It’s not always easy to be the media these days. Partisans in every field – whether it’s politics or religion or sports or movies – are quick to denounce a journalist’s accuracy, objectivity and integrity. Reporting something the reader or listener doesn’t want to hear, or that varies from their strongly held beliefs, can lead to extremely personal attacks. For proof, just go to the comments section on any online article.
Much of the flak journalists must fly through is of their own making. The media is incredibly fractured today with so many outlets staking out a political position and then using their coverage to advance that position, turning themselves, in effect, into house organs for one group or another. The ideal of balanced coverage has not only been forgotten by much of the public and many in the media, but it’s been ridiculed as nothing more than a journalism professor’s fantasy.
More and more, the press’ credibility is eroding. Part of that is the result of intentional efforts by politicians trying to undermine the press, which they view as the true opposition party, by calling any report you don’t like “fake news,” or labeling false statements as “alternative facts.”
It’s not unique in our history to find the ideals of a fair and free press so tattered and torn. In the early years of our country’s independence, newspapers routinely slanted their coverage to fit a specific political party or position, and no story – or lie – was too scurrilous to print if it knocked your political opponent down a peg or two.
But in today’s media landscape, with social media platforms so prevalent, the speed with which stories and tweets and posts can circulate so astonishingly fast, and the volume of content that we have instant and continual access to so astoundingly huge, we can find ourselves swept away by the partisan rancor and warfare like a deck chair in a tidal wave. It’s hard to know what to believe.
Which is exactly why it is so important for journalists to work even harder to report the news fairly and fully.
That applies not only to the secular press but also to those of us in the Catholic press. We too can find ourselves in a maelstrom when our reporting crosses the divisions within the Church. But we have a moral obligation to bring professionalism, integrity, fairness and truth to our work for and about the Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses the role of the media in society. “The information provided by the media is at the service of the common good,” the Catechism states. “Society has a right to information based on truth, freedom, justice and solidarity.”
The Catechism continues: “By the very nature of their profession, journalists have an obligation to serve the truth and not offend against charity in disseminating information. They should strive to respect with equal care, the nature of the facts and the limits of critical judgment concerning individuals. They should not stoop to defamation.”
The Church also calls public officials and the public at large to their own moral obligations when using or consuming news.
Civil authorities “should give timely and reliable reports concerning the general good or respond to the well-founded concerns of the people,” according to the Catechism. “Nothing can justify recourse to disinformation for manipulating public opinion through the media. … Moral judgment must condemn the plague of totalitarian states which systematically falsify the truth, exercise political control of opinion through the media, manipulate defendants and witnesses at public trials, and imagine that they secure their tyranny by strangling and repressing everything they consider ‘thought crimes.’”
The Catechism also has a warning for we consumers of social communication. We should not be passive consumers, but “practice moderation and discipline” so that we can be enlightened consumers and “resist unwholesome influences.”
We at the Tennessee Register take our responsibilities and obligations as professional journalists seriously because that is the best way to serve our readers and the Church.
It is important that Catholics in the Diocese of Nashville have a reliable source of news about the Church as another resource to help them take their faith into every corner of their lives. That is why we work hard to present church teaching and the positions of the bishops as clearly and faithfully as we can.
In our work we also seek to build a tighter sense of community among the people of the diocese to combat a sense of isolation that might envelope us if our only reference point is our pew at Mass in our parish. That is why we try, as best as we can, to reflect Catholic life in Middle Tennessee in all its variety. It might be a story about members of one of our smallest parishes reaching out to their community in charity and mercy, or about a group of newcomers to the area bringing with them important devotions. It might be a story about students finding ways to understand and embrace their faith, or about the teachers walking with them on their spiritual journey. It might be a story about the sorrow of losing a friend or the joy of an athletic achievement. In all these stories, we hope, are ties that bind all of us closer together.
We also strive to connect Middle Tennessee with the broader American church and the Universal Church.
This is how we, as individual Catholics, can serve the Church. This is our vocation. To follow our vocation faithfully, we must earn your trust that what we share with you is accurate, fair and complete. In today’s media landscape, that can be a difficult mission. But it remains a crucial mission.