NZ Catholic loss is more significant than Newshub’s closure

catholic media

Our national Catholic newspaper will cease publication this month after 27 years in print. The loss of NZ Catholic is actually more significant than recent cuts to some secular media, such as the closing of Newshub.

This is because NZ Catholic has been the only consistent source of local reporting of events and issues in the Church in New Zealand.

CathNews New Zealand is well established online, but it is primarily an aggregator of material already published by Church or secular sources.

Without NZ Catholic, there will be events and issues — good and bad — that will not be reported. But bad news will probably be covered by secular news sources, whose increasingly opinionated content tends to be antagonistic to the Catholic Church and its beliefs.

News desert

In the United States the disappearance of local media is termed a “news desert”, and a New York Times report quoted this comment from one bereft community: “Our community does not know itself and has no idea of important local issues.”

When the United States Catholic bishops closed the domestic operations of Catholic News Service in 2022, the director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture, David Gibson, called the decision “bone-headed”.

He said the news service had been:

“a critical tool for reliably informing American Catholics about the church beyond their own diocese, and a counter-witness to the proliferation of ideologically driven Catholic media platforms that are driving the church apart, and regular Catholics around the bend — often right out of Catholicism”.

The basic theology behind the need for Catholic media is the understanding that a community, such as the Church, cannot be sustained without communication — from top to bottom, bottom to top, and between its members.

So Catholic media are part of the glue that holds the Church together.

What can be done?

The closing of NZ Catholic could be seen as another apparent sign of retrenchment by the Church in New Zealand, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

I don’t share that negative view.

Certainly, the Catholic Church in New Zealand has been slow to use modern communications technology. It is largely absent from the online environment where most New Zealanders (including most Catholics) get their news and information.

We lag well behind our Protestant brothers and sisters, who fund and run multimillion-dollar media operations. We had to go to Shine TV to get Masses screened when Covid-19 hit us.

I believe it is time New Zealand’s Catholics had a comprehensive online news and information service, accessible on a range of devices and platforms.

We cannot expect the institutional Church to provide it. Church finances are stretched, Mass attendances are down, and abuse compensations are looming.

That means it must come from outside the institutional Church — just like major Catholic media in England, Ireland, the United States and Europe (for example, Catholic Herald, Irish Catholic, Our Sunday Visitor, La Croix.)

I know how it can be done. I believe the Catholic community can provide the talent and the technological know-how. I hope it can also provide the finance.

  • Pat McCarthy was founding editor of NZ Catholic. He has also worked for Zealandia, the non-denominational Christian newspaper Challenge Weekly and CathNews New Zealand.
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