The Francis Effect is real and religious journalism owes Pope Francis a holy high five.
Since his election March 13, 2013, the Catholic Church has been garnering front-page news. What’s more, it’s mostly positive news. Pope Francis’ engaging personality, ever-present smile and humble demeanor, combined with his focus on the poor and marginalized, have created a widespread public appeal.
So how has this translated into good news for religious journalism?
Simply ask John Allen, a senior Vatican analyst for CNN and Vatican correspondent for National Catholic Reporter for 16 years.
“I don’t think there is any serious doubt that Francis has become the new media icon — the new sort of towering source of the world of reporting on the global stage,” Allen said during a lecture last May in in Charlestown, Mass. “In many ways … in the media business he now stands for a kind of unquestioned, street-credibility as a world leader.”
Last February, Allen was hired by The Boston Globe to serve as its Vatican correspondent. Allen’s reputation as the top American “vaticanista” was key to the Globe’s hiring, but the popularity of Pope Francis was also a factor.
Six months after Allen joined the Globe, the newspaper launched a niche news website, Crux, dedicated to coverage of the Catholic Church.
“It’s definitely a first to have a website from a legacy news publication launch a religion-specific site,” Diane Winston, a professor of religion and journalism at USC, told The Atlantic, a news website owned by Atlantic Media.
“Crux is betting that people are interested in reading the world through a specific lens — this one just happens to be Catholicism instead of pop culture or policy-oriented data journalism,” observed The Atlantic.
It was the popularity of Pope Francis that helped launch Crux, but Allen told The Neiman Journalism Lab that Crux will go beyond the pope’s celebrity in covering hard news such as Vatican financial reforms and continued fallout from the priest sex abuse scandal.
Crux is also tapping into the journalistic talents of the Catholic press. The Boston Globe contacted Catholic News Service last month and will feature CNS stories on its website.
“For a start-up publication targeting Catholics in America, you have to have a reliable and accurate source of news about the worldwide church,” Tony Spence, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, said in an email. “We think that no one covers the church better than CNS. The reason we are so successful is the quality of our reporting and the quality of the reporting, both written and visual, by our client publications” such as The Compass.
Spence sees the partnership as a positive move for religious journalism and the church.
“The Catholic press in North America has long enjoyed a reputation for good journalism, and so has the Boston Globe,” he said. “This is a good pairing for covering the church, especially in the time of Francis.”