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Inside NCR

Philly P.R. on the ball; U.S. P.O. on the blink

It’s a puzzle how public relations people get so handsomely paid for being so peculiarly unoriginal. One of their most popular ploys in pursuit of polishing their clients’ images is to blame any messenger who would tarnish them.

NCR’s June 19 story, “Philadelphia’s Bevilacqua,” seems to have caused a surprising stir across the nation. One could scarcely have expected Bevilacqua’s P.R. entourage, by all accounts a formidable one, to say excitedly, “Yes, yes, you got the story just right.” Their spin, instead, was the same old stuff: blame Ralph Cipriano, the Philadelphia Inquirer journalist who wrote the story.

Brian Tierney of the Tierney Group, which is “retained” by the archdiocese, compared Cipriano to “a low-grade infection that keeps coming back.” Tierney, talking to The Washington Post, went on to call NCR “tremendously irresponsible” for publishing the story.

Archdiocesan spokeswoman Cathy Rossi also went after the messenger: “There is no reason for the archdiocese to purposefully place itself in the position of answering to a reporter with whom it has significant misgivings.”

Cipriano’s own editor at the Inquirer, Robert Rosenthal, was not keen to stand by his man, accusing Cipriano of having “an agenda.” Of course one wouldn’t expect Rosenthal, after his paper -- one of the best papers in the country, it should be said, and frequent winner of Pulitzers and such -- refused to run the story, to turn around and say it was a great story in NCR.

And yes, it’s fair to say Cipriano had an agenda -- one that every dedicated journalist is expected to have: a relentless search for the truth wherever the story takes him. Compare this with current Inquirer religion writer David O’Reilly’s outlook: “I see my job as carrier of their [the archdiocese] voice.”

Meanwhile, no one, from the cardinal down, has responded to the substance of the article or the thorny issues it raises. A year in the making, the story is a telling account -- though not the last word -- of the church of Philadelphia.

Readers unhappy with the tardy delivery of NCR should know they are not alone, and it’s not just NCR. There’s a national problem deep and wide.

Business Mailers Review, which monitors the postal service and private carriers, highlighted “poor periodicals delivery” in its June 1 issue. It reported on a recent survey by the National Newspaper Association, which found that “the delivery of newspapers has hit a low point nationally.” Of 1,052 participating newspapers, 73 percent reported that “service delivery has gotten worse over the past year.”

The findings most pertinent to NCR were: For out-of-state delivery of nondaily newspapers, 86 percent took six or more days; and 50 percent were delivered in 11 or more days. No one explained what they do with the papers during all that time.

We realize it’s small consolation that the contents of NCR are timeless. It’s also small consolation that we are as frustrated as you. We have complained interminably without redress. We have investigated various options and have a couple of ideas up our sleeves.

One bright note -- though not a solution to the problem -- is the fact that NCR in its entirety will soon be online on the Web for the exclusive -- and timely -- use of our subscribers.

We’d like to instigate a march on Washington to reform the postal service, but only after we do it for campaign finance reform.

National Catholic Reporter, July 3, 1998