By Sarah Mac Donald - 30 September, 2020
Bishop Alan McGuckian of Raphoe has expressed his regret at the closure of CatholicIreland.net’s news service, which he said was the “loss of a voice that you could rely on”.
Speaking to CatholicIreland.net, Bishop McGuckian said, “CI News was a channel for many really good things that church organisations were doing both in the promotion of faith and in the promotion of justice – it was a channel for them to get their message out, and for many people really interested in that kind of news to receive it.”
Dr McGuckian, who was a co-founder of the news service in 2004 continued, “We always need people who will tell the news with both truth and respect that comes from charity – that is what CI News has always done. It was a tremendous service.”
Recalling the first days of the news service which he co-founded with Tony Bolger the Jesuit said, “It started off very simply; we were aiming to help dioceses set up their websites at a time when many dioceses in Ireland did not yet have a website. But then we realised that websites that had no new content were no use. We wanted to help by providing content. We started things like the Mass readings for every day and a thought for the day.”
“Then we set about the syndication of a Catholic news site – CI News: CatholicIreland news. It was to provide the various places that the church had on the internet with good material and news – both good news stories and all the news stories told fairly and well.”
“There was a sense that the faith story or the church story was only going to get told if it had some element of scandal about it. We knew that there were stories of things going on in the Church that were worth telling and that many people would delight in hearing and that were not purely a scandal story.”
“We began to tell those stories and as CI News went on, our journalists told all the stories with fairness. It held its own in the world of the internet and that made me very proud.”
Tony Bolger, CEO of ChurchServicesTV and owner of CatholicIreland.net explained that March 2020, as the Covid-19 lockdown kicked in, CI News saw record numbers use the service – 114,708 unique users. He said the monthly average in 2019 was 97,044 unique users. That grew from 18,345 in the first years of the service.
CatholicIreland.net operated under the umbrella organisation Church Support Group (CSG).
According to Tony Bolger, CSG has always been innovative and a daily online Catholic/Christian news in 2004 in Ireland was unique.
“It was founded as a totally independent service to professionally inform/serve this demographic daily and online while simultaneously offering fresh daily content to the parishes and organisations who were launching their websites for the first time.”
“We also launched getonline.ie a website development branch of CSG around the same time. This website business continues under the ownership of Sandor Gera, who worked with us at that time.”
But he also highlighted that this was prior to the church abuse scandals and the 2008/9 financial crisis, both of which took a toll.
The news, Tony Bolger underlined, sought to be “a truly independent news source, even free of advertising and sponsorship, which remained the position until the end”.
Some of the changes and challenges which arose over the years included market place changes such as the increasing displacement of text by video content; the launching of a similar new service by the Irish Bishops’ Conference, which was offered free to parishes and diocesan websites; a greater online presence of the main Catholic newspaper in Ireland.
Since 2004, CI News has offered news 365 days a year. But unfortunately there had been a drop in paying subscribers from 100 down to 42 in recent months.
“At that level it was becoming uneconomical but more importantly, it didn’t look like it would resurrect from there”, due to the changed situation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, with parishes and organisations re-ordering their financial priorities.
However, this year was a successful year for ChurchServicesTV as its webcam technology came into its own, enabling parishes to reach their flocks over the internet. The Live Streaming service has been supplying RTE News with weekday and some weekend Masses, and according to Tony Bolger, “we had to make more unusual decisions than normal” and this impacted on CI News.
Asked what aspect of the service he was proudest of Tony Bolger responded, “Without doubt, I’m proud that we provided this service to a very high standard, without any major issues with authorities, with a team of professional editors and journalists. From our first day with Susan Gately who was editor and journalist to contributions from Sarah Mac Donald (as journalist and editor), Anne Marie Foley, Cian Molloy and more recently Katie Ascough to people like Paddy Duffy, Gerard Bennett, Sean Ryan and Fintan Deere working with us over the years. Grainne Treanor, Conor Reidy and Triona Doherty are current dedicated editors for us.”
He also paid tribute to the late Tom O’Gorman, who worked for CI News and Caroline McSharry.
“We supported campaigns like the Pro Life Campaign and gave voice to many organisations, large and small, who had good causes to highlight and were making a difference.”
“Finally, I think it is an excellent track record for our journalists and editors to have brought daily news – 7 days a week – every week for over 16 years – meeting tight deadlines in a faithful, respectful way to a very wide audience. Their reach went well beyond Ireland in terms of geographic spread and many mainstream news services looked us up daily as a reliable source of information. Many students contacted us over the years while using our large resource of archived stories for their studies and thesis.”
Mr Bolger concluded with a quote from Ecclesiastes 3:1-11
There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven:
A time for giving birth, a time for dying;
A time for planting, a time for uprooting what has been planted.
A time for killing, a time for healing;
A time for knocking down, a time for building.
A time for tears, a time for laughter;
A time for mourning, a time for dancing.
A time for throwing stones away,
A time for gathering them up;
A time for embracing,
A time to refrain from embracing.
A time for searching, a time for losing;
A time for keeping, a time for throwing away.
A time for tearing, a time for sewing;
A time for keeping silent, a time for speaking.
A time for loving, a time for hating;
A time for war, a time for peace.
What does a man gain for the efforts that he makes? I contemplate the task that God gives mankind to labour at. All that he does is apt for its time; but though he has permitted man to consider time in its wholeness, man cannot comprehend the work of God from beginning to end.”
“There was an appropriate time for CI.News and we are grateful for the opportunity and the team. It is time now for re-invention with gratitude also,” Tony Bolger said.