Stephen Kent

A recent editorial cartoon depicted Richard Sherman, a cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, standing disconsolately, hands in pockets, as a television announcer runs away from him shouting, “Not Now!! Justin Bieber’s in trouble.”

It’s a good illustration of what I call cocker spaniel journalism: providing end-of-the-world coverage to a relatively insignificant event until the next “crisis” attracts the cameras and microphones.

It’s not doing much for creating understanding in the world.

“The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgment,” said Pope Francis recently in his World Communications Day message, adding that “this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression.”

In others words, the “breaking news” and “this just in” cries of television provides the listener little context of the event’s importance. Pope Francis addresses this in the prepared statement for the communications day to be celebrated June 1. His message is not just for practitioners. It is meant for consumers as well.

The pope agrees that a variety of opinions can be helpful but “also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information that only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests.” Think Fox News or MSNBC.

Advances in communication technology are exponential. We used to receive news in a matter of weeks. Then it became a matter days, then hours, then minutes, and now seconds. Eyes and ears are now assaulted by minute-by-minute “updates” from a multitude of sources.

“We need … to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm,” advised Pope Francis.

The pope says the parable of the good Samaritan is also a parable about communication. The Samaritan not only aids the victim but takes responsibility for him after two other passers-by ignore his plight.

But what about the first two who ignored him? Who would they be in today’s society? They may be the gatekeepers in the media. They are the filter that allows or denies the disadvantaged access to the communication system to share their plight. They may be individuals who are not attentive to others, to listen and learn from others, to find value in different cultures and traditions.

“We are challenged to be people of depth, attentive to what is happening around us and spiritually alert,” says the pope.

That challenge is hard when faced with cocker spaniel journalism and hundreds of emails and websites competing for our attention.

It is not enough to be simply connected, the pope said. Connections need to grow into true encounters. A culture of encounter is what will inspire solidarity and bring unity.


Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. Contact him at: