Letter to members from the CMA ad hoc committee on closure of CNS

June 23, 2022

 

Dear CMA member:

On May 4, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced it would suspend all domestic operations of Catholic News Service, effective Dec. 31, 2022. The news sent a shock wave throughout the Catholic community, especially among diocesan and other print and digital publications that rely on CNS.

Immediately, the Catholic Media Association reached out to its members with a quick survey. In under a week, more than 70 different organizations representing Catholic media throughout North America and beyond responded. The next day, the CMA-CNS Liaison Committee — a group of CNS-client editors who interface directly with the news service on behalf of Catholic publications — met to discuss the impact this will have on print and digital publications, websites, communications offices, evangelization and formation efforts, and the Catholic faithful.

Soon after, CMA Board President Amy Kawula called together a group of seasoned CMA members to determine how the Association could support its members. The ad hoc committee began meeting regularly, created two additional surveys and have met with potential partners.

We believe there is still a need for a news agency with a firm commitment to editorial independence from any parent and/or funding organization, as was explicitly established by the U.S. bishops when CNS was created in 1920.

Such a news agency should use modern standards of journalistic ethics to provide information for Catholics seeking to live in response to the “universal call to holiness in the Church,” as encouraged in Lumen Gentium (LG, 5).

Many who responded to the surveys commissioned by the Catholic Media Association in May and June 2022 agree with us.

The surveys were sent to members of the Catholic Media Association, including both subscribers and non-subscribers to the Catholic News Service. Most of the respondents indicated they are actively working in the fields of journalism and publishing. Results found that quality, objective journalism, both in articles and photography, was of paramount priority to current CNS subscribers. Nonsubscribers also indicated the necessity of having quality, objective coverage of North American news and content from dioceses and their region.

While not as much of a priority, many respondents also said they find value in news commentary, inspirational features/profiles, columns, etc. There are also very loyal subscribers who find high value in movie and book reviews and Spanish-language content.

We, the ad hoc committee, would like to offer these principles for consideration of all who are interested in the establishment of a news service to follow in the illustrious history of Catholic News Service and grow it long into the future.

These principles, which could be used by CMA members as they evaluate alternative sources to CNS, include:

  1. The news service must be committed to editorial independence. Only with this editorial independence will the news service be able to build trust and a reputation as a credible, reputable and reliable source for its subscribers and its content consumers.

  2. The news service must be committed to the highest standards of journalistic integrity. Truth must be its cornerstone. In this way, it will serve the people of God and all people of good will who seek Truth to build the common good.

  3. The standards of the news service cannot be at the service of other business interests or ideological agendas. In other words, a factual, relevant story should be pursued and published, regardless of whether donors, board members, bishops or other stakeholders may have reasons of their own not to see it published. 

  4. The news service must recognize the interconnectedness and interdependence of the Church. This means “local” stories which could bear national or international significance should be published alongside other content. These stories should be not just from dioceses in North America, but from throughout the world. This principle will allow the news service to respond to Pope Francis’ call for a renewed understanding of synodality and consideration of the “peripheries” of the church.

In service to these principles, any future news service, we believe, should be built upon the following organizational and governing concepts:

  • Financial transparency and accountability to the members it serves, beyond the minimal standards required by civil laws.

  • As a consortium, it is key that members of this news disseminating network have a significant role in its editorial and financial management. Just as the liaison committee to CNS played a valuable role in its governance, we believe the new news service will require member involvement and leadership in its ongoing governance.

  • Collaboration and cooperation of member subscribers, staff and parent organization and/or funding organization as well as partnering organizations. 

  • A strong openness to a wealth of voices representing the depth and breadth of the church.

  • Do its work within the guidelines of the Catholic Media Association’s Fair Publishing Practices Code, as all members of the CMA are required.

With such organizational, governance and philosophical underpinnings, the CMA ad hoc committee on the closure of CNS believes that a new news service growing out of the closure of Catholic News Service can have the best opportunity to win the wide support of our members’ support – financially and editorially – and be a voice to help print and digital publications best meet the communications challenges going forward.

We look forward to engaging with you either in person or online during the Catholic Media Conference, set for July 4-7 in Portland, Ore.

If you have any questions or comments before then, do not hesitate to forward those to Rob DeFrancesco, CMA executive director, rdefrancesco@CatholicMediaAssociation.org.

Praying for the discernment needed during this challenging time in the history of Catholic communications, we are

 

The CMA ad hoc committee on the closure of CNS

  • Amy Kawula, CMA Board President and Chair
  • Ann Augherton
  • Peter Finney
  • Karen Franz
  • Christopher Gunty
  • Mark Lombard
  • Daniel Medinger
  • Helen Osman
  • Joseph Sinasac
  • Rob DeFrancesco, Executive Director and ex-officio member