Catholic News Service recently reported a story about itself — and the news wasn’t good.
The service will soon shutter its U.S. operation after more than a century of being recognized as a trusted, unbiased news source in the Catholic community and beyond. Come January, when its two U.S. bureaus [Washington and New York] close, 21 staffers will lose their jobs.
According to CNS’s publishers, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Rome bureau will remain open. That’s a small consolation, however, because there’s no shortage of outlets covering Vatican news. Reporting the story of the Church in the U.S. is what makes CNS relevant, and therefore, valuable.
Today’s “environment” needs more trusted news sources, not fewer, especially because so many Catholic publications rely on CNS to supplement their own coverage. It’s a common practice in the business; the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal subscribe to and publish Associated Press content.
Naturally, more than 150 American Catholic publications that operate with small teams, use the same strategy.
CNS material is used to provide readers with news from the Catholic perspective — for example — the latest on the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling leak, the ongoing crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the war in Ukraine.
At this time, we don’t know if the USCCB’s decision to close down the U.S. operation was financial or philosophical. Either way, it may prove to be a costly one, especially when Pope Francis called on clergy to use media to create discipleships among the faithful. Without a trusted source run by objective lay professionals, that message may get muddied or lost.
On the other hand, the secular news media may fill some of the void, but Catholic leaders often criticize it for being biased against the Church or for omitting needed context.
Nationally, the absence of CNS will also have consequences. CNS is considered the “gold standard” in Catholic news coverage. So much so, that editors and reporters at secular outlets turn to the service when stories about the Church make headlines. As a result, information and added context included in a CNS article often make it into their own stories.
What about The Tablet? While most of our content originates from our own staff, we use CNS to supplement coverage, both online and in print. On the flip side, CNS often selects original Tablet articles and columns and distributes them nationally. While losing the service will pose challenges, The Tablet will adapt, as it has done throughout its 114-year history.
In a world where we are bombarded with thousands of messages daily, where obscure sources are given the same weight as credible ones, and where agenda-driven journalism aims to shape opinion rather than to inform it, CNS tells the story of the Catholic Church with accuracy and fairness. Its closure will mark the end of an era and will, sadly, place other Catholic publications in danger of suffering a similar fate.
If Catholic news outlets, especially on the diocesan level, exist to record the history of their Church — to show the faith in action — the loss of CNS should serve as a wakeup call and prompt dioceses to renew commitments to their own news operations.