In 1983, The New York Times acquired The Boston Globe for $1.1 billion. This month, the Times sold the Globe to Boston Red Sox owner, John Henry for $70 million.
My friend, Michael, is 21 years old and will soon begin his third year in prison. Michael’s father is in prison in some other state, and he long ago lost all contact with his mother. He’s been helping me out with translating some of the social network lingo for which I’ve been pretty much clueless. “If you’re writing for the on-line world,” he says, “you’ll sound like a total dork if you don’t know the language.” Well, thanks Mike! I think!
Anyway, I just learned from Michael the meaning of “LOL,” and I’ve been looking for an excuse to use it in a sentence. Father John Zuhlsdorf made me LOL last month when he published a brief commentary about my post, “The International Criminal Court Has Dismissed SNAP’s Last Gasp.” Father Zuhlsdorf twice referred to it as a “somewhat longish post.” Clearly, he hasn’t been reading These Stone Walls.
I had to LOL because that post was actually about half the length of my usual TSW post. Because of where and how I must write, I can only manage one post per week compared with Father Z’s daily or even multiple daily posts. Since I get only one weekly shot at being heard and read, I try to provide something of substance (not that Father Z doesn’t). Like most “somewhat longish” magazine articles, I try to separate sections of my posts using subheadings so readers can get back to them over multiple days, if necessary. One reader wrote in a comment awhile back, “When I open a TSW post for the first time, I sometimes groan at its length, but then when I get to the end I don’t want to be at the end.” That is probably the nicest thing any writer could ever hear!
One of the reasons I feel obliged to write posts of substance, regardless of length, is something I read recently in a book entitled Losing the News by Alex S. Jones (Oxford University Press 2009). A former Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for The New York Times, Alex Jones is Director of Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. I quoted him and another one of his books extensively in my controversial post, “Hitler’s Pope, Nazi Crimes, and The New York Times.” It’s a must-read for anyone concerned that The New York Times might harbor an anti-Catholic bias. You might be shocked by the plank in the Times’ eye.
“BUY ME SOME PEANUTS AND CRACKER JACKS” – AND A NEWSPAPER!
Earlier this month, Boston Red Sox owner John Henry purchased The Boston Globe from The New York Times, its owner of the last three decades. The purchase price was $70 million, and it represents less than seven cents on the dollar recovered by the NY Times for its 1983 purchase price of $1.1 billion for the Globe, and that’s not even accounting for inflation. It also represents the sharp decline in traditional newspapers and news reporting that Alex Jones described in chilling terms in Losing the News.
Greater Boston, the city in which I grew up, hosts a total of 33 colleges and universities including some with global reputations such as Harvard and MIT. In a sophisticated city with a growing global presence, The Boston Globe, like other newspapers forced to make cuts, tried to stave off disaster years ago by closing its foreign reporting bureau to become increasingly localized. According to Alex Jones, the Globe was awarded five Pulitzer Prizes between 2000 and 2008, including two for tackling national or global issues such as stem cell research. Alex Jones pointed out that “There is grumbling at the Globe that in the future such ambitious journalism may now be in shorter supply.” One of those awards was in 2003, and was, according to Jones,
“…the most honored Pulitzer – for public service – for ‘courageous, comprehensive coverage of sexual abuse by priests, an effort that pierced secrecy, stirred local, national and international reaction and produced changes in the Roman Catholic Church.’ “ (Losing the News, p. 166)
I should point out that the quote within the quote above is not that of Alex Jones, but of the Pulitzer Committee that awarded the Prize to The Boston Globe “Spotlight Team” in 2003. I took issue with that assessment then, and I take issue with it now. The Globe had an opportunity to perform a public service to inform the world about an epidemic of sexual abuse in our culture, but it let that opportunity pass in favor of a sensationalist and relentless spotlight, not on sexual abuse, but on the Catholic Church and priesthood. The Media Report also highlighted this fact in a number of articles under the heading “The Boston Globe: From Pulitzer to Pile-On.”
In “Catholic Scandal and the News Media,” one of the most important posts I have written for These Stone Walls, I pointed out that the problem with the Globe’s “Spotlight Team” is that it focused a beam on just one place, the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and it brought far more heat than light. The issue of sexual abuse needed floodlight, not a spotlight, but the Globe made it a Catholic issue, and unjustly so – unjustly to all Catholics, unjustly to the people of Boston, and unjustly to the millions of tragic victims of sexual abuse left in utter darkness outside that spotlight’s localized and exclusive beam pointing solely at the Catholic Church.
