Crux: A New Player in Catholic Media

Coverage of Catholicism in media is in an evolutionary stage. Perhaps most dramatic is the Boston Globe Media’s decision to ramp up its coverage of Catholicism by hiring and promoting the ubiquitous writer John Allen, the CNN commentator and National Catholic Reporter alumnus, and by setting up the Catholic web site “Crux: Covering All Things Catholic.” The site debuted September 2.

In some ways Boston is a logical place for such a venture. The Official Catholic Directory estimates that 46 percent of the people living in the five counties that comprise the Boston Archdiocese, or 1,904,863 of them, are Catholic. People are watching to see how successful this effort will be. In the media business, there is still more money to be made in print than online, where rates are significantly cheaper to buy and produce.

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Promotional materials sent to potential advertisers outline the new web site’s planned content, including news on Catholicism and Catholic life, including recipes. The last seems to harken back to the 1950s diocesan media and makes me wonder if the recipes will be for meatless Fridays, angel food and devil’s food cake and whatever other epicurean delights might be pitched to Catholics in 2014.

One wonders if madness or genius lies behind this initiative. By all reports, John Henry, the well-funded owner of the Boston Globe, put money into this venture, which promises “unbiased journalism covering the Catholic Church and the practice of Catholicism on the national and international stage.”

Will Crux be able to remain “unbiased” in a world which is growing more polarized? It is no secret that as politics has become more polarized so has religion, where some people treat religion as a political tool. The fact that the political polarization of U.S. society has made significant inroads into the church marks a sad development given that the church should unify its followers as one in Jesus. The absurdity of how polarizing religion can become was on display this summer when Republican Congressmen Peter King from New York and Democratic Congressman John Larson of Connecticut found themselves unsuccessful in a search for enough bi-partisan sponsors of a resolution to praise the pope before his reported visit to the United States next year. Issue of concern: the pope’s words on the poor and dismissal of trickle-down economics.

Perhaps Crux will learn from the polarization that has infused church media today.  Perhaps Henry, who also owns the Boston Red Sox, knows polarization is a turnoff for most readers who do not place themselves on any fringe. Heck, Sox fans are one of the most united communities in the sports world. Look how faithful they remained in their 86-year quest for a World Series victory in 2004.

Lots of benefits may come from the Boston Globe venture. It suggests significant interest in news reports on religion. Should the Boston Globe enterprise succeed, other secular newspapers may return to giving informed coverage of religion rather than treating the religion reporters as a farm team until the reporter is ready for the big time of crime and politics.

Another benefit may be that Catholic media may move away from a polarizing to pastoral approach on issues that touch people’s lives at the deepest level. Maybe they’ll be inspired to seek ways to build unity among Catholics.

It’s worth watching where the evolution leads us.

Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M., is the U.S. church correspondent for America.

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luca ethan
4 years 1 month ago
Very interesting blog, you made a non reader like me get interesting into reading your blog.please visit
Mary Jane Doherty
4 years 1 month ago
Sister Mary Ann, thank you for your cogent blog on Crux Now. Like you, I appreciate the possibilities and rationale for this venture and, as a weathered Bostonian and local Catholic educator, I am watching to see how it develops. Perhaps AMERICA readers will be interested in my questions and hopes for the site, as below in a letter sent to to Crux editor Teresa Hanafin last week. September 3, 2014 To the Editor of CRUX, Local, national, and global reasons why the newspaper of a major American city, in this case Boston, would develop a news section for “all things Catholic” should be apparent. Over 40% of the population of greater Boston is at least nominally and culturally Catholic, a fact that helps account, perhaps, for the remarkable turn of step toward the injured in the Marathon bombing. In the past decade The Globe itself performed and was duly applauded for its investigative reporting and coverage of the clerical sexual abuse tragedy. Having focused narrowly if necessarily on documenting the scandal and pushing for accountability, beefing up an hypertrophied institutional definition of the Church, it seems clear that new ownership and editorial direction want to set a better balance and offer a truer, wider perspective. This is all to the good. The national tendency to read Catholicism in terms of our American political division of liberal/conservative, even in Catholic media, has left many Catholic voices out of the national conversation, silencing not only the purported center but also depth and breadth. Catholicism is a religious faith whose members endure significant persecution and martyrdom in too many places in the world today, but that story hardly makes the news. The worldwide footprint of Catholic works of mercy and the Pope’s voice make it an organization present on many frontiers and able to speak to social justice issues affecting humanity. So, kudos for trying something new and launching Crux to fill a real void. I am encouraged that Margery Eagan, one of your writers, has noted that her column will be about “how faithful Catholics live out their beliefs in the world and what it means to be Catholic today.” That said, I have some doubts and fears that “all things Catholic” will not, in fact, be “all things,” and that Catholicism is in for another battering in the press. I am waiting to see how you manage, how you differentiate yourselves from newspapers like NCR and journals like America, Commonweal, or First Things, which many Catholics read. Will The Boston Globe really give voice to a faith and reason over 2000 years rich, including the diverse opinions of well informed laity, youth, the elderly, religious women and men, and priests in Catholicism as it is practiced in the street, marketplace, financial center, family, university , parish, hospital, social service agency? Will you strike a balance and indicate depth and breadth in recognizing the sometimes unutterable effects in human character of a lifelong practice of a spirituality that puts its body where its mouth is? Or will you just fall into the same old culture wars with only a handful of voices allowed to speak, and those in narrowly and perhaps lazily conceived journalistic frameworks of oppositional reasoning, in which case you will be talking primarily to yourselves and, unintentionally, perhaps, just driving a political agenda? Catholics “on the ground” know and feel, I think, a certain institutional expression of Catholicism crumbling and choose to believe that the Holy Spirit in whom all things work together for good is guiding even that. What are you aiming to build up and strengthen with your discourse, and what are you willing, without presumption, to destroy? Talking/writing and education are certainly something, but everything depends on how you do it and, like William Carlos Williams’ red wheelbarrow, on the believing, laboring, loving, praying, and suffering community of faith, often in a creative silence, where the action of change really goes on in Catholicism today. M. J. Doherty, PhD

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