Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Now For A Real Journalist

We have been reading a lot, lately, by John L. Allen, Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter.  He is easily the most respected journalist covering the Vatican.  In an interview with Nicholas Hahn at Real Clear Religion, Allen talks about what to expect from the Bergoglio papacy, and -- more interesting still -- about his work as a journalist.  Here are some highlights.

I think this was clearly, and self-consciously, the most anti-establishment conclave of the last 150 years. I think you'd probably have to go back to the election of Leo XIII in 1878 to find a conclave where the Cardinals understood themselves so clearly to be voting for a change. In this case it wasn't a rejection of the substance of Benedict XVI's papacy, but it was a rejection of the methods of management and governance. ... 
RCR: There has been some concern from conservatives that this Pope won't be friendly to their issues. Are those concerns valid? 
JA: I wouldn't worry about him rejecting them. I would worry that it's not what he's going to be thinking about when he gets out of bed in the morning. I mean, I don't see him abrogating Summorum Pontificum. However, I don't think you're going to get what you got under Benedict XVI who self-consciously tried to set an example of a more reverent and sober liturgical style. To the extent that the reform of the reform in the liturgical life of the Church goes on, it's probably going to be led less from Rome. I don't think the Pope is going to get in the way of it, but I don't think he's going to be the agent of it in the same way Benedict XVI was.


RCR: Newsweek's Ken Woodward once wrote that outside of North Korea, "no bureaucracy is harder for a journalist to crack than the Vatican's." Do you agree with him? 
JA: I'm not 100 percent sure that's true. The problem with the Vatican isn't so much secrecy, because this isn't like the Pentagon where they have troop movements they're trying to conceal. There aren't really state secrets in that sense. There aren't spy satellites orbiting. 
RCR: No drones either? 
JA: [Laughter] No. The problem with the Vatican is that it's unique. It is unlike any other institution so you have to learn how to crack the codes. Now, it's not rocket science, but you have to spend enough time doing it that you learn to speak the languages.
(That "cracking the code" and "learning the languages" is true for any sort of journalism -- and also, incidentally, for rpaish ministry).  
Hahn observes that Allen does not necessarily support the positions taken by the NCR's editors, who sometimes dissent from church teaching.  Allen responds:
JA: I'm a reporter and an analyst, so I'm trying to give people tools to think about issues in the Church. I'm not trying to tell them what to think about these issues. 
RCR: Your kind of objectivity has been described as "maddening." Does it ever drive you mad? 
JA: I take it as a compliment, if it's true. I have never in my life set out in an effort to write an objective story. I'm just trying to get the story right. That's it. Getting the story right means you have to respect the complexity of reality. There's always more than one view of what's going on in the Church or anything else.
You try to assemble the facts as best you can, then you try talk to a bunch of different people representing different points of view about those facts, and then you try to lay it all out there in a way that's engaging to people who don't have a Ph.D in ecclesiology. More than that, I'm very nervous of any journalist who has a loftier notion of what our calling is. Any journalist who goes into a story with an idea of who the good guys and bad guys are makes me nervous.
The aim should always be getting the story right and objectivity is a byproduct.

There's more where that came from, and it's fascinating.

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