ROME – In my book, one of the best movies ever about American journalism is the 1994 Ron Howard film “The Paper,” starring Michael Keaton, Glenn Close and Robert Duvall. Set at a New York tabloid, it captures the frenzy, the camaraderie, and – beneath the cynicism and world-weariness reporters generally exude – the sense of mission that drives this racket better than anything else I’ve seen.
At one point, the Metro Editor, played by Keaton, and the co-Editor-in-Chief, played by Close, are at each other’s throats during a morning staff meeting, with Close wanting an editorial decision to be driven by how much it would cost.
“Come on, not everything’s about money,” Keaton’s character insists.
“It is when you almost fold every six months!” she fires back.
Fortunately, over the more than three years Crux has been an independent operation, our existential crises haven’t quite come every six months. However, we are constantly aware of how tenuous things are, that there’s no guarantee of stability if we’re not able to find people who value what we do enough to support us financially.
In case that’s too abstract, let me get concrete.
Our stock in trade at Crux is Vatican coverage, and it’s not an easy beat. It requires highly specialized expertise, which can only be acquired by proximity to the story – being where the newsmakers are, watching things unfold up close and personal.
One way we accomplish that is by always having a reporter on the papal plane whenever the pope makes a foreign trip, and believe me when I say, that’s not cheap. (A dirty little trade secret, actually, is that the Vatican press corps basically subsidizes papal travel. We’re forced to pay what amounts to business class fares for coach accommodations, and the surplus defrays the cost of chartering the planes that fly the papal party.)
This year, Pope Francis already has gone to Panama, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Bulgaria and North Macedonia, and we’ve been there every time, delivering the nuanced and extensive coverage you can’t get any other way. In a little over a week Francis heads to Romania, and later this year he’s expected to make a major African swing (including Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius) as well as a keenly anticipated outing to Japan.
We’re committed to being on those trips too, and right now we’re trying to figure out how to make the numbers add up. It’s the kind of thing that keeps our business manager, Shannon Levitt, up at night.
The papal trips are just one example of the kind of reporting we aim to deliver, which requires considerable resources. We want to respond to Catholic news wherever it happens, whether that’s in Washington when the U.S. bishops are meeting, Nicaragua as the country is in crisis, or Paris after the Notre Dame fire – all places where Crux reporters have been on the ground in recent months.
This comes to mind because today we’re wrapping up our annual fundraising campaign (or “crowdfunding,” to use the appropriate argot of the internet age.)
Let me sketch the lay of the land. Legally speaking, Crux is a for-profit enterprise because we generate some revenue through advertising sales, content licensing, and other services. However, that income doesn’t come close to covering what it costs to produce Crux every day.
To help fill the gap, we’ve been blessed with amazing partners, principally the Knights of Columbus and the DeSales Media Group in the Diocese of Brooklyn (which produces Currents, their flagship nightly news program, as well as the Tablet and Nuestra Voz, their print publications).
We’re also indebted to the Archdiocese of New York (which funds our “Crux of the Matter” show on The Catholic Channel, Sirius XM 129) and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (which operates Angelus, their innovative news magazine and site.)
These are among the best friends any Catholic media operation could ever have, but their generosity inevitably is limited by financial reality. All these institutions have other fish to fry, and there’s only so often we can go back to the well.
That brings me to the third leg of our three-legged financial stool: You.
Almost every day, somebody tells me how much they value Crux. Just this week, one reader wrote the following: “I routinely check in on Catholic publications from both ends of the spectrum, but always wind up at Crux to get good, unbiased reporting.” I bumped into another reader at a Rome event recently who told me he relies on Crux because in a nasty, spin-driven media climate, we come off as “the adult in the room.”
Such feedback is gratifying, because it confirms the basic reason that everyone here gets out of bed in the morning and keeps plugging away.
We all believe that on the current landscape, there’s a need for a Catholic news operation that’s not partisan and not institutional, whose raison d’être is exclusively to report what’s going on, accurately and fairly, and to provide people with tools to think about it without telling them what to think. The staff at Crux is the best in the business, working insane hours for considerably less than their market value, and they do it because they believe in what we’re about.
If you’ve already contributed to Crux, I’m grateful beyond words – but, if at all possible, I’m asking you to dig deeper and to be even more generous. If you haven’t yet donated, I’m asking you to do so now – and I mean right now, today.
Dostoyevsky famously wrote that “love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” The same insight applies to journalism. Crux is, above all, a dream, but if we’re going to keep it in action, we need your help.
Thank you, from all of us, and keep reading Crux!