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.
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.