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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

July 1, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 61




Tom Fox NCR world exclusive highlights role of Vatican bureau

By Tom Fox, NCR publisher

Word from Rome came to Tom Roberts, NCR editor, shortly after 3 a.m. Kansas City time, Monday, June 30th. On the line was NCR Rome correspondent John Allen. "I just wanted you to know that the new archbishop of Boston will be Sean O'Malley," Allen reported.

"It's amazing how fast you can wake up," Roberts later remarked.

At that time it was mid-morning in Rome and Allen had just grabbed the golden ring from a highly placed Vatican source, becoming the first journalist to know about the appointment. He was now looking to Roberts for direction. Should he file to the NCR Web site? Should he go on CNN with his exclusive? The two journalists discussed the question of how to break the story before they agreed to go to CNN. But with a caveat that CNN would refer to the news as a "National Catholic Reporter exclusive."

Allen is a consultant to CNN and reports for the cable news network from Rome, but always using his NCR affiliation. It's a win-win situation. CNN gets Allen's expertise and NCR gets worldwide television exposure.

Shortly after 4 a.m. Kansas City time, Allen's voice was on CNN by telephone hookup and news of the pending appointment was being broadcast worldwide. CNN repeated the interview with Allen an hour later and throughout the day.

By 6 a.m. East Coast time, the Associated Press and Reuters news agency were reporting the CNN story, variously citing the National Catholic Reporter and John Allen as the source of the scoop. Not long after journalists were calling NCR's headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., asking for more information. The Allen story by this time was on the NCR Web site under "Breaking News" and with it were other stories that the paper had done on O'Malley and the Palm Beach diocese where he is currently bishop.

Soon NCR reporters Joe Feuerherd and Margot Patterson were doing their own reaction stories, which in the trade are called second day stories, while the rest of the journalists were still trying to confirm the NCR Vatican report. Feuerherd's and Patterson's reaction reports were up on the NCR website within hours.

There was little Roberts could add to the information NCR had already posted except to say, when asked, that Allen's Vatican source was highly reliable.

June 30 for the entire day newspapers, television stations, and radio networks sent their reporters scrambling to confirm Allen's exclusive. Failing repeatedly to do so, they continued to cite the NCR story in their own reports.

As the sun set over the Vatican no other news agency had yet been able to confirm Allen's exclusive, requiring U.S. newspapers, including the Boston Globe, to cite NCR as the original source of the stories they wrote in the newspapers today.

Twenty-six hours after Allen broke the news, the Vatican confirmed the story, announcing the O'Malley appointment. Roberts, of course, was at his computer at 5 a.m. when the confirmation came through on an Associated Press story. It's great to have an exclusive. It is satisfying to have it confirmed.

At 10:30 a.m. Boston time today, the Boston archdiocese held a press conference to announce the appointment.

Tom Fox is NCR publisher. He can be reached at

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