In our country and specifically the city of Toronto, there are literally thousands of individuals working day in and out in journalism. And that's just the "official" media outlets. Add on to that, individual blogs, podcasts, tweets and other social media and you've really got a lot out there being discussed.
Some have said that the media are often out to "get" the Catholic Church. While we've certainly seen coverage on controversial issues, I'm not convinced of it. Have I been more than a little upset at certain articles, columns or "omissions" on particular stories? Absolutely. Do newspapers, radio stations or t.v. broadcasts or columnists have their own particular editorial slants? You bet.
That said, my experience in working with hundreds of reporters is that, generally speaking, they're doing the best they can with limited resources. The Catholic Church intersects with all sorts of different stories. Just look at the last few weeks and you'll see.
From Bill 13 anti-bullying legislation to the visit of St. Maria Goretti's body, a fire at one of our churches to leaks at the Vatican and the ordination of Priests and Permanent Deacons. All were covered in their own particular way. On one story, you're dealing with the crime reporter, another a general assignment reporter, next a journalist covering politics at Queen's Park. In short, aside from Charles Lewis, full time religion reporter at the National Post, you're very rarely dealing with the same journalist on any given day.
That makes it challenging to develop a relationship with them, to provide background that will be useful for other stories moving forward. You may spend an hour on the phone with a reporter trying to explain a certain church teaching, provide insight on why the church is approaching a particular issue the way it is, making complicated jargon understandable for readers or listeners. Then you may find the story doesn't end up in the paper or on the newscast, the next day you have a whole new journalist to once again explain a difficult issue to, etc. It's no walk in the park...
One of the things we try to do each year is get together with the media to break bread and have an "offline" conversation. No story to cover, no deadline, no tension over a particular issue. Believe it or not, we actually pray with the media and affirm their vocation.
This past week, we welcomed members of the secular press to our annual Breakfast with the Media. It's been about a five year tradition and we're happy to report that this year, we had our biggest turnout yet - about 30 journalists coming together early morning before the day's work began for morning prayer and breakfast with each other and Cardinal Collins. We even had a reporter travel from Kitchener to join us, a journalist who had traveled to Rome earlier this year with us for the elevation of Archbishop Collins to the College of Cardinals.
We try to move the event around to different locations to show the diversity of the church and the work that we do. We've been to the Newman Centre, Serra House, St. Paul's Basilica and this year St. Michael's Cathedral generously hosted our gathering.
Even though we consider the get together an "off the record" event, it always leads to a few stories in the days ahead. This year, after morning prayer, St. Michael's Cathedral Rector Fr. Michael Busch had the opportunity to give a brief history of the cathedral and speak of the current renovations underway. A couple of hours later a few of those who attended the breakfast sent emails asking about doing stories on the historic cathedral, the restoration project and the significance of this special space in the coming days. Again, these stories don't just happen, we need to plant the seeds and be proactive in telling the Good News.
We welcome journalists of any faith to join us and usually try and focus on those who we have dealt with on stories over the last year. Of course, some journalists are working mornings so can't make it out.
Following breakfast, Cardinal Collins always says a few words and then takes questions on any number of issues. Again, not for a story but more to understand the diverse work that His Eminence is involved in.
While we may not always agree, it's important to pray for those who are called to the vocation of journalism. It's not an easy gig. What used to be a story a day for journalists has turned into a reporter showing up with a pen and paper, microphone and camera for online footage, smartphone to "tweet" about it and having to file 3 versions of the story to keep it "fresh" before the final version is completed.
When you think of the last month or so, there have been some very difficult stories - from body parts to court trials and shootings in our downtown core - all take a toll on the people who cover the news. I spoke to a number who shared their personal struggles in that regard. We remember the patron saint of journalists Saint Francis De Salles as a pillar of support for those called to share the news with us.
We usually hold the breakfast close to World Communications Day, held last month and we take the time to distribute the annual message from the Holy Father to all in attendance.
This year's reflection focused on the gift of silence. A number of reporters commented that they appreciated having the reflection given to them, as it seems silence is a lost gift for many in these hectic days.
So no, there's no alterior motive to getting together with these secular journalists. Sometimes we just need to gather, pray and listen to one another. Pretty basic but not a bad way to communicate, not a bad way to start the day...