Leaven Blog

Think of us as the pre-spin zone

by Anita McSorley

I do a lot of reading for my job at The Leaven, and even more in my spare time.

In fact, I’ve read so much and for so long that I can sometimes identify breakout authors long before they’re household names or trends.

One of the latest trends in mysteries and thrillers is what I call the “unreliable narrator.” That’s when, in books like “Gone Girl” and “Girl on a Train,” the story is told in the first-person, but the reader is not sure the narrator can be relied upon.

Sometimes, the narrator turns out to be an alcoholic, sometimes a psychopath.

And by now you might be wondering what all this has to do with the Catholic newspaper.

At root, the purpose of any newspaper is to transfer information. It’s not a very sexy mission. We are much happier when we’re inspiring you or others to do great things for the Lord.

But we will have fulfilled our purpose if we convey to you, faithfully and honestly, the information we have been entrusted with: where Donnelly College’s SHINE event is being held and the time and date, what Pope Francis said to the world leader he met with yesterday, or how you can help the homeless this month by donating to such-and-such food drive.

That’s why it’s such a big deal for us when we make a factual error and have to run a correction. At the very least, you have to be able to trust us to get our facts right or we’re not very useful to you.

In other words, you have to be able to trust that we are “reliable” narrators. That when we say something is what Pope Francis said, you can believe it to be true.

Even if you don’t like what he said.

Hearing ideas that are different from your own — actually hearing what you don’t want to hear — and recognizing that they come from people who are as thoughtful and as committed to the good of the country/church/world as you — is essential to living in community, and certainly to being an intentional Catholic.

But there are forces at work in the world today (doesn’t that sound nefarious?) that are actively working against people’s ability to do that.

I’m not talking about the alt-right, or the liberal media, although the coarsening of our national discourse in this presidential election is not helping matters any. I am speaking now of the very thing that, in a way, gives me this forum to share this concern: advances in technology.

Take me, for example. I am probably a little more wired than most members of my generation because of my profession, but less so than that of my kids.

And yet, I can watch my news from a cable channel that presents loudest and longest the voices I want to hear. Who, in fact, take the “facts” of any news development and flavor them with opinion before I even have these “facts” reported to me.

At the gym or in the car, if I so choose, I can listen to MY station, or podcasts produced by the people on my side of the political, or theological, or sociological debate, without ever having to contend with the ideas of the riffraff I might encounter if I could only tune in to my local AM radio station.

Even Facebook, on which I used to have to suffer through the political ravings of a brother-in-law at the far end of the political spectrum, has now developed algorithms that has started winnowing out those “undesirables” — as well as feeding me ever more shopping opportunities tailor-made for me.

And if I only subscribe to the latest and greatest — an app called Texture, which gives me instant access “to the world’s best magazines” — I can have scores of magazines at my fingertips for one low monthly fee. As I reveal my interests by my reading choices, the algorithms of Texture will make sure to find me more of what I want to read.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against cable TV news, podcasts, or even Facebook and Texture. (I take that back. Facebook can sometimes get annoying.)

But did you catch that last sentence about Texture? “As I reveal my interests by my reading choices, the algorithms of Texture will make sure to find me more of what I want to read.”

So, where, one might ask, am I going to read the words (or hear the voices) of those I really don’t want to read or listen to — but need to? Where do I head to interact with those thoughtful, passionate, committed, people who would go about solving the problems of our church and world differently than I?

Which brings me back to our role as a “reliable” narrator here at The Leaven. We’re going to not only transfer information to you. We are going to do so carefully and honestly. You can rely on us. Think of us as the Pre-Spin Zone.

But that means you will read in the pages of The Leaven things you do not like. Ideas you do not agree with. Proposals that are not only provocative but even close to incendiary — usually from Pope Francis, I might add.

One day, you’ll feel like calling in and complaining we’re too liberal — as some have.

But the next day, you’ll insist we’re too conservative — as others have.

And all we can say is, well, welcome to our life.

Maybe James Joyce put it best when referring to the Catholic Church, when he said: “Here comes everybody.”

Fortunately, “everybody” is just enough to build the kingdom.

About the author

Anita McSorley

Anita, managing editor of The Leaven, has over 30 years’ experience in book, magazine and newspaper editing, including stints as the assistant editor of the “Diplomatic Papers of Daniel Webster” at Dartmouth College and then in the public relations departments of Texaco, Inc., and the Rockefeller Group in New York. Anita made the move to newspaper editing when she came to The Leaven in 1988, where she has been ever since. Anita is a member of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kan., and in her spare time, she enjoys giving her long-suffering husband, her children and her staff good advice that they never take.

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