This week I have completed nine years of blogging and so I can say that I have some perspective on the growth of the so-called Catholic “New Media.” Nine years ago I could pretty much read every post in the Catholic blogosphere during a short lunch. Catholic audio on the internet was extremely limited and podcasting was still a couple more years into the future. The growth of new media for Catholics has been quite an interesting thing to watch.
Bearing that in mind I was quite happy to review the new book by blogger Brandon Vogt The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet. This book is mostly a collection of essays on topics related to Catholic media by well known names within Catholic media. Each writer provides their expertise and perspective. Within these essays are other factoids providing related sources and other information. Brandon Vogt provides both the introduction and conclusion. The book has been positively endorsed by a who’s who of Catholics in America like Archbishop Dolan, Cardinal O’Malley, Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop Chaput, Mike Aqulina, Amy Welborn, and on and on. Well let me add my own name to that list of positive endorsements.
I found this to be a very good read that included things to chew on and other thoughts that agreed with my own experiences. The book starts out with Fr. Barron who like many accidentally entered into new media first by making his excellent homilies available on his site and then later podcasting them. Later he started to release short commentary addressing the issues of the day on YouTube and interacting with the YouTube commenters – not exactly a tame world. As you would expect Fr. Barron provides intelligent comments on his experience. Jennifer Fulwiler writes her conversion story from atheism from the perspective of interacting with Christians on her site. Like myself Jennifer Fulwiler was always an atheist from childhood on who had assumed that Christianity was simply a myth. Actually dialoging with Christians and have her assumptions overturned helped her to see the truth. While many complain about the atmosphere of commenting on blogs, her experience was largely positive.
I can’t really do an essay by essay review since it would be longer than the book. But I need to at least list some of the other people who contributed. Marcel LeJeune, Mark Shea, Taylor Marshall, Fr. Longenecker, Scot Landry, Jeff Geerling, Matt Warner, Lisa M. Hendey, Thomas Peters & Shawn Carney. Almost all our people I have read and interacted with over the years and in some cases have met. I found Thomas Peters thoughts the closest to my own and extremely well said. I especially liked his focus on the foundation laid by prayer. But there was so much said by all of them I found spot on. For anybody looking into Catholic media this book is much more than just an introduction.
When it comes down to it the new media is like all media in that it is a form of communication. For Catholics this communication is simply to spread the Gospel and while living the Gospel ourselves to help others to do the same. Catholic media and Catholic new media is effective when it spreads the good news and helps others to fully live their faith. I have certainly seen many examples of this over the years concerning conversion and how Catholic media helped to open a person up to the fulness of the faith. The Vatican has lagged behind when it came to new media, but the Vatican doesn’t need to do everything and us everyday Catholics can step in to take up the slack as our abilities direct.
The only real complaint I had about this book is that it was a little too much blogger-centric. Yes a funny complaint coming from a blogger, but I am also a great promoter of Catholic podcasts. While Fr. Barron podcasts, he is not really a podcaster since only his homilies are podcasted and he doesn’t engage his audience directly via podcasting. Lisa Henley though does have experience podcasting, but it isn’t her main role. To be fair the book certainly does address podcasting throughout the book, but I would have liked to have seen a chapter from someone who was a weekly podcaster. This book would have been perfect with a chapter from somebody like Fr. Roderick of SQPN, Greg & Jennifer Willits, the crew of the Catholic Underground, or really the perspective from any of the many very good Catholic podcasts.
One final thought is that I bet Brandon Vogt wishes that the Pope had used an iPad to make his first tweet and launch the new Vatican news site before this book was published. That episode would have fit right into his theme.