Painful changes for Catholic News Service as domestic operations to close

VM010221095922_0040.jpg Pope Francis speaks with representatives of Catholic News Service at the Vatican, Feb. 1, 2020. Credit: Vatican Media.

Catholic News Service, the news agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, will end domestic operations at the end of the year. The U.S. bishops’ conference characterized the changes and office closures as a “significant realignment.”

“Catholic News Service offices in New York and Washington will be closed at the end of the year, as will the USCCB Publishing Office,” the U.S. bishops’ conference said in a May 4 statement sent to CNA. “These changes, although painful, will allow the remaining functions — including the Catholic News Service Rome Bureau and the Office of Public Affairs — a more sustainable foundation upon which to do their work.”

“Sadly, this will impact a number of staff,” the statement continued. “We are grateful for the time and dedication of the committed team of communicators at the conference who serve the Church; job transitions can be difficult, and as this is a personnel matter, further detail will not be discussed at this time.”

The changes mean 21 employees will lose their jobs, including those in public affairs, creative services, and marketing and episcopal resources, according to Catholic News Service. 

USCCB Publishing will cease its publishing operations at the end of 2022. This division holds the rights to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the U.S. Adult Catechism, and other publications.

The news service dates back to 1920. It has long provided news and other media content to dozens of diocesan publications and other paid subscribers across the country. The news service will stop charging clients who carry its coverage on Jan. 1. Starting in 2023, CNS’ Rome coverage will be available to U.S. dioceses at no charge.

In the next few months, the communications department at the U.S. bishops’ conference will “undertake a significant realignment to better utilize the resources entrusted to the Conference by the faithful in a manner that fits the communications environment today,” the USCCB statement said.

Greg Erlandson, CNS editor-in-chief, said he was “profoundly saddened by this decision.”

“For more than a century, Catholic News Service has served the local, national and international Catholic press. I am proud of the professionalism of our staff of editors, journalists and photographers and of all that they have accomplished,” he said, according to CNS.

Some CNS staff took to Twitter to react to the news and to share expressions of support.

“THANK YOU for your messages regarding the closing of U.S. operations for Catholic New Service,” CNS reporter and editor Rhina Guidos said. “I think we're more concerned with the state of Catholic media, (and) the future for our amazing and brave clients, than with ourselves. Each day in journalism is a privilege.”

Catholic News Service is distinct from Catholic News Agency, which is under the lay Catholic-run EWTN Global Catholic Network.

Catholic news media has suffered some of the same pressures as other forms of journalism, as well as financial pressures unique to contemporary American Catholicism.

Many diocesan newspapers were once a center for community news and information. Like their secular counterparts, they have faced significant pressure from competing media and losses in ad revenue with the rise of the internet.

Some Catholic newspapers have cut back their publication frequency or have gone online entirely.

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In March 2020, at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s newspaper the Pittsburgh Catholic saw all of its positions terminated and suspended operations for six months, after which it returned in an online-only format.

The diocese’s financial strains pre-dated the pandemic and were further compounded by a drop in Mass attendance and offertory donations following the August 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report on allegations of sex abuse by clergy. The diocese’s compensation fund for abuse victims also received an unexpectedly high number of filings for compensation.

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