The National Catholic Reporter at Fifty: The Story of the Pioneering Paper and its Editors

The National Catholic Reporter at Fifty tells the story of this award-winning, independent, lay-run newspaper based in Kansas City, Missouri. Founded in 1964 during the Second Vatican Council, NCR has been a powerful progressive voice in the Catholic Church.

Its investigative approach to the Catholic Church and its activities at the national and international levels altered forever how journalists would report on the previously secretive church.

The paper has broken a number of challenging stories: the first to report the nationwide clerical pedophilia crisis, publishing the secret Papal Birth Control Commission report that recommended ending the ban on birth control (which Pope Paul VI overrode), and covering the scandal that African priests were seducing or raping nuns because they were AIDS-free on a continent that was not.

The National Catholic Reporter at Fifty takes readers through NCR’s highs and lows, with a focus on its important editors and key themes: race and poverty, peace/foreign policy, women’s issues, sexuality, and the church/papacy. The biographies reveal how individual editors’ backgrounds shaped their approaches to their editorship.


1. 1966: Bob Hoyt
2. NCR’s Labored Birth
3. NCR: “Religious yet Worldly”
4. 1971: Donald J. Thorman
5. Circulation woes; DJT Initiatives
6. 1974: Arthur “Who?”
7. Finally, a Reporter’s Reporter
8. 1980: Tom Fox
9. An Era of Violence
10. “The Big Chill” – John Paul II
11. 1997: Michael J. Farrell
12. 2000: Tom Roberts
13. American Invaded: Sept. 11, 2001
14. 2005: A Woman at the Top
15. Changes and Departures
16. The News Flow: 2007-2010
17. 2010: Joe Feuerherd
18. 2012: Dennis Coday
19. Rome’s War on the Nuns
20. NCR: Online and Global
21. Exit Benedict; Enter Francis I
22. Francis Shepherds the Rams

Publication details

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield
Publication date: August 2014
Hardback ISBN: 978-1-4422-3611-0
eBook ISBN: 978-1-4422-3612-7
Pages: 312; size: 6×9
Price: $30 hardback; $29.99 eBook
Purchase from Rowman & Littlefield


This book could be called “Fifty years of scoops,” as it is about the history of the paper that revealed the findings of the secret papal birth control commission Pope Paul VI overrode in 1968 and that broke the story of priestly sex abuse scandals 15 years ahead of the Boston Globe. When in the 90s, it uncovered the story of African nuns raped by priests “looking for AIDS-free sex,” as Jones says, “it was NCR that carried yet another story no one wanted to hear, and none could ignore.”

Of course, NCR is so much more than the sum of its many exclusives, founded during the Second Vatican Council and defending the spirit of the council in the five decades since. These days, no one covers our church better, and Arthur Jones tells us how that happened; all it took, it turns out, was 50 years of faith, love, work, and the fearlessness summed up in a little plaque that now hangs over an early NCR editor’s desk at home: ‘Prophets are not particularly pleasant people. It is their function to unsettle, to disturb, to criticize, and to convert. The reaction of establishment authorities to prophetic voices is not usually pleasant either…Some they suppress — and some they crucify.’ And some, like NCR‘s, survive anyway.
Melinda Henneberger, Washington Post

The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) provides a platform for discourse on issues from a Catholic perspective. Editor Jones, who posits that the publication offers an important forum for laity to express their opinions, supplies a behind-the-scenes look at the paper over the course of its history.

Jones uses the advantage of his experience and in-house relationships to describe how NCR was formed and developed and examines various editorial perspectives and styles throughout the years. Excerpts illustrate and reflect the news of the times.
Library Journal

Over the last fifty years, many of us have often said ‘thank God for NCR!’ What would we have known about our Church, and about many issues in public policy, without NCR‘s help? Arthur Jones helps us celebrate this remarkable half century of American Catholic life with a lively, interesting, intelligent “personal story — the inside story told by an insider who cares.” Jones cares about the paper and its people, and he cares too about the good causes they have tried to serve and helped us to serve.
David O’Brien, professor emeritus, College of the Holy Cross; distinguished visiting professor, University of Dayton