Elsewhere on this site, a debate rages on a newspaper's religion coverage. I would like to report on an interesting addition to the world of religion journalism, one that takes important steps to filling the large gap in coverage of things Catholic. A Web site that started over the summer called ChicagoCatholicNews.com provides professional, ongoing coverage of the Catholic Church in the Chicago area, whether the matter at hand is a controversial one such as the conduct of priests or an everyday one such as a Vatican award granted to a former Catholic school principal.From what I've seen, ChicagoCatholicNews doesn't only show up for stories that intersect the liberal social agenda, the basic complaint against major news organizations. And it doesn't sanitize or avoid controversies, the major complaint about diocesan news media.The site was founded by Robert Herguth, a former assignment editor who took a buyout from the Chicago Sun-Times. When we spoke by phone this week, he told me he had looked into subjects that weren't getting enough news coverage and then, following his interests, created separate Web sites that report on organized labor, nature and the Catholic Church, all from a Chicago angle. Of the three, he is most surprised by the success of ChicagoCatholicNews. The Web site states his goal, calling it "an independent web site -- meaning it is NOT affiliated with any church or religious organization. Its mission: offer news and commentary of interest and importance to Chicago-area Catholics, and do so fairly and honestly."Herguth is a Catholic, he told me, and he has some experience in covering religion, along with many other subjects, ranging from organized crime to education. He sees many facets to coverage of the Catholic Church. "The Catholic Church is a humongous employer in Chicago; its a huge landholder in Chicago," he said. "From one point of view it should be covered like a business, but obviously it also has a spiritual dynamic and a charitable dynamic to it."As a former newspaper reporter and editor, I like the way he sees his role: "The site has no agenda, other than covering what needs to be covered and getting the news out to those who are interested."Since I don't live anywhere near Chicago, I can't really say if the site is living up to this. My sense from scanning it is that Herguth is good to his word. He has come up with some interesting stories, such as this one on a flap over health care reform in Oak Park, and another on a prayer Liturgical Training Publications penned for Ted Kennedy. But he also covers the little stories, too.In business terms, this is very much a work in progress. Herguth has just one paid employee, in addition to some unpaid columnists (unlike many other Web sites, he differentiates clearly between news and commentary). He is looking to build up traffic to the site before beginning to sell advertising.I consider what Herguth is doing to be a service to the church, even if it is not necessarily perceived that way in the archdiocesan communications office. In recent years, the scope of the conversation in official Catholic media has narrowed considerably (although there are exceptions to this). There is a need for other forums. There also is a need for information so that informed opinions can be formed. What Herguth is doing deserves to be supported.
Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses.