PORTLAND, Ore. — U.S. Catholic media professionals left a July 7 roundtable discussion with more information about a newly announced Catholic news wire service from Our Sunday Visitor (OSV), but overall there were many unanswered questions about what it will exactly look like and how the changes will affect the Catholic media landscape.
The roundtable, part of the 2022 Catholic Media Conference in Portland, was scheduled to share the results of a survey given to Catholic Media Association (CMA) members and to gather additional feedback two months after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced that it is shutting down the domestic operation of Catholic News Service (CNS) at the end of the year.
The closure sent shockwaves through the Catholic media world because the news service is regarded as the gold standard for objective and credible reporting, especially during the time of the Church’s Synod on Syndolaity, the Eucharistic Revival campaign, and stories like the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the ongoing border crisis.
The goal of the roundtable was to gather input from CMA members on potentially building a new news service, independent of the bishops. But the meeting went in somewhat of a different direction after the publisher of OSV, Scott Richert, announced the previous day that his company struck a deal with the USCCB to obtain the CNS web platform, URL, and its vast archives to spin off a new wire service called OSV News in January.
OSV is a Catholic publishing company whose flagship publication, the weekly newspaper Our Sunday Visitor, has existed for more than a century. As for how the operation is funded, Richert said that OSV is a “very diverse company with many streams of income” which are disclosed in annual financial forms as required by law.
All content from CNS Rome, which will continue to operate under the USCCB, will be available to subscribers of OSV News, along with all of the digital CNS archives. According to OSV, it will also collaborate with diocesan publications about syndicating their content.
Richert attended the roundtable and answered questions from CMA members. He revealed that OSV will post job listings soon with the intent to hire 8-10 full-time employees by September to work remotely from around the country. Richert also noted that OSV news will have no affiliation with the USCCB.
However, some members stressed that while a new service may not be affiliated with the bishops, efforts to foster a relationship with them would need to be made a priority.
“The bishops very much trusted their work and knew that they were free of an ideological agenda … and that has to be in this next option,” said Billy Atwell, the Diocese of Arlington’s chief communications officer.
Christopher Gunty, the associate publisher/CEO of the Catholic Review and the other moderator of the discussion, though, rebutted that the bishops chose to close the domestic CNS operation and in turn their ability to be a part of the discussion about what happens next, saying that “they opted out of this and I think that’s part of the reality that needs to be recognized.”
Other participants expressed their appreciation for the CNS staff, and how they will factor into whatever the future plan becomes. At one point, when Greg Erlandson, CNS’s director and editor-in-chief, took the microphone he was given a minutes-long standing ovation.
“This is a forward-looking meeting, what can we do going forward,” Erlandson said, “but I just want to use this moment to say that looking back on what a great staff CNS is, who they were, and how they were serving the bishops of the Church and all of you is what’s really worth a standing ovation.”
Once the meeting ended, attendees had a better understanding of what the OSV service will look like, but many acknowledged that a lot of work needs to be done in regard to reshaping the national Catholic media landscape.
“We have heard about options that are available, and we’re appreciative of OSV and your announcement, though we know you still have lots of questions to answer yet,” said Helen Osman, founder of the communications organization Greater Wings and moderator of the roundtable. “This is all still evolving.”
To close the meeting, Gunty invoked the words of the late Cardinal John Foley, who once said that “if Catholic News Service didn’t exist, we would need to invent it.”
“So that’s where we are today,” Gunty said.