‘We need real journalism in the church’

That’s the headline on a column this week in UCA News, the Asian church news service which has been our longtime partner and friend. And while some may assume the column is for Catholic Press Month (which we celebrate in February here in the States), it’s actually an insightful, albeit coincidental, look at how contrasting styles of journalism can be a lesson for how Catholic journalists should approach their work.

Written by Maryknoll Father William Grimm, editor-in-chief of Katorikku Shimbun, Japan’s Catholic weekly, the column uses a Japanese example of how one recent story was covered there and applies it to how we should be reporting on the church.

Unfortunately, he notes, “there has been a proliferation of Catholic ‘news sources’ that do not follow” professional standards of timeliness, attribution, accuracy, balance and verification. “Bias, distortion, refusal to cover the ‘bad news,’ lack of balance, deference to officials and failure to verify are common,” he writes.

He credits CNS and UCA News for holding to such professional standards. But why should that matter? His answer:

One reason is that if the church is incapable or unwilling to report on its life and activities with transparency, others will step in. However, leaving honest reporting of the church to outside media leaves us open to misunderstanding and even sensationalism. It is hard to refute charges of “cover-up” when, in fact, Catholic journalism either consciously or inadvertently fails to present a full picture of the church, “warts and all.”

The full column is worth reading, not just by Catholic journalists but by anyone who wonders why we report the bad news and the Good News and why we strive for, as Father Grimm says, “trustworthy professional Catholic journalism (that presents) the true face of the church to the world and each other.”

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