Catholic News Service has a rich history of journalistic professionalism and is a leader in the world of Catholic and religious media. With headquarters in Washington, offices in New York and Rome, and correspondents around the world, CNS provides the most comprehensive coverage of the church today.
The United States bishops founded CNS in 1920, and it was clear from the start that they wanted it to be an authentic news agency. The founding director was Justin McGrath, a veteran journalist and managing editor of the San Francisco Examiner who also had worked at The New York Times and other dailies and was Washington bureau chief of the Hearst papers.
McGrath brought in a team of editors and reporters from leading U.S. dailies to cover the turbulent news of the 1920s, such as the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, the candidacy of Al Smith as the first major-party Catholic nominee for president, the story of communist persecution in Russia, the civil strife over British rule in Northern Ireland and the work of the American church in helping Europe recover from the ravages of World War I.
Bishop Philip R. McDevitt of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, chairman of the bishops’ press department, summarized the news service’s philosophy in 1927. He said its main purpose was to provide Catholic newspaper editors with “full and accurate reports of happenings of interest to Catholics.” He also said that because Catholics had freedom of opinion on “many subjects outside of the specific and definite teachings of the church,” the news service should be providing subscribers with factual information to help them “deal intelligently with questions which are open.”
Meeting the needs of Catholic newspaper and magazine editors – the main subscribers to CNS – has been the chief goal of the news service, both then and now. In those early days, the news service was called “a godsend to the Catholic press” by the president of the Catholic Press Association of the U.S. and Canada, itself a fledgling organization in the 1920s. That strong partnership between CNS and the Catholic Press Association continues today.
A great asset of CNS is its Rome bureau, which provides what many regard today as the most complete Vatican coverage available from any news operation in the world. At the outset of World War II, much of the European Catholic press had “been largely silenced or muffled” by Hitler’s onslaught, according to one report. After Italy and Germany declared war on the United States in 1941, the news service was the only American news agency with a correspondent working in Rome — an American priest who also served in a Vatican post.
In the years leading up to and during the Second Vatican Council, CNS was the leading English-language news service providing daily coverage of the council deliberations and subsequent documents. Its Council Daybook remains today one of the most valuable historical chronicles of that historic three-year event.
Through the years the news service’s expertise has also led it to develop other breakthrough products, such as Origins, the CNS documentary service that since 1971 has been chronicling the history of the church through full texts of speeches, encyclicals, and other documents. And in the digital age, CNS is showing a new audience the accuracy that has always been its hallmark with its video journalism and documentary production.
In 2009 the Office of Film and Broadcasting, an even older media office of the U.S. bishops, merged with Catholic News Service in order to consolidate and grow coverage of the ever-changing world of films, television, radio, books, gaming, and media policy.
Today Catholic News Service and its global partners, such as Salt+Light Television in Canada, the Canadian Catholic Press, and other Catholic press agencies in Europe, Africa, and Asia enable CNS to reach even more English and Spanish speaking Catholic news and media consumers around the world.