What Gives with Catholic Media?

This last Sunday in most Catholic parishes in the United States, the 2nd collection was for the Catholic Communication Campaign.  Half of the money collected stays in each respective diocese and the rest goes to national projects. The USCCB explanation of this need is found here with this interesting comment: “The Catholic Communication Campaign provides essential funding for the Church to engage in using new communication technology in its evangelization efforts,” said Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee on CCC. “Many Catholics turn to their mobile devices to find the world. The Church needs to be in that world.”

I was impressed by the mention of mobile devices and our need to “be in that world” since I had just been discussing this very issue with Patti Armstrong.  I had specifically asked Patti to research and write about the topic of Catholic apologetics in the age of digital and mobile communication. The fruit of our conversation is in our lead article today — warning it talks about apps. If you are like me, you don’t even want to know about apps.

You see, I use my cell phone to make phone calls (where I actually talk to a person) apparently a form of communication on the endangered species list.  Once upon a time, I used a phone that plugged into the wall with a cord. It had a dial — a round thing on it that you turned to indicate a particular number. And if someone was not at home when you called them… guess what you did? You called them back (what a concept!).  You did not leave a message.  You shrugged, said, “I guess they aren’t home.” And then you called them back — at home, not on a cell phone that they took everywhere so they (and everyone else) were instantly available. I was already a mother when this amazing thing called a wireless phone was invented. I even had one of the first ones (that’s me, early adopter) in the whole apartment complex where I lived . You could actually take your phone and go outside with it! Even like a whole hundred feet away from the base unit! What freedom. By then it was routine to leave messages for people on their phone — the messages were recorded on little tape recorders with little tiny cassette tapes (ask your parents).

I said all that to say that I do not read my phone. Just ask my kids. I beg them not to send me text messages.  Reading a phone is just not in my genes.  My daughter wants me to learn how to get online on my phone — dummy me, I thought that was what MY COMPUTER was for.

But I am not your kids. You are not your kids.

The communication world of our kids is digital: online and mobile.  And like the Archbishop Schnurr said, ”The Church needs to be in that world.” Another way to say it might be to say that the souls of our kids’ and grandkids’ generation desperately needs for the Church to be there. Because the devil is there.  And the Church has lost her media edge.

For many centuries Christians led the way in advancements in communication. The switch from the scroll to the codex (bound pages) was largely due to the influence of the early Christians who wanted a convenient way to transport and read the Scriptures. Early advances in printing were spurred by the Christian desire to spread God’s word.  But during the 20th century the Church went into catch-up mode and remains there. Whether the subject is block-buster movies or the latest social networking fad, Catholics seem to be behind the curve way to often – we’re so 2000 and late — forget early adoption; we seem to be just learning what the world has already discarded as obsolete.


Well it isn’t the whole reason, but it is part: To put it bluntly, Catholics do not seem to grasp the need to support Catholic media. Protestants seems to do a bit better at this — they aren’t necessarily innovators, but they do tend to try to be early adopters and to grasp quickly the need to be present in every diverse media and (this is so key) they are great consumers of Christian books, periodicals, movies, etc.  I don’t know what gives with Catholics. I look at a company like CE with tens of thousands of readers and really wonder why we have to beg the way we do for a paltry 100 people to give a monthly donation to this site.  And yet, the case could easily be made that it is more vital for Catholic lay apostolates to be present online and in various media venues than even for the various diocesan organs – because getting “in that world” is really the lay mission.  But if it is the lay mission, then the laity are going to have to step up to the plate and support Catholic media.

Sorry to be this blunt with you folks (you know how sweet and subtle my usual delivery is) but you need to stop taking the money that God gives you and stop giving it to media that destroys morals, undermines the faith, and coarsens society. (Uh, yeah, what you earn God gave you or were you starting to think you created yourself and gifted yourself with talents?) And you need to start supporting Catholic media. That means buying books by Catholic authors, subscribing to Catholic periodicals, and donating to non-profits like CE. Because the question of what gives really comes down to who gives.  And the answer needs to be, you give.

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  • goral

    Dear Editor,

    You are referring to land phones, they were popular at the time of land mines.
    I still leave my cell at various places. Whenever I have to use reading glasses to work a device, it’s annoying.

    I do understand and appreciate your nuanced language. Perhaps one of the reasons the Church doesn’t jump on the new media devices is because the darn things change so fast. We’re traditional and sacramental, you’re somewhere out there in blogoshere. Where the heck is that??

    The benefit of land phones is that you can actually hear the person with whom you’re communicating and your head won’t get wrapped around the steering wheel as you’re looking for the “R” while texing, listening to loud music and oh yeah, driving.

    OK, you win, I give!

  • http://www.catholicexchange.com Mary Kochan

    Well, we didn’t call them “land phones” or “land lines”; we just called them “phones” b/c that’s the only kind there was. Kind of like they didn’t call World War One “World War One” until after there was a World War II.

    Thanks, Goral!!

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  • http://www.RaisingCatholicKids.com Mark Armstrong

    Great one-two punch today with Patti and Mary! The real point social media is not a fad, it is the biggest shift since the Industrial Revolution. 96% of Generation Y have joined a social network, and what is even more surprising is that the fastest growing demographic is the 55-65 year old for social media. 1 out of 8 couples last year met because of a social media website in the US!!!

    It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million users. It took Television 13 years to reach 50 million users. It took IPOD 4 years. Facebook added 100 million users in less than nine months!!!

    IPOD downloads for apps hit one billion in 9 months.

    If Facebook were a country it would be fourth largest in the world behind China, India and the United States.

    A 2009 US Department of Education study revealed that on average, online students outperformed those receiving face-to-face instruction.

    1 in 6 higher ed students enrolled in online classes.

    80% of companies now use LinkedIn as their primary tool to find employees.

    80 percent of Twitter usage is on mobile cellphone devices. People update, anywhere, anytime.

    In 2009 several major universities, including Boston College (a Catholic University) stopped distributing email addresses to incoming freshmen and will use only social media to reach them. This trend will continue, email will be gone in the next ten years.

    While people laugh at Wikipedia, it now has more than 13 million articles and a Harvard study shows it is more accurate than Encyclopedia Britannica. 78% of Wiki’s articles are not in english.

    Currently there are over 200,000,000 blogs.

    40 percent of books sales at Amazon are for the Kindle.

    Social media is not a fad, it is a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. Those who don’t embrace it will be like those who would not use the telephone and stuck with the telegraph.

  • fishman

    Good article.
    Not sure I have much to say.
    being a computer professional I’ve seen all this happen. and approaching. The church NEEDS to be there because nature abhors a vacuum and if we are not the void will be filled with other ‘mis/information’

  • plowshare

    I agree that we need to support the Catholic Media, but was last Sunday’s collection the best use of our money? I looked up the Catholic Communication Campaign’s website to see just what I had donated to, and found that, first, you get the same url no matter which page you navigate to within it, which is quite an inefficient way to run a website.

    But far more importantly, I found that the Campaign maintains its own communications projects and doesn’t seem to donate to any of the independently established communications. I couldn’t find any mention of these at all – not Catholic Exchange, not EWTN, not various magazines or national newspapers or independent blogs. Nor could I see any encouragement to set these things up.

    I should admit that I only spent about an hour on the whole site and so I could easily have missed something. Over a quarter of an hour was spent listening to an audio news/comments broadcast with a long musical lead-in, with the first featured speaker the Bishop of Tucson, criticizing the latest Arizona law on some valid social and humanitarian grounds (such as the splitting up of families if some members are deported but not others) but making no mention of the serious problems that this new law is designed to alleviate.

    Perhaps a donation to Catholic Exchange would have been a better use of my money.

  • consecrata

    I don’t give anything to the USCCB…I never know where their/our money is going. They still give to radical ‘social justice’ organizations. And I remember the way they went after Mother Angelica and tried to take her communications media away from her. I give to my own parish and missions that I know of…personally. I have very, very little money, so mostly I give of my time..

  • patti

    Mary, you make such a good point about giving. We are obligated to give to charities. God is always more generous and cannot be outdone. We can’t take our money with us, so it’s best spent on charity to the degree we are able. I once heard a good talk about Gospel charity–to give until it really feels like a sacrifice and not just from our extras.

    Most people probably don’t realize that writers, like me, write for Catholic Exchange for free, but it’s a labor of love.

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