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Time lags in the news cycles

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Nov 03, 2009

It's a frustrating business to watch the coverage of Catholic issues in the secular media. Every weekday we comb through the headlines, looking for new stories. More often than not we find old stories as well.

This week, for example, we're noticing quite a few headline stories in the secular media about the reactions to the Pope's invitation to Anglicans-- the sort of stories we were featuring on CWN last week, or maybe even the week before that.

Today several newspapers carried stories suggesting that the delay in the Pope's apostolic constitution might be attributable to arguments over priestly celibacy: the story we featured last Thursday. Since that time there have been two new developments: on Saturday the Vatican issued a statement denying a conflict on celibacy, and yesterday in our report on that denial CWN pointed out that the Vatican's official denial still suggested that the celibacy issue is unresolved. So the headlines that we're spotting today are two developments out of date-- two news cycles behind the story. We can probably expect these newspapers to catch up with today's news by the coming weekend-- when, in all probability, we'll already be a few more steps down the road.

Why are the secular media so frequently late with their coverage of Catholic stories? It's simple: they aren't paying attention. They rely on Catholic outlets to alert them. So if an event occurs on Monday, the Catholic news media prepare their stories on Tuesday, the secular reporters notice them on Wednesday, and the "news"-- which is now anything but new-- appears in the secular outlets on Thursday and Friday. And if  secular reporters are waiting for the diocesan newspapers, which only appear weekly,... 

In some cases, by the time the story appears in the secular media, the original event has receded into the past, leaving no trace. Occasionally CWN receives a complaint from a reader who wonders why we haven't covered a story that's prominently displayed in the week's headlines-- and learns that we actually did cover it a week earlier. In a somewhat more serious case, last week several British publications offered a distorted account of an article in L'Osservatore Romano about Halloween celebrations, and by the time those sensational accounts were in circulation, the original piece in the Vatican newspaper was no longer readily accessible online, so interested readers could not easily correct the popular misunderstandings.

It's gratifying to know that other media outlets watch our coverage and often take our leads. But it's frustrating to realize that many Catholic readers still receive most of their news about Catholic affairs through the secular media-- that is, second-hand. That coverage is often delayed and distorted. Could you do something to ease my frustration? If your friends, neighbors, and relatives are interested in Catholic news, tell them to come here, and get it while it's still fresh.  

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