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Catholic Media Watch

Magazine without an editor

by Michael Mullins

Kairos Catholic Journal, the fortnightly publication of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, doesn't have an editor. It hasn't had one for some time.

For years there's been a pattern whereby an editor with a track record in journalism is engaged. The editor remains only a short time, then a coordinator with skills in administration or production - but not journalism - takes over for an extended period until the next editor is appointed. The new editor duly arrives, stays for a while, then leaves.

It would seem that an editor isn't really needed. While it looks right and proper for a publication to have an editor, the position of Editor of Kairos is just not a neat fit for the skill set most editors come with. At Kairos, there's little or no place for investigating and shaping a story, which is what journalists do. Some Catholic papers like the Brisbane Leader tend to do this quite well.

There's some history to this. Melbourne's former Catholic paper The Advocate had a proud tradition of journalism from its inception in 1868 until it was closed in the late 1980s. It was losing money, but observers believe that closing the paper was considered the easiest way of reining in its strong and free-spirited editor. After an appropriate interval of a couple of years, Kairos was established, under very different conditions.

Before I go any further, I should mention the first-class job being done by Janette Mentha, who is currently responsible for getting Kairos out, under tight editorial and staffing constraints. Undoubtedly Kairos has the best designed covers of any Catholic publication in the country, and this year was highly commended by the Religious and Catholic Press Associations, mainly for the strength of its graphic design.

But a glance at the contents of Kairos will show that many of the articles lack journalistic integrity. They are gathered rather than edited. The content is largely a collection of undigested media releases, homilies, speeches, radio scripts, conference reports, and other material reproduced word for word from its original source, with little or no editing. There are no spelling errors, but essentially the articles appear as received.

Often there are contributions from Archdiocesan officials or pastoral workers with particular experience or authority. If the writer has an eye for a good or topical story, and a facility with words, there will be quite a decent article. If not, the result will be indifferent. In the current edition, Catholic Social Services Victoria Policy and Advocacy Director Fr Joe Caddy has a gritty opinion piece on the questionable ethics of politicians' selective release of information, in the context of next month's Federal Election. Archdiocesan Archivist Rachel Naughton, on the other hand, has a potentially interesting article on Cologne that could have benefited from the hand of an editor.

What is particularly regrettable is the tendency to reproduce discourses from the Archbishop without any attempt to make them more easily digestable for the average reader. The recent establishment of the Archbishop's Office for Evangelisation was an important event in the life of the Church in Melbourne. It needed a widely-varied coverage beyond the attractive cover and mere reproduction of the We Are Sent, Archbishop Hart's pastoral letter. In Brisbane, the Catholic Leader recently produced a much more extensive and varied coverage that would have played a much more effective role in kick-starting Archbishop Bathersby's own evangelisation initiative.

Melbourne's Archdiocesan Communications Office, which was closed when Archbishop Pell became Archbishop of Melbourne, has gradually been re-established. It was recently revitalised, with an expanded staff and a brief that includes consideration of a stronger news focus for Kairos. Let's hope that any change will create an actual job for the permanent editor who will inevitably be appointed.

Read more from Mike Mullins:

  • Issue 2: Steady as She Goes
  • Issue 4: Too much from Rome
  • Issue 6: Logic of being media friendly
  • Issue 8: Christian Bros: bad news sells
  • Issue 10: No positive spin from Pell
  • Issue 12: Close your eyes
  • Issue 14: Deal Hudson and the game of shame shifting
  • Issue 16: Winners and Losers

  • Terms and Copyright