THE DAILY NEWSPAPEROne of the kinds of press with which the apostle writer must concern himself, particularly in our time, is the daily.1 From readership statistics it is patently clear that the newspaper is at the top of the list.
The apostle is to employ this means wisely and profitably, and to base his practical contribution on sound principles. First, he is to plan for this by a specific study of the issue of the daily in general and of the Catholic daily in particular.
The daily newspaper's value
The question of the daily is one that differs from all the other forms of the press. Books and periodicals are geared to particular sections of people. The daily, instead, is aimed at everyone since it has become a necessity for everyone.
Again, the daily deals with issues that are of interest to all kinds of readers.
In the daily, politics, opinions and news keep people informed on the developments and expectations of the moment. The review page keeps readers up to date with the latest books. The short story writer enthralls with his latest plot. The film critic reviews and acclaims the new motion pictures that may satisfy the public's curiosity... This is why the newspaper has become a necessity. People want to know and to be informed about things. So they read the newspaper.
You will find the daily wherever people meet. It has taken over the newsstands; it provides work for an enormous number of newsboys who swarm around railway stations, busy streets and corners.
The daily is a voice multiplied a million times over on newssheets and, in turn, into millions of mouths and minds.
It is a conveyor of ideas and beliefs; it is a cause of action. Ideas, beliefs and actions that sprout
good or evil, conditional on their springing from sound minds or unsound minds. For here too the Divine Teacher's saying holds true: "Every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit."2
Most readers buy the newspaper and read it without appraising it or examining it thoroughly. People read and drink great mouthfuls of medicine or poison. Thus their mind and their conscience is shaped, little by little, without their noticing it, until they discover they have a whole new set of ideas that they believe is all their own work - so imperceptible and unnoticed has been the external influence of the newspaper on their mind.
Evil, of course, which is more consonant with our corrupt nature, worms its way in more easily and harvests victims in countless numbers.
People, unfortunately, do not reflect on this and journalism becomes, too often, not just a simple harvester of ideas but a seedbed of error and evil as well.
The mission of the Catholic daily
If the newspaper is one of the main players that compete for the cultivation of this sensitive, reasoning and impressionable plant that
is conscience, then the approach that goes with its preparation must be serious.
Too well known is the evil caused by an unwholesome newspaper that makes life more bitter and turbulent day by day. It has now become a profession of iniquity.
How much hate and immorality are exposed and extolled in newspapers that lack Christian principles and criteria!
When it comes to the middle class, especially among people of average education, and to ordinary folk, newspapers dictate laws, shape the basis of thinking and proposals, and stir up passions that are imbued with a dangerous pessimism, when it is not outright error and immorality.
The newspaper, which in itself is but paper daubed with ink, has for too many people become gospel truth.
All this highlights the need for a journalism whose resolve and specific mission is to form the conscience of both the individual and the masses. A newspaper worth its salt, which deserves to be read, looked for and loved as a friend; not a paper that seduces, deceives or lies, but which, in the presentation and evaluation of the facts, puts one's spirit in the mood to consider human events with a sense of optimism, and makes one think of a good and just God, our beginning and our end.
Only a Catholic newspaper that sets aside all material interests and has
as its motto, so to speak, the gospel program summed up in the trinomial way, truth and life, can effect this. In other words a newspaper that forms minds, wills and hearts in accordance with the faith and with gospel morality.
As regards the Catholic daily it has to be said that much has been and is still being done, but a lot of effort is wasted. Today, especially, Catholic journalism has to become more aware of the importance of its mission. Just imagine all those who hunger and thirst for light and love and all those who desire, demand and want the word of Jesus Christ and his Vicar. Reflect that it is a crime to deprive the hungry of bread, and that to give only a pittance when there is an abundance is to renounce one's mission of charity.
The Catholic newspaper, moreover, is subjected to much criticism. People say that there is no news, it is outdated, lacks technical presentation, has few foreign correspondents...
In a talk given at Pentecost at the inauguration of the second international Congress for Catholic journalists, in 1937, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the present Pope Pius XII, likened the task of Catholic journalism to a battle. He reflected on the role of the combatants, the enemy and arms. "You are the combatants,"
he said to the journalists "the enemy is the paganization of modern life; the arms are the spread and explanation of pontifical documents. The hour of battle is the present time; the battlefield is the antagonism taking place between reason and opinion, between the idols of a dream-like imagination and the authentic revelation of God, between Nero and Peter, between Christ and Pilate. The battle is not new; only the time of the battle has changed."
The apostle journalist is thus a combatant. If he is to be skilled and to make good use of his arms in this battle of his then he must possess such qualities as impartiality, sincerity and consistency, study and knowledge, complete trust in God and devotion to the Pope.
With regard to the newspaper he can carry on his activity, in practical terms, in a negative and a positive way.
The negative way is to hinder the rise and spread of daily papers that are not inspired by Catholic principles. The positive way is to support, promote and spread Catholic newspapers already available and to start others when and where the need and the possibility arises.
Insofar as it depends on him, and it is lawful, let him not only match but surpass the opposition.
His aim should be, above all, to form a Catholic
conscience in his readers, in keeping with the directives of the Holy See and the episcopate.
He is to set out his thoughts with surety, thus guaranteeing the purity of morals; he is to be strict in avoiding the use of news stories and pictures that offend morals and endanger the family and young people.
Let him report the day's events, setting them out in the light of Christian doctrine, guiding the reader to judge them according to his Christian conscience, carefully avoiding anything that could be a danger to the faith of the readers and to their living an upright life.
He is to remember that the truth he serves does not admit of ambiguity or compromise; that he defends a morality which, engraved on tablets of stone, does not permit erasures. Even when that were to cost him sweat and blood.
In his reviews of books, the theater and motion pictures, he is to be a sure guide in indicating what is good and lawful and what is dangerous and unlawful.
Let him pursue all possible means so that the Catholic daily reaches everywhere and, with its message of peace and justice, brings to all the longed-for alms of the truth.
He is to keep in mind at all times the current laws regarding the press. He is never to do anything wrong; let him be happy to do the good he can, where he can and with the means that he has, without unnecessarily risking the newspaper to sequestration and stoppage.3
1 Most of the material of this and the following chapter is a re-working of articles published in Nero e bianco, Sales, Rome. - * But, in this regard, read also the article in the 1921 Unione Cooperatori Buona Stampa, reprinted in the Appendix of this work.
2 Mt 7:17.
3 * This last recommendation is to be read in the light of an experience of Fr Alberione. In 1942, when he published an article in the weekly La Domenica Illustrata in which he suggested "God's truce" so as to observe a Christmas peace during the war then in progress, he was threatened with arrest by the Fascist Ministry of Propaganda and the magazine given a warning not to interfere in the politics of the regime, penalty suspension.