I worked for The Tablet for 50 years, and for 33 of those years I was the Editor. Week after week, I guided the make-up and content of our diocesan weekly newspaper. So, I think I know something about putting together the news of the week.
One of the things I relied upon was Catholic News Service (CNS), the newswire that keeps us well informed about national and international Church news that we otherwise could not afford to cover.
For 10 years, I served on the CNS-Catholic Press liaison committee. We met annually in Washington, D.C., to offer an evaluation of the service and offer any constructive criticism we had.
I got to know the professional staff of editors and reporters who work there. I always walked away from those meetings better for having attended.
News that CNS will close its doors and cease publication of its domestic service has sent shudders through the Catholic Press, leaving scores of diocesan newspapers without the most balanced and insightful source of national Church news.
Making the picture even bleaker, this week the Archdiocese of New York announced that its newspaper, Catholic New York, will cease publication in November.
In both cases, the staffs were surprised and stunned by the decisions.
I fear more Catholic diocesan papers will close because of their reliance on CNS. I have offered condolences to the 21 men and women on the CNS staff who will lose their jobs, including staffers at Catholic New York, some of whom formerly worked at The Tablet.
The loss of CNS does not threaten The Tablet. For the last several years, the management team has been diversifying The Tablet staff and expanding its reach beyond diocesan borders. But the editors will miss CNS as the best source material on the Church.
Both the U.S. Bishops and the New York Archdiocese said they will be moving in new directions when it comes to communication, relying on digital platforms and social media.
That, of course, has opened the door to all kinds of speculation, none of which is good for the evangelization efforts of the U.S. Bishops and the Catholic Press, in general.
Insiders wonder who will fill the chasm with the material that only a fair news service, like CNS, can offer.
There are those who fear that conservatives will push Catholic News Agency, funded by EWTN, as a viable alternative to CNS. The National Catholic Reporter, the left-leaning national newspaper, already has gone online with a fund-raising campaign, suggesting that it can fill the news coverage gap left by the demise of CNS.
The truth is that neither alternative is acceptable. CNS offered the most balanced and complete coverage of the Church on a national level.
CNS’ Vatican service will continue and will be offered free of charge. It is a great service that the Catholic Press, including The Tablet, relies upon. If the same quality is maintained, this is the only good news coming out of this tragic turn of events.
At a time when we need more quality Church news, the end of CNS’ domestic unit leaves a hole in information about the Catholic Church. At a time when the Vatican and the U.S. Bishops are asking us to take a new look at how decisions are made within the Church (Synod on Synodality), the surprising pronouncement about CNS leaves us scratching our heads.
Without the expertise of CNS reporters and editors, coverage of U.S. Bishops’ national meetings now will be done on an ideological basis. Will anyone even report on the current Synodal process? Will significant events such as National Encuentros receive any coverage at all? The Catholic Press has been an excellent tool for evangelization in today’s Church. It is short-sighted to see it slowly eroding.
Ed Wilkinson was the Editor of The Tablet from 1985 to 2018, when he assumed the title of Editor Emeritus.
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