Catholic News or PR Service?

By Meghan Murphy-Gill| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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If you haven't been reading much on our news page about the bishops' response to the HHS mandate, there's a reason: As the person responsible for selecting three stories from Catholic News Service each day, I've purposely, whenever possible, not posted those items. The reason being that I've come to wonder whether or not CNS is doing its job as a service meant to provide news, not merely rewrite press releases and memos from the USCCB in a news format.

For example, I nearly posted this story today ("Proposal to pay for contraceptive cost 'radically flawed,' say bishops"), but after reading it and sharing with colleagues, decided against it. Good news stories don't necessarily have to get into in-depth analysis, but they should cite a good variety of sources, particularly on important and controversial topics. Instead, the only source commenting on the proposals to pay for contraceptive coverage is the bishops. Granted, the title says as much--that the story is about what the bishops are saying, but reporting only what the bishops say does not a news story make. My tough-as-nails news writing professor would have given me an F if I'd turned that in for not getting enough sources.

What alerted me to the problems CNS seems to be having, specifically in their coverage of the HHS mandate, was this piece, written by a journalist, on the abounding "myths" surrounding the mandate. This journalist (though journalists I know pale at the thought of penning a set of myths and facts as a news item), of course, had the "facts," albethey misleading. The USCCB posted something remarkably on their own site.

I'm not the first person to point out the change in CNS's coverage over the past few months, nor is it the first time I've done it. I often comment on the news stories I post on this site when I see a problem with the sourcing for a story--such as when they reported that people in the pews were responding well and accepting happily the changes in the Mass last December, but then failed to use one single quote from the people in the pews (unfortunately, all news stories older than 30 days are no longer accessbile on our site so there's no link).

But, the only time I've seen a response to complaints from CNS was when the Catholic League chastised the service for "downplaying" Archbishop Dolan's "strongly worded" letter to his fellow bishops regarding the mandate. To that accusation, Jim Lackey wrote on the CNS blog that it was the timing of the release of the letter than had prevented them from giving it adequate coverage and then assured readers: "[N]o other news organization—Catholic or secular—has covered the U.S. bishops struggle on religious liberty issues, including the HHS mandate, more than Catholic News Service. Nor has CNS taken any editorial position, even benignly, against the work of the USCCB. As a wire service, CNS does not take editorial positions. It is too busy covering the daily news of a global church." (Emphasis mine)

I agree that the news CNS does provide regarding the global church is good. However, their record on the HHS mandate proves that there is a pretty blatant editorial position. This is fine, but please don't post "news" stories about it then. File the stories under commentary or opinion. Or better yet, why not let the USCCB's communication office do the job of PR for the bishops?

You can see all of CNS's coverage of the mandate here.