In “What Father Among You: Bishops, Priests and the Judas Crisis,” a recent TSW post, I quoted the late Father Richard John Neuhaus commenting on the burgeoning 2002 scandal in his multi-part essay, “Scandal Time”:
“There is an unseemly readiness on the part of many, including some Catholics, to believe the worst. What we know is wretched enough. We would not know what we do know without the reporting of The Boston Globe. [However] it is pointed out that the Globe, like its owner The New York Times, is no friend of the Church. The suggestion is not that we kill the messenger, but that we should be keenly aware that the messenger, on issue after issue, points to score against the teaching and claims of the Catholic Church; that the messenger is not a neutral party.”
A FALLEN WORLD’S FALLEN NEWS MEDIA
In 2009, The New York Times Company threatened to close The Boston Globe, according to Alex Jones (p. 212), unless its unions agreed to $20 million in cuts. According to a 2009 Pew Research Center survey, less than half of Americans said that losing their local newspaper would harm civic life, and less than one-third said that they would even miss their local paper if it disappeared.
In Losing the News, Alex Jones analyzed the state of newspapers and news gathering over the last two decades. He concluded that, for better or worse, newspapers are being supplanted by on-line media where a majority of people now find instantaneous news access:
“Search engines and web portals such as Google and Yahoo and AOL are all major providers of the news, but … they are ‘free riders’ who get the benefit of offering their audience a range of reported news that has been generated by newspapers and other traditional media.” (p. 187)
In a recent TSW post, The Catholic Press and the Shakedown of the U.S. Catholic Church,” I quoted Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel who wrote, “Most Americans don’t much care what happens to the press, and if anything wouldn’t mind seeing it get some grief.” I pointed out that I am not among those Americans. I see a free press as “an entrenched and necessary component of the survival of democracy.”
Clearly, however, newspapers are in trouble, and it’s not always easy to defend them. However, some are surviving quite nicely. The Wall Street Journal, for example, is one of the few U.S. newspapers with an increase in print circulation over the last five years. It has well over two million daily print and digital subscribers while The New York Times, once comfortably at the top, has fallen to third place with more digital than print subscribers for the first time in its history. The Times’ print subscriptions are today roughly half those of The Wall Street Journal. This tells me that Americans have not given up on newspapers for their news, but have become far more selective. A more recent Pew Research Center survey identified the WSJ as the most trusted newspaper, another spot once comfortably held by The New York Times.
A STANDARD FOR BLOGGERS
Alex Jones went on to point out that the “free rider” syndrome he attributed to on-line news carriers such as Google is also “at the heart of the burgeoning blogosphere devoted to news and public affairs.” It was a little humbling to read that when his book was published in 2009 there were some 70 million blogs with 120,000 new blogs added daily according to Technorati, a web site that tracks the blogosphere.
This makes me and just about every other writer in this medium a tiny voice in a loud cacophony of on-line news and commentary. For that reason alone, I feel an obligation to write thoughtfully and with substance. I cannot see this on-line world beyond my small contribution to it, and the little bit that is sent to me by readers, but with upwards of 100 million blogs now publishing, I can only imagine the Tower of Babel that the Internet has become.
I wrote a post last year entitled, “In a City on a Hill: Lent, Sacrifice, and the Passage of Time.” It strikes me from that title that every Catholic writer who contributes to the on-line world is writing from a City on a Hill. There are 1,447 occurrences of the words “city” and “cities” in Sacred Scripture, most conveying a sense of personal responsibility for our voices in the public square – including this reference in the Gospel of Matthew (5:14): “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
For me, this means that every keystroke on my archaic old typewriter, through which I communicate with the world beyond these stone walls, represents a public responsibility to witness to the truth. We don’t need another “longish post” to remind Catholics in the on-line world of that most basic tenet of public discourse. Our published words are forever, and we are forever known by them. In Losing the News, Alex Jones pointed out that,
“At their best…bloggers act as a kind of truth squad for the traditional media, assailing them for ignoring important stories or getting something wrong” (p. 188).
Consider this post my official assailing of The Boston Globe, now worth every penny of its 7-cents-on-the-dollar reduced sale price. By the way, Alex Jones also wrote that only a handful of bloggers have significant followings. You can help in that regard by promoting TSW at the social network links that now appear at the beginning and end of each post.