For World Communications Day on May 16, 2021, Pope Francis released a letter with the title: Come and See” (Jn 1:46). Communicating by Encountering People Where and as They Are. He focuses on journalism, which has moved from being a source of reporting on hot-button topics to becoming one itself. Click here to read the pope's letter for yourself (highly recommended), but our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., offers his reflections on the letter below, section by section.
"Hitting the streets"
Pope Francis calls the vocation of journalism back to its "shoe-leather" roots, with inquisitive newshounds going to the literal streets and interviewing other human beings to illuminate a topic that we, as non-journalists, wouldn't be able to investigate.
But what passes for “news” these days, especially on the Internet, are often remotely “researched” secondhand accounts, usually confirming the reporters' preconceived biases. There's no substitute for talking to those involved in a story -- with an open mind and no assumptions beforehand.
“The Gospels as news stories”
"Come and see” forms the theme of Pope Francis' letter. He cites Gospel writer John, who, while an old man, compiled “newsworthy” events from his earlier days of personally encountering Jesus. John was transformed by his personal experience with Christ, and he followed Him as a disciple.
Philip, too, met Jesus and invited Nathaniel to “come and see” for himself. Nathaniel also met Jesus firsthand, changing his life going forward. Thus, “Come and see,” the first step in a new life in Christ, begins as Pope Francis states with: “direct knowledge, born of experience, and not of hearsay.”
“Thanks to the courage of many journalists”
Pope Francis applauds professional “journalists, camera operators, editors, directors” who venture out into many of the world’s trouble spots and bring to light various stories of social and environmental strife, war, persecuted minorities, and other stories that might have otherwise been overlooked.
In the reporting of said crises, Pope Francis warns of the risk of seeing each issue through the perspective of richer nations and neglecting the testimonies of the poor.
Francis illustrates his point with the pandemic. The poor are often the last to receive the vaccines (as well as medical care as a whole), especially in the most economically deprived spots of the developing nations. He invites journalists, then to “come and see,” discover the stories of the poor, so they don’t go neglected in the narrative.
"Opportunities and hidden dangers on the web"
While Pope Francis opened the letter by calling traditional reporters back to their roots of objectivity, he also mentions the development of what might be referred to as the social media citizen-reporter, that is, pointing your cell phone at a certain event and pressing “record.” Thus, we are exposed to stories overlooked by traditional media and, in certain cases, almost in real time.
Of course, social media, perhaps even more so than traditional outlets, runs the potential for corruption (but, as the pope points out, convert Saint Paul, if he were alive today, would definitely use it). Writing out of the Catholic moral tradition, Francis reminds readers the problem is not the mediums themselves but in their human misuse.
“Nothing replaces seeing things at first hand”
Pope Francis ties together communications and communicating the Gospel in his fifth and final point of the letter. Communications, as he set forth earlier in the letter, can only occur through firsthand interpersonal experience.
“Come and see,” then, means the disciples not only heard the message but also saw the message delivered by Jesus. So, second only to the truth of the message, was how the message was delivered.
In Pope Francis’ words: “Jesus’ attractiveness to those who met him depended on the truth of His preaching; yet the effectiveness of what He said was inseparable from how He looked at others, how He acted towards them, and even from His silence.”
As a journalist, I'd also like to add: never abandon even one of the five essential questions in approaching any hard-news story: Who, What, When, Where and Why? If you can nail those down without straying into opinion and speculation, you're well on your way to solid reporting. -- Editor
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