

There’s also, of course, the disturbingly successful indifference of Putin and ISIS to the market, and the maybe more disturbing agility by which the Chinese manage to be both authoritarian nationalists and techno-cagey capitalists.

Still, there’s plenty of evidence that capitalism—despite lots of blips here and there—has won. On the strength of that evidence, we are seeing a kind of libertarian convergence in the behavior of the two major American political parties. We read that the Koch brothers, who understand themselves as humane social liberals on issues such as same-sex marriage, are moderating the Republican agenda by working to rid the party of its reactionary social/cultural conservatism. The Republicans should restrict their message to the issues of cutting taxes on “job creators” and eliminating as many government regulations as possible—including getting rid of the basic arbitrariness of affirmative action quotas and any laws privileging the rights of unions over the rights of free individuals to work.

Granted, it might be hard for the editors and reporters for the Globe’s new website to report that capitalism matters more than Roman Catholicism, but then again, isn’t it a journalist’s job at least to ask that question.

My impression of Crux so far is that it is going to do to Roman Catholicism what features journalism does to the new restaurant in the neighborhood. Whether Bostonians or U.S. Roman Catholics need such a service is anyone’s guess, and whether non-Roman Catholics will be tempted to turn to the Globe’s Crux for news on why Roman Catholicism matters is even a bigger mystery.

What does deserve some attention, though, is that for all the complaints about the secular media and its neglect of religion, when journalists do report on faith they wind up saying more positive things than asking tough questions. That’s true for Protestants as much as Roman Catholics. Believers generally like to have their religious identities stroked. Accentuate the positive.

That’s an odd outcome for Christians since if they pay any heed to the Bible they will notice that a large section of it — the Old Testament — is devoted to the royal screw ups (literally) who ran Israel and Judah into exile. That is not an uplifting story, and that may be another reason for taking the republication doctrine to heart.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Reporting as Cheerleading

  1. “We saw an opportunity to fill a need,” said Globe editor Brian McGrory. “There’s a real hunger. We’re at a unique moment.”

    Translation: “We saw we needed money,” said Globe editor Brian McGrory. “There’s a real hunger (a’ comin’ if’n we don’ get us some money. We’re at a unique moment. The moment in history, long in coming, here in the second decade of the 21st Century, where newspapers are ‘diversifying’ and going digital, or going bye bye forever.

    So, “Crux joins a small, and growing, network of sites connected to the paper, including Boston.com, BostonGlobe.com, BDCWire, and the most recently launched Beta Boston. For newspapers like the Globe, diversification typically means finding a way to spin off parts of the existing business to niche audiences inside a geographic boundary. Crux shares a strategy more common with online publishers who want to tap digital audiences through interest areas.”

    Like

  2. Believers generally like to have their religious identities stroked. Accentuate the positive.

    Ain’t that God’s honest Truth.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.