Got news? LATimes forsakes Catholics

Cardinal Mahony Celebrates The Mass Of The Lord's Supper

So this is what big religion news in the Los Angeles Times has come to: 281 words buried on AA5. In a glorified brief with a photo, in eight paragraphs stuck in the second section of the paper, came the news that the Vatican was seeking a replacement for Cardinal Roger Mahony:

The archdiocese distributed a memo to priests and lay leaders this week confirming that the search is underway and asking parishes to join in a prayer enlisting God’s help in finding “a shepherd who will be an example of goodness to your people and who will fill our hearts and minds with the truth of the Gospel.”

The memo surfaced Thursday in a blog, “Whispers in the Loggia,” which closely follows Catholic affairs.

Mahony, who has led the Los Angeles archdiocese for more than two decades, turns 74 on Feb. 27, putting him one year shy of the usual retirement age for his post. The cardinal noted in his blog last month that this would be his last full year as archbishop.

His has been a tumultuous tenure, marked both by his emergence as a leader in the immigrant rights movement and by criticism of his handling of the church’s sexual abuse scandals.

Everything in this article is truncated. The headline: “Mahony’s successor sought.” The reference to his tenure: 25 years became “more than two decades. The fact that he somehow kept his job after presiding over the largest clergy sex abuse scandal in history: not even mentioned.

At least the online version of this article didn’t make the same mistake as USA Today. In the online headline, the LAT acknowledged that the Vatican was looking for Mahony’s successor; USA Today said the LA archdiocese — as opposed to Rome — was the doing the looking. That might seem nit-picky, but church history has been defined by smaller struggles over semantics.

As for the LAT story, I can only say I feel bad that my local paper has gotten so thin that a Pulitzer Prize-winner and fellow Bruin had to pick up a story that clearly deserves its own beat reporter. After all, how did the paper learn that the Vatican was searching for Mahony’s successor? Apparently from a blog. A popular blog, indeed, but I didn’t realize reporters and editors at major metro papers sit around waiting for bloggers to tell them what’s newsworthy.

Though there is a potentially more troubling possibility: That the LAT has given up and is waiting for the AP to do its job. The Los Angeles Times originally had to run on its Website the same AP story that USA Today ran. I appreciate the honesty, but I find it a bit alarming that a breaking news reporter for the Associated Press was breaking real and meaningful news to the LAT about the leader of the largest Roman Catholic Archdiocese in the country.

I looked back through the paper’s archives. There is no indication that I missed the LAT’s non-existent story about Mahony’s announcement last month that this year of running the archdiocese would be his last.

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  • dalea

    Brad asks:

    After all, how did the paper learn that the Vatican was searching for Mahony’s successor? Apparently from a blog. A popular blog, indeed, but I didn’t realize reporters and editors at major metro papers sit around waiting for bloggers to tell them what’s newsworthy.

    This looks to be the future of the news business. Highly specialized blogs provide a very narrow range of information on particularly topics which is then picked up and appears in general circulation periodicals.

    The article also left out the bishop’s huge building programs, including the new cathederal. And that during his tenure the laity has become more Hispanic and poorer. Big demographic changes are ignored.

  • Dan

    I’m an LA Catholic, saw the piece the other day, and had the same reaction. Further: There was no mention of rumored candidates in the running to be the replacement.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    That’s because there was no real reporting, just a call made to the archdiocesan spokesman.

  • Joe K

    To piggyback on Dalea’s comments, some of the specialized bloggers have have inside connections and relationships that the religion reporter typically would not have. So bloggers tend to be in the know before the public announcements, and their niche audience is highly attuned. At least that’s the way it works in my Catholic circles.

    I suppose I have lower expectations for general audience news organizations to be first or in depth. For topics outside of my expertise or interest I don’t mind waiting a day or so.

  • Charles Collins

    dalea is right, specialized blogs will become more and more a source of news, but this is just bad. Rumoured candidates, as Dan pointed out, were not mentioned. How 25 years of a very liberal Mahoney affected the diocese, and how a probably much more conservative replacement will cope with the infrastructure in place(or vice versa). I mean, for over two decades, Mahoney has said abortion was not his issue, his issue is immigration. Will this change? What about Hollywood – will his replacement engage the entertainment industry better. There are a million stories, and one should be told every day until a replacement is found.

  • Bern

    Indeed, major short shrift . . . BTW, Mahoney’s successor will not be “found” he will be named, and by the Vatican–but is likely to be Hispanic for a number of reasons.

  • Martha

    Yeah, I get dalea’s point, and it is certainly correct that “Whispers in the Loggia” is a specialised blog that thrives on being the first with the inside news, but come on: the reason Cardinal Mahony is retiring is that he’s coming up to the mandatory retirement age of 75. You don’t need special insider information to be aware of this, and I would have thought that for a religion-beat reporter, the search for a replacement would be something to cover.

