The Boston Globe, perhaps to make up for its coverage of the Boston Archdiocese’s sex scandal, started Crux, a web-based publication devoted to reporting on all thing Roman Catholic. Now comes word that the Globe has pulled the plug on Crux.
Eighteen months is not a long time for any new venture to get firmly established. But the scariest part of the paper’s abandonment of Crux is that the vertical actually did get established, at least with readers. Allen said the section rallied roughly 1 million monthly readers, and those numbers “easily doubled” during big news events related to the pope, such as his recent trip to Mexico. Within the religion-journalism world, Crux quickly became a must-read, and Allen’s reporting is widely respected as some of the best-sourced in the business. The Globe could not have run a cleaner experiment in terms of testing market viability—as McGrory himself emphasized, the journalism was extremely high quality, but the dollars just weren’t there.
“It clearly is worrying for people who do this for a living to see a mainstream news organization like The Globe who launched a big project like this and then 18 months later backed out,” Allen said. Religion journalism is a notoriously tough sell for publishers, and the fact that the Globe would emphasize the editorial quality and importance of Crux while still choosing to shutter it suggests a fear of investing in topical coverage that isn’t directly appealing to advertisers. A spokesperson for the Globe maintained that the paper will continue its same level of coverage of the Church—this without Allen and the laid-off staffers, and with the editor of the vertical, Teresa Hanafin, being “redeployed [in] an exciting new position as an early morning writer for Bostonglobe.com,” as McGrory wrote in his memo. “I expect if The Globe had launched a vertical exclusively dedicated to coverage of the Patriots and Red Sox, we would not be here,” Allen said.
From the standpoint of religion journalism, the end of the Globe-supported version of Crux is a significant blow. A number of publications are solely dedicated to covering Catholicism, but the big differences between Crux and those organizations, Allen said, are independence and critical distance. Many outlets are expressly affiliated with the Church, and even independent publications such as The National Catholic Reporter have fairly close ties with Catholic institutions.
But I wonder. As much as I like to read Allen, he also massaged the papacy and the Vatican in much of what he wrote.
For instance, Allen applauded Pope Francis for showing a better way to be a culture warrior (read not to fight):
With regard to Italy’s Family Day, Francis used an address to judges of the main Vatican court on Friday to insist that “there can be no confusion between the family willed by God and any other type of union,” which was taken locally as a green light for resistance to the civil unions measure.
In the long run, a pope’s impact is measured not just by what he says or does, but also by which impulses in Catholicism rise or fall on his watch. Almost three years in, it does not seem that a drop-off in the Church’s commitment to what St. John Paul II called the “Gospel of Life” will be part of Francis’ legacy.
Perhaps the question is not whether Pope Francis will lead the Church away from its traditional positions, but whether he’s modeling a different way of making the argument.
It’s sometimes been said that the worst enemies of the anti-abortion movement can be the abortion opponents themselves, because they can seem shrill, angry, and judgmental, turning people off to the message because of the unattractiveness of the messengers.
Examples like this pile up.
Others have also wondered about Crux’s reporting on the church:
2016 March for Life. Allen writes “As to the March for Life, Francis didn’t offer any direct endorsement, but US leaders in the anti-abortion movement say they’re convinced he’s got their backs.” Sorry? This sentence says that Francis said and did nothing in regard to the March for Life, reporting only that some pro-lifers feel that the pope supports them. If it is anything, that sentence is not a claim about Francis, it’s a claim about pro-lifers.
Francis need not, of course, have attended the March for Life (no pope has); he need not have sent it a supportive message (though other popes have); he need not even mention the March for Life if he does not wish to. But, if he did not attend, did not greet, and did not even mention the March, how exactly is this series of non-actions evidence that the pope is ‘pioneering’ a new way to oppose abortion? If eisegesis is reading one’s opinions into another’s words, what is it when there literally are no words to read one’s opinions into, but a message is divined from them anyway? . . .
These remarks are not a criticism of Francis—there is no doubt whatsoever where he stands on the gravity of abortion and on the impossibility of ‘gay-marriage’ (even if his manner sometimes muffs his message) and he is not obligated to engage in any specific acts of opposition to either. But my remarks are a criticism of reporters who, with some proclivity these days, seem to offer the pope’s silence on various matters as evidence for what they think he means on various matters. May I suggest, instead, that silence is usually, pretty much, just silence.
Perhaps Allen was too deferential to his subjects and this undermined his relationship with the Globe. Or, perhaps the Globe wanted good public relations with the Boston Roman Catholic community and Crux failed.