Sed Contra: More Stories, Fewer Lectures

Deal W. Hudson
April 1, 2002

In November, Crisis will celebrate its 20th anniversary. Since I arrived here six years ago, Crisis has become more a genuine magazine and less a journal—gradually publishing more articles based on original reporting. While this is expensive and requires more editorial attention, you have let us know that this is what you want. And we’re happy to comply.

Being a philosopher by training, I didn’t set this course naturally. Like many Catholics concerned with the direction of the Church, I assumed that the independent Catholic press existed primarily to argue in favor of the doctrines being ignored or side-stepped by the clergy. Since the clergy rarely speak about the defense of life, for example, it’s up to Catholic editors and writers to fill the void.

And fill that void we have, to the point of near exhaustion. You can hardly pick up a Catholic magazine that doesn’t tell you that we live in a culture of death that must be overcome by a culture of life, as conceived by Pope John Paul II. Variations on this theme are found throughout the Catholic press—sometimes brilliant and insightful, other times predictable and repetitive.

No doubt these articles must be written. The only trouble is that too many of them only tell us what we already know. For Catholic journalism to flourish, what we need—desperately, I might add—are writers willing to investigate the concrete circumstances of the Church and culture today, and write about these in imaginative, accessible prose.

Some readers of the Catholic press have been fooled into thinking that they’re not getting profundity unless they feel thrown in over their heads in intellectual jargon. But good journalism doesn’t feel heavy; it doesn’t give the reader the impression of being weighed down by intellectual gravitas. Good journalism has a lightness that keeps the reader’s eyes moving across lines and down paragraphs as he waits for the payoff—that moment of insight when the narrative illuminates the mind, not with an abstract principle but with the “moral of the story.”

Well-told stories, in the final analysis, are far more influential for most people than reasoned arguments.

Don’t get me wrong: Philosophy does have an important place in journalism. However, a “magazine” should contain something more. Those who call this a “dumbing down” simply don’t understand the full spectrum of journalism. For reasons I cannot fathom, they’d rather read a truly dumb-downed lecture from the bowels of a professor’s hard drive than a living story based on a reporter’s firsthand encounter with people and places.

But a magazine, of course, isn’t only about solid reporting. We’re fortunate at Crisis to have superb columnists—Michael Uhlmann, Robert Royal, Terry Teachout, Robert Reilly, Rev. George Rutler, Rev. James Schall, and Ralph Mclnerny—who wear their immense learning lightly.

In the months and years to come, we’ll continue to move forward with ever-improving writing, design, and editorial scope. Crisis circulation continues to grow, with each passing month reflecting, I think, your positive response to our editorial product.

A recent questionnaire answered by over 1,000 readers indicate that 44 percent of you read “all or almost all of the issue.” Sixty-nine percent of you spend at least one hour with the magazine. And perhaps most telling of all, over half of you share the magazine with at least one other person. Readership surveys are not an exact science, but they do provide a basic vantage point from which to evaluate our work.

Nothing feels better to the Crisis staff than knowing that the magazine we work on every day is being thoroughly read and enthusiastically recommended by those who receive it. You have our sincerest thanks and we promise to continue on the upward path you’ve set for us.

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