    Given that Cardinal Mahony is considered to be leaning towards the liberal side of things – and I mean liturgically, not politically: think using glass and ceramic chalices, liturgical dance, and the circus that is the annual religion education conference – surely there is some curiosity as to whether the Vatican is looking to replace him with a more conservative appointee?

    I think this is just further evidence of what this site has been saying for a long time – papers are in trouble and they’re shedding specialists like the religion-beat reporters, meaning that they’re relying on other sources to pick up cheap filler.

    This is something every religion-beat reporter should know, and

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    There is no doubt that niche bloggers develop great sources and their own insider conections. But once upon a time, it was expected that most reporters would too. Now too many sit back and wait for the news to come to them.

    Regardless, this was a story that any religion reporter worth their salt would have had before that letter went out. The more I think about how the Times handled this, the more shocked I am. Just a few years ago this would have been a 40″ story starting on A1, and it would have been followed by an even bigger Sunday feature about Mahony’s tortured tenure.

  • Peter

    The more I think about how the Times handled this, the more shocked I am. Just a few years ago this would have been a 40” story starting on A1, and it would have been followed by an even bigger Sunday feature about Mahony’s tortured tenure.

    But isn’t there a journalism argument that a 40″ story and Sunday feature on a pro forma announcement about a pro forma decision would have been overkill? That kind of coverage would be merited once a replacement is announced or when Mahony leaves, but is there really a news argument for the kind of coverage you lament?

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    In a response that would fit the space constraints of any paper: Yes.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    But, even if such coverage would have been overkill, there is credible argument that burying a glorified brief inside the paper was sufficient to educate 4 million Catholic’s under Mahony’s leadership that he likely is on the way out.

    I understand his retirement was to be expected. But I know that as a religion reporter who covered the papal transition. I doubt many Southern Californians, even many Catholics, knew that. The LATimes apparently didn’t, or at least wasn’t prepared.

  • dalea

    Living in LA, my local comprehension is that Mahoney is regarded as way too conservative by most of his flock. It is probably difficult to convey the social liberalism of Los Angeles to a national audience in a local article, but that is part of the context of the story. While in a RCC wide spectrum, Mahoney would be on the left, in a local context he is an extreme conservative. What we in LA regard as ordinary is probably considered out there elsewhere.

    There is a constant hemorage of Catholics to the store front Iglesia de Dios. And to other mainline churches. The RC high school near me has severe financial problems because the Anglo parishoners have been replaced by Hispanics and Filipinos with lower incomes. The immigrants tend to have more children per family and so have a greater impact on the Church and its schools.

    Mahoney has had to contend with enormous changes in both the Church and in its City. The article does not touch on that. Nor on what his successor will face.

  • Julia

    There’s also the fact that sometimes the policy of having 75 yr old bishops submit letters of resignation results in the bishop being left in place beyond the 75 yr mark.

    So the news that the transition process has begun is not a pro forma event. It is also news that the Cardinal is involved; that would seem to indicate Mahony knows his resignation will be accepted. There is some talk that the Cardinal wants a successor in place as an adjutant before he retires to facilitate the transition – this is not often the case.

    There is believable speculation that the huge archdiocese may be divided into three separate dioceses when Mahony retires. The new leader would need to be familiar with the situation and people in order to carry it out without too much gnashing of teeth. Dropping an new into that mess wouldn’t be very prudent. None of this is mentioned either.

    The Cardinal has frequently been on the front page of the LAT over the years – often for his battles with the courts. Considering that, it’s amazing that his transition out of the bishopric got this kind of coverage.

  • Julia

    Dropping an new into that mess wouldn’t be very prudent

    Dropping a new bishop into that mess wouldn’t be very prudent.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    Spot on, Julia.

  • dalea

    Brad, to understand the news coverage of this it would seem reasonable to include Hoy and La Opinion. Probably many Catholics get their daily news from the Spanish language press in LA. How does their coverage match the Times?

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    I haven’t seen their coverage. But as a former religion reporter for the LA Daily News, I have a pretty decent professional POV. If anyone has read the coverage in La Opinion and Hoy, lemme know.

  • dalea

    Hoy and LaOpinion together claim a daily circulation of 225,000.

    La Opinion also claims: 520,397 daily readers and 1,760,802 unique readers each week.

    These are public claims and I don’t know how to reconcile them.

    The Los Angeles Times claims a readership of 1,231,318:

    which is a little bit more than twice that of La Opinion. Given that 47.7% of Los Angeles’ population is Latino, it would seem that GR should begin paying attention to the non English speaking press coverage when discussing stories about LA. In Los Angeles, 28.96% of the population is White NonHispanic, which includes a large number of Russian and Armenian immigrants. At home, 54.1% of Angelenos speak a language other than English. These figures apply to Los Angeles County and are from:

    I do notice that the newstands for both Hoy and La Opinion are usually better maintained than those for the Daily News and LA Times.

  • Passing By

    Since you are talking bloggers, be aware that Tom Peters had this before Rocco. So credit where credit is due…

    Peters has several posts on the topic, with links to various speculations on who might come in.