You may or may not have already seen the recent results of a study done by CARA (the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) on Catholic new media use among millennials. The results look pretty bleak for Catholic new media and its effectiveness reaching young adults Catholics as a whole. There have already been many excellent points made about this study here, here and here… they are all well worth a read.
Is all lost with Catholic New Media?
1. First off Catholicism is not cool, especially as a millennial. Over 75% of Catholics polled in this study aren’t going to mass weekly (which is an obligation) so it is no shock this group would not be wholesale engaging online Catholic content (which is a choice).
Print Vs. Online
2. Print media has much less competition for a person’s attention than new media. A person will read a Diocesan newspaper because it is right there in front of them at some point in the day.
There are two problems with online content: Visibility and Trust
Visibility: Unless you are looking for it or happen to stumble upon it by accident you won’t even know it exists.
Trust: If you do stumble upon an article how would you know what to make of it? Catholic blogs are filled with opinions on all sides. Due to the ease of creating digital content anyone can publish something and label it whatever they want. One of the reasons I started Why I’m Catholic is because when I Googled “Catholic conversion stories” as an agnostic I only found websites I didn’t feel like I could trust. How do you establish trust? Personal recommendation is a great way. Building a reputable well-presented brand is another. Being genuine works well also.
So does that mean print is better?
No. Print is effective but it is also far more expensive than new media. This blog post cost nothing to create, is easily shareable, and is open to dialogue with the reader after it is published.
The visibility of print comes at a price.
3. Mormons on the Web
The effectiveness of the Mormons new media efforts has been brought up in the past and was brought up again in the comments under Brandon Vogt’s article on this study. Have the Mormon’s efforts been fruitful? Certainly. Have they been effective? I can’t answer that because I don’t have their financial figures in front of me. What I do know is that for about 8 months almost every Catholic Google search I did featured “I am a Mormon” as the top featured link. Liken it to me hiding in the bush as you are going into church and whispering “hey over here, let me tell you about Judaism” in a not so quiet voice. The ads also appeared at least once a day on my Facebook, which I’m sure is because I publicly listed my Catholic religious affiliation on my profile. Advertising like this does not come cheap. I’m sure Catholic males in the Northeast weren’t the only group targeted which means A LOT of money has been spent on these campaigns.
The question is, are we as Catholics willing to invest in our new media efforts as the Mormon’s do
4. Who is getting it right?
Visibility and trust is a big issue for Catholic new media. One possible response to this dilemma is cross promotion across various platforms. Our Catholic TV, Radio, and Print efforts need to direct individuals to further action on the web (think of how many commercials by big businesses now direct viewers to their facebook page or website). Conversely our new media based work needs to better utilize traditional media to draw new visitors and build trust with their brand. There are many individuals, both inside as well as outside the Faith, who are interested in Catholic content and would engage it online if they new it was available. We need to work on picking the low hanging fruit.
5. An Example
The National Catholic Register, which was not mentioned in the study, is a media group that seems to be making the effort. By bringing on some of the Catholic web’s most popular bloggers they have been able to introduce new personalities who produce high quality content and automatically garner trust from visitors because of the already established NCRegister brand.
This month NCRegister also launched a program called “Register Radio” on the EWTN Radio Network. Out of curiosity I tuned in and was pleasantly surprised to hear a show very different from much of the other content on EWTN. In one portion Tim Drake, the editor of NCRegister, interviewed Jennifer Fulwiler about a recent blog post on the register website. The most impressive aspect was that they incorporated the comments left on the article during the interview. This step towards new media opens a door to a whole new level of engagement and interactivity on Catholic Radio. The traditional and new can and should be used to complement one another.
6. Archbishop Fulton Sheen
In the Q and A portion of the article the author points to the success of Fulton Sheen as a model of using media to evangelize the masses. Fulton Sheen was successful not just because of what he did but, more importantly, because of who he was.
Cardinal Newman reflecting on history said (paraphrased) “large groups cannot light fires, it is individuals who light fires.” Renewal of the Church has never come from a technology, technique, or aesthetic, it has always come from holy men and women with a martyred spirit who courageously and humbly point to Christ (and not themselves).
The author points out that of all the Catholic websites Catholic.org does reach the most people but is still not a “major media presence”. The assumption I gathered is that Catholic.org is a news/media site when in fact the lion’s share of the traffic to Catholic.org is their saints section. This further illustrates my point.
To engage more people online we need more saints.
Category: New Media