After 18 months, the Boston Globe is shutting down Crux, its web site dedicated to coverage of the global Catholic Church and led by veteran Vatican analyst John Allen. According to the Globe’s editor, Brian McGrory, it wasn’t for lack of readership, but lack of advertisers willing to advertise specifically to the Catholic market.
Welcome to the world of every Catholic publisher in the past forty years.
The big pitch for Crux fro the beginning was that it would be independent, unlike all those other Catholic publications that had icky attachments to the Church. First, not all other Catholic publications are tied to the Church even remotely. Catholic World News, for example, where I worked for many years, had no institutional or other ties to the Church, except that it employees were faithful Catholics covering the Church.
Second, what’s wrong with having ties? Apparently the Globe doesn’t see that as being a problem in all journalism. After all, the Globe’s owner, John Henry, is also an owner of the Boston Red Sox, the local team that the Globe’s sports writers regularly cover. So it’s just a problem for religion coverage and not sports coverage?
They also seem baffled that it could fail in Boston, that most Catholic of cities. I’ll say what I said then: Boston may be culturally Catholic, but when you have less than 12% of Catholics attending Mass on Sundays, I’m not sure you can call it a Catholic city. If you want to find a Catholic city in the US these days, you have to look South and West. Very far South and West.
Predictably, the takeaway by the Globe—and the Atlantic article I’ve linked above—is that religion coverage just isn’t good business. Despite getting 1 million monthly readers—and double that during some papal trip—they conclude that people don’t want to read about religion in their news.
What they don’t seem to consider is that apart from John Allen’s usual excellent analysis of the Church, Crux didn’t have much to offer. You had columnist Margery Eagan, who represented the lapsed Boomer Catholic who still identifies as Catholic but rejects the Church’s core moral teachings. You had an advice column that sometimes skirted around the edges of what should be acceptable for Catholics. Even their general news coverage in Rome by Ines San Martin wasn’t bad, but wasn’t enough to differentiate it from the wire services and sometimes advanced the same bad reporting about Pope Francis that the rest did, e.g. “Who am I to judge?”
Yes, there were other golden nuggets apart from John Allen, including Steven Greydanus’ movie reviews and contributions from people like Fr. Dwight Longenecker. But sites like National Catholic Register, Aleteia, and even Patheos offer as much and more. And I suspect that their owners and stakeholders expect a lower return on their investment than the Globe’s billionaire owners.
And, frankly, part of what did in Crux is that there is so much good independent Catholic writing and, even, reporting out there that isn’t packaged in a corporate left-leaning package, not just from the big group blogging sites, but also from individual writers and thinkers as well. They just didn’t offer a package compelling enough to draw the advertising dollars the Globe wanted. But I suspect it could draw enough to support lower expectations.
To wit, John Allen says he’s going to take the Crux brand and try to make a go of it on his own. I wish him good luck because the Church needs his particular voice and clear-eyed analysis. And I expect that he can attract enough to support to provide him and a couple other people with a decent living. Maybe that will be enough. Maybe that’s what journalism is going to be.
It may be that the decline of Crux has more to say about the future of mainstream journalism than it does about the future of religion journalism.
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