religion news coverage

Vatican ‘wags the dog’ on McCarrick and the American press is powerless against it

Vatican ‘wags the dog’ on McCarrick and the American press is powerless against it

Journalism isn’t what it used to be.

You hear a lot of people in the business — most of them over 40 — say things like that either in a newsroom or afterwards at the nearest bar at the end of a very busy day. The internet and layoffs are the two biggest culprits. The internet radically altered newsgathering methods and distribution of information. That “disruption” — as some have called it — led to financial loses and smaller staffs. That and digital advertising that drives many news consumers crazy.

Smaller newsrooms and dwindling budgets means fewer journalists. More importantly, it means fewer of them can travel. The ability to actually be in the place where something is taking place — rather than thousands of miles away in an office — does make a major difference. It’s why The New York Times and Washington Post produce such quality work from foreign correspondents.

This leaves most U.S. newsrooms reliant on wire services, most notably The Associated Press and Reuters, for international coverage. This brings us to the Vatican, which is located across the Atlantic from most newsrooms and Pope Francis, like pontiffs before him, has a penchant for traveling, it means having to rely on these news organizations for what’s going on/being said so far away.

Pope Francis is a great example of an international leader whose handlers like to control the message. Not too different from the White House press office, where access can often be very limited. That makes the papal news conference, the one that takes place aboard the pope’s flight on the way to Rome at the end of very trip, very important. President Donald Trump and his press shop get plenty of heat, and deservingly so, for sparring with reporters. He isn’t alone. Sadly, the slow death of local journalism in many once-thriving market across the United States has made it easier for town boards, mayors and even governors to get away with more.

Covering the pope is on a global scale, but some of the same problems afflicting local journalism can also be found here. The papal news conference, it turns out, isn’t what it used to be. What is it like these days? Here’s one recent observation from John Allen, a veteran Vatican reporter, in a piece for Crux. He noted that the most-recent news conference on June 2 after the pope’s return from Romania, was an example of how these gatherings “have been considerably less spicy, often serving up little more than reiterations of things Francis already has said, or excuses to allow the pope to say things that he or his advisers want on the record for one reason or another.” Here’s what Allen’s piece is about:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Message from Madison conference: Religion news is struggling, but still surviving

Message from Madison conference: Religion news is struggling, but still surviving

Religion reporting, as you no doubt know, is under even more stress than the news outfits that have been dumping the specialty in recent years. So those who attended the Reporting on Religion Conference this week showed not only an idealism about the Godbeat; they also showed courage and determination.

About 200 people -- students, journalists, religious leaders and speakers including myself -- converged on Madison, Wisc., for a broad variety of topics. Things like the kinds of cuisine from different lands. And the broad scope of social changes in America, highlighted by people's deepest thoughts and feelings? And finding a way to get attention for issues that don’t strike sparks but still speak to our deepest questions.

Madison itself embodies the tensions of religion in American public life. The city is home to the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, an evangelical ministry to college campuses. It's also home to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, famous for its opposition to institutional religion.

The conference, however, was held at a sacred space: Upper|House, a combination lounge, study center and worship site at the University of Wisconsin. With comfy booths, hanging couches and a crescent-shaped amphitheatre, Upper|House served as an apt cosponsor of the conference, along with the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions.

The 15 speakers contributed a variety of understandings of the religion-news craft. Among them:

* Besheer Mohamed, despite his job at the number-crunching Pew Center, said that "Sometimes, a trend is better than a perfect question." For instance, people may mean different things by "evangelical," but fewer want to so label themselves than in 2007.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Some familiar religion-news questions, after 25 years

Several years ago, I realized that I was not really sure how long I had been writing the weekly “On Religion” column for the Scripps Howard News Service. As some of you may know, aging brains often struggle with detailed information of this kind (especially when the brain in question also deals with 100-plus emails every day).

Please respect our Commenting Policy