The press is not the enemy of the people

The press is not the enemy of the people

Recently a nationwide effort of at least 350 newspaper editors joined to write support statements of the print media, contending that they are under assault and in danger of losing their effectiveness in notifying the public. This comes at a time when newspapers are suffering a slow demise because of social media getting more and more of news-seeking readership. Advertisers notice this decline in readership and withdraw advertising, as the spiral plummets. It’s a deadly combination.
This applies to us in the Catholic print media. The ministry of informing and persuading the reader about gospel values is no less important than it was a century ago, when it flourished. While we too suffer a readership decline, we have the additional burden of clergy child abuse, which drives away many good souls who are disgusted with the scandalous and criminal behavior of 4 percent of clergy and the ill-advised decision of bishops to conceal this devastating news. Readers notice that this has changed lately, with the scandal making the leap from the secular papers to the Catholic ones.
Editors of Catholic papers hear from readers. Readers tell of their chagrin, often ending their protests with “Please cancel my subscription.” Advertisers do the same. Their complaint is different, objecting to critics who, among other things, clamor for the hierarchy to see the damage caused by silencing the presses about the abysmal pedophilia. Or they might object to editorial pleas for social justice in the business world. People often do not realize the crucial need for a constant source of revenue derived from advertising. No paper can continue without it.
To older folks with my experience of reading and writing newspaper copy, it seems like wasted ink hyping the need for readers to maintain loyalty. Sure, papers could always improve their quality. No editor claims to have the perfect paper. And no editor has an open account with diocesan assets: papers have to make it on their own or go under. Archdioceses quite near us have stopped publication years ago. Adapting to the hot media of online news, they try to carry on, but the results are disappointing.
The reason for the above mentioned nationwide effort was the assertion that the press is the enemy of the people. Without wishing to go partisan, which would in fact remove the chance of this present column reaching you, I claim that the loss of Catholic or secular newsprint in the hands of the people would be an inevitable disaster. Comparisons have been made between the respective quality of print versus hot media. Print wins, mostly because it can go into researched depth and length that the endless news cycle cannot provide. Because we are so convenience oriented, we do not mind. But we pay in the end with inadequate, shallow coverage.
The press is not the enemy. Ink-stained wretches do not do it for the money. Those with that for the motive would soon collapse. The press, whether Catholic or secular, is actually a kind of ministry, the thing the Lord Jesus calls us to do in faithful discipleship. We are called in baptism to minister to others, seeing to their needs, helping them the way the Good Samaritan did for the mugging victim. In this, one of Christianity’s two favorite parables, the social leper bends his knee to help someone who likely would withdraw in disgust in healthier times, the way racial bigots do. Catholic editors have suffered because some advertisers and readers do not want to hear what they dismiss as “socialism” or “bleeding-heart liberalism.”
Democracy does not seem as popular as it used to be. Too many people seem contented that today’s distribution of wealth benefits them but not the less fortunate, i.e., those who do not look like us. Catholic social justice calls for everyone to enjoy a standard of living better than we have currently arranged. But those enjoying the imbalance fight to keep the balance where it is, imbalanced. The Catholic press has its work set out for it, but too many Catholics and others have little time for it. It is they who see the press as an enemy.
On the left, critics object to a Catholic stance in favor of life from conception to death. What would it take to achieve a more socially just economy — and a better appreciation of the press?