Newspapers are facing hard times. Catholic newspapers included.
Last week Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith announced that the Western Catholic Reporter is closing. The final issue was printed Sept. 26.
The WCR was started up during the excitement of the Second Vatican Council. It was a time of change and involvement of the laity. It was a time of commitment to a new vision of church and its relation to society in general.
As Archbishop Smith noted, the WCR has developed a rich legacy of journalistic excellence in the past 50 years. That is the legacy of a good newspaper: to provide reliable and unbiased reporting.
The archbishop noted the world of communications today “has changed dramatically. It is necessary that we always seek new and ever more effective means to engage our people, wherever they may be on their faith journey and wherever they may look for their news of the day.”
The archdiocese plans to transition to a digital means of communication which will include a daily online news portal and which will be the hub for quality content.
We hope that this new portal does not get replaced by readers going to some questionable blogs for their Catholic news.
In a talk in Brooklyn, New York, on May 11 this year, Rev. Thomas Rosica raised the alarm about the Catholic blogosphere when he was awarded the St. Francis DeSales Distinguished Communicator Award.
He noted that in today’s digital world, one needs only a keyboard, a screen or a hand-held device. “It is in that universe that many wars are waged each day and where many wounded souls live, walk or troll,” he warned.
“In the wild, crazy world of the blogosphere, there is the challenge of accountability and responsibility,” he said. “On the Internet there is no accountability, no code of ethics, and no responsibility for one’s words and actions. It can be an international weapon of mass destruction, crossing time zones, borders and space. In its wake is character assassination, destruction of reputation, calumny, libel, slander and defamation.”
Certain “Catholic” websites and blogs, he pointed out, are against everyone and everything. “If anything, we should be known as the people who are for something, something positive that can transform lives and engage and impact the culture.”
Some “Catholics,” he said, “have turned the Internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith! The character assassination on the Internet by those claiming to be Catholic and Christian has turned it into a graveyard of corpses strewn all around. Often times the obsessed, scrupulous, self-appointed, nostalgia-hankering virtual guardians of faith or of liturgical practices are very disturbed, broken and angry individuals, who never found a platform or pulpit in real life and so resort to the Internet and become trolling pontiffs and holy executioners! In reality they are deeply troubled, sad and angry people. We must pray for them, for their healing and conversion!”
In a similar vein, Pope Francis on Sept. 22 warned a group of 400 journalists from the Italian National Council of the Order of Journalists not to use their stories as a “weapon of destruction” of both people and nations. He said that journalism, when based on rumours, can be a form of terrorism. He urged journalists not to stoke fear regarding phenomena such as migration forced by war or hunger.
He said that when practiced with professionalism, journalism is a fundamental element of an independent and pluralist society. He identified three aspects of the profession: love for the truth, living with professionalism, and respect for human dignity.
When Catholic newspapers close, where will Catholics seek information in this digital age? How will those who slander others be held accountable? It is a choice that readers will increasingly face. We hope they choose reliable and trustworthy sites for their nourishment and information.