Vatican journalist and expert John L. Allen, Jr. will join the staff of the The Boston Globe as an associate editor next month in a bid to enrich the media's coverage of religion and the Church.
“What I really hope we can accomplish is to offer a model of what serious coverage of the Catholic Church will look like in a major secular news outlet,” Allen said in a Jan. 7 conversation with CNA.
“Fundamentally, what I hope is that this will lift up an example of what getting this story right would look like, so that in the end it's not just The Boston Globe doing it, but I hope it has a kind of leavening effect in the media business generally.”
Allen's new post, which he will assume Feb. 1, was announced Tuesday. The Globe is one of Boston's two major dailies; last year, its Sunday edition circulation was more than 380,000. Nearly 46 percent of the population of the Boston area is Catholic.
The paper's editor, Brian McGrory noted in a statement the “resurgence of global interest in the Catholic Church” following the election of Pope Francis, saying there is “nobody in the nation better suited” than Allen to cover the Church.
“John is basically the reporter that bishops and cardinals call to find out what’s going on within the confines of the Vatican. His inexhaustible energy, supported by extraordinary insights, is legendary.”
Allen said he will fundamentally “continue to do the kind of reporting and analysis on the Vatican and the Church that I've always done,” and that his role as editor will largely be part of a “ramped-up” coverage of the Church by the Globe.
“I'll be guiding, quarterbacking that in some sense, but the primary thing is, I'm going to continue to be a correspondent in the field,” he added.
McGrory said Allen will help the Globe “explore the very real possibility of launching a free-standing publication devoted to Catholicism.”
Allen is currently senior correspondent at the National Catholic Reporter, where he has worked since 1997. Dennis Coday, the Reporter's editor, wrote, “we will miss John and the contributions he has made to NCR over the years” and that “we look forward to a continued friendly, professional relationship as colleagues carried out in mutual respect.”
The Vatican analyst explained the move, saying, “my rap on the so-called mainstream media for years has been that it doesn't take religion seriously as a newsbeat; that is, it doesn't invest the resources in religion coverage that it does, not only in things like politics and finance, but even in sports and entertainment.”
“The coverage of religion tends to be sporadic, it tends to be incomplete, it tends to be incredibly superficial.” The Globe's decision to hire him, he said, suggests that such coverage of religion is beginning to change, “and at long last the kind of secular news business has clued into the fact that religion is something that an incredibly important segment of its audience cares deeply about, and therefore it's worth trying to get it right.”
McGrory said that Allen will work alongside the Globe's religion reporter Lisa Wangsness, and the change will have no impact on the paper's coverage of other religious bodies.
He noted that coverage of the Church in a major secular daily will be distinguished from that in “the specifically Catholic press,” but that “I want this to be responsible and well-informed, without fear or favor.”
Allen added that his new position will allow him to continue his current side projects, which include speaking engagements, television appearances on CNN, and book writing. His most recent and critically acclaimed work, “The Global War on Christians,” was published last October.