That Catholic News Service was the first to report on its own demise was both a tribute to the legacy of the 102-year-old outlet’s editorial independence and perverse proof of what a bone-headed decision the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops made in opting to gut CNS.
The May 4 announcement that effectively shutters CNS’ domestic operations eliminates a rare source of credibility for the hierarchy, a critical tool for reliably informing American Catholics about the church beyond their own diocese, and a counterwitness to the proliferation of ideologically driven Catholic media platforms that are driving the church apart, and regular Catholics around the bend — often right out of Catholicism.
Domestically, the effective shuttering of CNS will have a terrible practical effect because diocesan newspapers and websites across the country depend on CNS content to fill out their page with news about the church in other dioceses and around the world. Like their secular counterparts, local Catholic media have fewer resources to cover church news, and while those dioceses can ill-afford to pay for Catholic News Service, shutting CNS’ domestic operations is akin to cutting off your town’s newspaper from the Associated Press and Reuters wire feeds; their already thin offerings would shrink even further.
That makes the decision to decimate the bishops’ 102-year-old news service so stunning. It cedes the field to amateur and ideologically driven voices at a time when disinformation and division are threats not only to Catholicism but to our democratic institutions. Catholic News Service has been one of the most independent and highly regarded denominational news agencies in the U.S. and the world; the tales of CNS editors, backed by a less compliant generation of church officials, rejecting demands by angry churchmen to spike a story or rewrite it the way they like, are worthy of the best secular media legends.
What this means is that 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.
David Gibson is the director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture. He was formerly a national reporter for Religion News Service and an award-winning journalist, author and filmmaker.
With thanks to National Catholic Reporter and David Gibson, where this article originally appeared.