Seeing Things: Where the News Is

Is there a soul, so innocent in this fair land who opens the morning paper expecting to find there what is going on in America and the world? Perhaps in some of the more provincial areas like New York City or Los Angeles, isolated tribes still retain the primitive belief that the local Times gives them the key to the times. But to judge from declining newspaper readership and declining audiences for television news programs, confidence in standard forms of news is, like animism, a gradually disappearing holdover from the childhood of the race.

Journalists, of course, see this whole development as an indication of catastrophic loss of public interest in public things. To a certain extent, there is no denying that issues of some significance simply do not stir the people as they once did. Some nasty nations still exist around the world, and we need to keep an eye on them even if they are not an immediate threat to us. At home we will jiggle certain domestic policies hoping they will lead to certain outcomes. But the non-journalists among us may also sense that perhaps the public has become convinced that what usually count as public things just aren’t as important as we were once led to believe. Media honchos have tried to explain away the hemorrhaging of audiences with the explanation that “alternative sources,” like the Internet, benefit since people take advantage of more varied choices. To judge from the growing addiction to Internet pornography and mindless surfing, the explanation is not reassuring. We are not a citizenry taking charge of its own access to information, but consumers sliding still further into triviality, obliviousness, and, even worse, decadence.

If that were not the case, we would have heard about some remarkable developments this past summer. For instance, we would know that Catholic pilgrimages and Christian get-togethers are taking place all over the world—and attracting young people (a group, we are constantly told by the prestige media, that has grown disaffected with “traditional” religion).

But let us look as some figures: This summer, 250,000 Poles made the annual walking pilgrimage to Our Lady of Czestochowa, many of them teenagers; according to sources inside communist Vietnam, another 250,000 Vietnamese, still Catholic despite years of communist repression, made a similar pilgrimage on foot to a site within the country where the Virgin Mary is reported to be appearing; in Europe, an estimated 57,000 young people walked the pilgrimage route to St. James of Compostela in Spain, and tens of thousands of others, not part of the youth event, did the same; and in the United States, after the Columbine shootings, 73,000 teenagers gathered in the Super-dome for a Christian rally.

Now, any one of these events, taken by itself, would seem to be news in the original meaning of the word: Something noteworthy has just happened, unexpected by the average person. If you saw one of these events even briefly mentioned in the major news outlets, however, you must be a hopeless news junkie. For the mainstream media, such events are all but nonexistent.

That is why if you really want news that tells you something you do not already know or that has not been filtered through the usual liberal sieve before it lands in your home, you would do well to log-on to ZENIT, the new Internet news agency that covers the Vatican (wwwzenit.org). ZENIT will provide you, free of charge, with a well-written, comprehensive, truly alternative source of religious news every day.

Religious news for ZENIT means reporting on things like the Church’s involvement in military conflicts, Catholic intellectual developments and dialogue with various segments of modern culture, as well as the various activities of the Holy Father and other prominent Church leaders.

In any fair comparison, ZENIT’s coverage is at least as important—often enough far more so—than what you will find on the front page of your local newspaper. Not only will it inform you about what is really happening in the world outside the usual media’s tunnel vision, it will give you some sense of how to evaluate what passes before your eyes.

There was a time when thinking about public events meant more than looking at the parties in various disputes as horses competing in a race and noticing the “spin” that the jockeys were able to give to the outcomes. Public affairs remains an essential area for a full Catholic presence in this world. But if that presence is to be something more than a slightly Romanized reflection of what others have chosen for us to see, we have to start seeking out purer, fuller, truer sources. ZENIT is a good start. After that, who knows what you might discover going on in the waning days of our millennium?

Robert Royal

By

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of TheCatholicThing.org, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

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