Crisis in the news business

The crisis in the Ukraine was not to be found on the front page of a recent Washington Post — but articles on trendy restaurants and teenage rodeos were. — Credit: MAIDANERS

It was a week that began with the management of The New York Times forcing out the paper’s executive editor after just three years.

A few days later, exhibiting what can only be called eccentric news judgment, page one of The Washington Post featured one story on trendy restaurants for upscale Washingtonians and another on teenage rodeos in Maryland. Dull items like Ukraine and Syria and kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls were nowhere in sight.

Think that things have gotten kind of weird in the news business lately? You’re absolutely right. In the old media especially — newspapers and magazines, that is — signs abound of continuing decline, growing angst, and a nervous scramble to reach out to new audiences or at least hang on to the dwindling audiences they’ve still got.

Browsing in the Columbia Journalism Review, you find a writer referring casually, as if speaking of a fait accompli, to “the collapse of the newspaper industry.” To which, of course, one familiar response is: “So what? Take a look at the Internet — there are as many news sites out there as any sane person could want. And many of them are generated by old news media making their move into the digital era.”

That’s all very well, but it ignores a crucial point. Covering the news is a labor-intensive enterprise, and the number of media actually attempting to do it — especially in the national and international sectors — has always been comparatively small and is getting smaller all the time.

Newsrooms have shrunk. Foreign and domestic bureaus have closed right and left as an economy measure. In the news business now, fewer and fewer are trying to do more and more with less and less.

As for news on the Internet, it’s largely the province of aggregators — sites featuring links to coverage provided by those who still hang in there doing original work — along with a wilderness of bloggers who opinionate on the news but don’t cover it.

The situation in secular media is mirrored in religious media. Many diocesan weeklies have shut down, switched to biweekly or monthly, or else transitioned to the Internet. Many magazines similarly have disappeared or also moved onto the web. Blogs and bloggers have multiplied. By no means is this all for the worse, but who’d care to say it’s all for the best?

Speaking at meeting in Rome, Helen Osman, the top communication official of the U.S. bishops’ conference, says that “to understand the culture of the United States and how the Church can present the faith within that culture, it is important to realize that the adoption of digital communications is fundamentally changing the culture.” Quite so.

In the end, moreover, it doesn’t matter greatly whether people get their news on a printed page or a screen. But it does matter that they get it — and that it be timely, accurate, honest and fair. Religious leaders, just like other leaders in society, need to worry about that.

It’s often said that the proliferation of news-related sites on the Internet means people have plenty of news sources at their disposal and can fend for themselves. But the ugly reality is that many, instead of digging for the truth of things, settle cheerfully for the version of events — and the site — that tickles their particular bias.

The old news media had lots of faults, but at their best they made an honorable effort to get the facts and tell the story straight. However you look at it, their decline is very bad news.

 

Russell Shaw is the author of more than 20 books, including volumes on ethics and moral theology, the Catholic laity, clericalism and the abuse of secrecy in the Church. He previously served as communications director for the U.S. Catholic bishops (1967-87) and information director for the Knights of Columbus (1987-97).


Voices

Jean Beliveau, RIP

REV. RONALD ROLHEISER, OMI

Jean Beliveau was more than an athlete, though certainly he was a one-in-a-million athlete. The record of his achievements almost defies belief. He played in the National Hockey League for 20 seasons and retired with 10 championship rings. 

 

The Holy Father visits the Holy Land

Events

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December 20, 2014

  • Saturday, December 20

    St. Margaret's Center Christmas Program, 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Morningside High School (Cafeteria), 10500 S. Yukon Ave, Inglewood. St. Margaret's Center, Inglewood School District, Doorking, Inc., and Centinela Hospital Medical Staff invite you to join them as they create a holiday wonderland with Christmas surprises for more than 1,000 poverty-level children and their parents. (310) 672-2208. Click here for more information.

    Christmas Shop at Holy Grounds, 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m., St. Monica Catholic Community, 725 California Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 566-1500.

    Dancing Festival of Lessons and Carols, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Holy Spirit Retreat House, 4316 Lanai Rd., Encino. A concert by Valyermo Dancers & Co., choreographed by John West. $15. Contact Sr. Deborah for more info, (818) 784-4515.

    Christmas Dinner Dance, 6 p.m., Knights of Columbus Hall, 21433 Strathern St, Canoga Park. Tickets, $28. (818) 371-0473.

    Las Posadas, 7 p.m., Parish Hall, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 600 W Mariposa St, Altadena. Posadas means “the inns” or “the shelters” in Spanish. A religious and social celebration, Las Posadas commemorates Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem and their search for shelter prior to the birth of Christ. We invite you to join us in a one-day celebration of this tradition. (626) 794-2046.

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