Patti Armstrong is an award-winning author and was the managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’ bestselling Amazing Grace series. Her latest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories From Everyday Families and Dear God, You Can’t Be Serious. She has a B.A. in social work and an M.A. in public administration and worked in both those fields before staying home to work as a freelance writer. Patti and her husband live in North Dakota, where they are still raising the tail end of their 10 children.
News is in the eye of the beholder, so it seems. Clearly, not all media sources see the world in the same light. What does that mean for news consumers? I asked a number of Catholic journalists to weigh in on the differences they see between the secular and Catholic media.
According to him, the secular and Catholic media often take different approaches depending on the subject matter. “If it is about the Church and the faith, there's certainly a difference as a secular audience is likely to have little or no knowledge of Catholicism and so the reporting has to reflect that,” he said. “When it comes to other issues (politics, economics, even sports etc.) the differences are less, but reporting on these for Catholic media should be carried out with a ‘Catholic lens.’”
Pentin said that even in the secular media one can evangelize by shedding the light of the Gospel on current affairs, but that perspective is not generally promoted because the audience determines content.
I asked him why he has chosen to write for a Catholic audience. “Because I love the faith, find it of enormous interest and want to share it with others,” he said. “I believe it's the most stimulating branch of journalism as it combines current affairs, which has always fascinated me, with the truth of human existence, thereby giving it a profundity of meaning one cannot find in any other media.”
Lauren Ashburn, Managing Editor and Anchor of EWTN News Nightly with Lauren Ashburn, is a veteran journalist and media executive whose extensive experience includes Fox News, PBS NewsHour, CBS This Morning, NBC, MSNBC and CNN.
Why did she switch from secular to Catholic media? According to her, as she transitioned from reporting the news to commentating, there was a certain tone required to be successful in that position that made her uncomfortable. “You were expected to be aggressive, provocative and inflammatory,” she explained. “I took a step back, re-examined my options and prayed. And my prayers were answered when I received a phone call from EWTN. God guided me to take this path.” Ashburn described her job at EWTN as a “gift” where she can “celebrate my faith and deliver news from the Catholic perspective.”
How is the reporting different? It’s not, according to her. “You examine the facts, ask questions, explore all sides of the issue, synthesize the information and present a balanced report,” she said. “On any given night the lead story on EWTN News Nightly may be the same as other news programs—let’s say, the debate over health care.” The difference, she explained, boils down to the audience. Catholic audiences will care about issues like funding for abortion, mandating contraceptives and conscience rights.
“So the reporting process isn’t different at EWTN News Nightly, but the information we include in our reports is important to understanding the impact politics and international affairs has on our Catholic audience,” Ashburn said.
Does she think it is important for Catholics to get their news from the Catholic media? “Yes, absolutely,” she said. “Catholic news is, for the most part, not covered in secular media.” Ashburn said that even non-Catholics can benefit from EWTN’s unique, thought-provoking perspective, but for committed Catholics, “it weaves together faith, politics and heartwarming stories of hope.”
Raymond Arroyo, NYTimes bestselling author, News Director for EWTN News, and host of the news magazine, has also appeared on CNN and Fox. He describes himself as a Catholic who is a journalist, not a Catholic journalist. Ideally, Arroyo said that the art of journalism should be the same regardless of venue. “Get the craft down and do that well and your values will bleed through,” he said. “I’m here to serve the audience.”
Arroyo said that regardless of the work he does, he follows Mother Angelica’s philosophy to strive to give God the best. “I push people to give the best,” Arroyo said. “If you are doing this for God, why should you settle for something less than what the secular world appreciates as a benchmark for the secular product?”
According to him, informed, practicing Catholics should seek out good writers and good news sources in order to be able to see through whatever the secular media reports on.
In the end, Arroyo said it’s about story telling. “It’s about trying to entertain enough so the audience will take in the story,” he said. “All I can do is inform and tell the story and everything else is between the lines and up to the audience.” According to him, he who tells the best story last wins. “Jesus told incredible stories and it changed the world,” Arroyo said. “I would argue that the Catholic Church has the greatest story ever told, so I try to find glimmers of that story and show it to people.”
News and a Catholic View for Millennials
Jason Collett, editor of The Good News, takes that Catholic glimmer and inserts it into news summaries of current events and Catholic inspiration. He was working on Capitol Hill for Senator Pat Roberts when he began ruminating about his generation and the growing divide that is largely driven by the media.
“I would go to church and see co-workers, and then we’d walk out and go to our separate worlds and news,” he said. Recognizing that so many of his generation are falling away from both Church and traditional news sources, Collett came up with a daily email newsletter to attract millennial Catholics with news summaries for quick, efficient reads but with links for further reading.
“I think that our lives will be different if we live out our faith, but a lot of people don’t even know their faith,” Collett said. “When you know the Catholic perspective, you can filter the news through a clearer lens in the light of Christ. Contrary to what society tells us, the truth does exist and it can be found in authentic Catholic media.”
Collet said that is goal is to articulate the news in light of Catholic teaching to a generation begging for clarity. “In an unsteady society, Catholic news must be a bold, reliable voice for truth,” he said. “If we don’t know our faith, how can share it with the world? As Catholics, we can’t turn our values on and off. They’re constant. So, it’s important to view the news in light of authentic Catholic morals.”