That unsettling disturbance that you felt yesterday in the religion-beat force was some very bad news.
As you may have heard, or have seen in secondary coverage via Twitter, that The Boston Globe has decided to pull the plug on its support of Crux, its must-read online Catholic news publication that has been built around the work of the omnipresent (I will keep using that word since it is accurate) John L. Allen, Jr. The funds dry up at the end of March.
Globe Editor Brian McGrory admitted the obvious, in a letter speaking for every newsroom manager who has tried to pay the bills with digital advertising forms that readers tend to ignore, or actually hate:
"The problem is the business," McGrory wrote. "We simply haven't been able to develop the financial model of big-ticket, Catholic-based advertisers that was envisioned when we launched Crux back in 2014. ...
"We also need to be able to cut our losses when we've reached the conclusion that specific projects won't pay off," his letter reads.
Now, a letter to readers from Crux Editor Teresa Hanafin (read it all) answers the crucial questions that religion-news readers and professionals will want to know. Here is a crucial chunk of that:
... The good news is that John Allen plans to continue the site, with assistance from Inés San Martín, our Vatican correspondent. National reporter Michael O’Loughlin, columnist Margery Eagan, and our stable of freelancers will find other places for their work. I’ll move over to BostonGlobe.com. ...
We’re thrilled that John is taking on the challenge of keeping Crux alive. His deep knowledge and vast experience have been Crux’s main asset, and to be able to keep him associated with the site is fantastic. There may be a lull before John can get things up and running, so please follow his updates on his Facebook page or Twitter account.
Note the reference to the loss of the site's stable of freelancers. I assume that this means the smaller, restructured Crux will almost certainly not be able to pay competitive freelance fees to the wide array of voices that it featured. In line with other industry trends, we can probably expect to see many familiar names in the future -- in aggregated features with links to the original articles on other sites. It is also significant that Crux has always been a major user of Religion News Service commentary and news.
I image that Allen is swamped, at the moment, but I will try to reach him soon. Every year, I write an "On Religion" column in early April (marking the column's anniversary) that focuses on trends and issues in religion-news coverage. Maybe the future of Crux will be clear by that time.
But let me ask the obvious question. In the past year or two, CNN has hired quite a few print/multimedia professionals to focus on political coverage. Might there be a way to link with Allen, who already does Vatican news commentary for CNN, to tie the Crux brand to CNN's now rather low-profile "Belief" site?
We can only hope. Meanwhile, Allen will keep writing -- somehow. I had already planned, as this weekend's "think piece," to point readers toward his analysis of the ongoing journalistic fascination with critics of Pope Francis. His bottom line: What is it with this obsession with anyone who criticizes this or that action of Pope Francis? This is news? Since when?
Because Francis is popularly seen as a progressive-minded maverick, there’s a deeply ingrained belief that he must be making conservative bishops angry, both in the Vatican and around the world, and that some of those perceived enemies must be maneuvering to undercut him.
That narrative was reinforced this week with news that an official Catholic newspaper linked to Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City has taken the pope to the woodshed, suggesting in an editorial last Sunday that the pontiff’s criticism of Mexican bishops during his recent trip to the country for sometimes acting like “princes” was unwarranted, and that the pope was the victim of “bad advice.”
To this day, one of the two or three most popular questions I get, both on the lecture circuit and in media interviews about the pope, concerns which bishops are for him and which are against him.
Allen makes three points in his analysis piece. The headlines will tell you where he is going with this:
1. Same old, same old.
There is absolutely nothing new about the idea that not every bishop sings “Alleluia!” at whatever the pope says or does.
2. What goes around, comes around.
There’s often a degree of hypocrisy in how people react to bishops who criticize a given decision or statement by Pope Francis. For decades, media outlets and liberal Catholic reformers would lionize prelates who publicly defied John Paul II or Benedict XVI, styling them as prophets and true pastors.
3. Sometimes, an opinion is just an opinion.
... The mere fact of registering a contrary opinion does not in itself constitute “resistance.” In fact, Francis has called openly for robust debate on issues in the Church.
Read it all. And stay tuned.