Monday, November 20, 2006

Mike Hayes on the Catholic Blogosphere

In the November issue of The Catholic World (the publication started by Fr. Isaac Hecker in 1865, and now resurrected online). Overall a decent introduction to the Catholic blogosphere by Mike Hayes (Managing Editor at Busted Halo, the CSPs' Internet outreach to Young Adults). He points out that the Catholic blogosphere is generally "conservative" and describes how some blogs have become the "go-to" source for "inside" information for the Catholic world (such as Rocco's "Whispers"), or for trusted commentary (such as Amy's "Open Book").
When a blogger becomes a trusted news source, the blogger can wield real power. Readers trust that the information is accurate, and in the case of religious blogs, their opinions are often taken as fact. While Welborn herself often steers clear from both diatribe and polarization, her regular viewers tend to be the more conservative element of the church, offering snarky comments in her posting area.
Catholic Bloggers generally slide towards the right and Welborn is no exception. She points people towards conservative sources and offers mild surprise when she enjoys something from the liberal side of the house. Her comments often are well researched but it conveys a single thought to the reader: “If it’s on Amy’s blog, then it must be true.” When breaking news happens Amy indeed becomes the “go-to” source.
True enough, but it's hardly Amy's fault (which is what I think that last sentence implies) that she has such credibility. Her credibility and respect is earned and well-deserved. Blogs are, like the Internet itself, über-democratic. Yes some are well-marketed, or attached to big media publications, but, in general, at least in my experience of the Catholic blogosphere, it's the cream that floats to the top. The standard concern about the blogosphere is that "anyone with a computer and an internect connection can publish something." Well true. But it takes a certain heft, and certainly substantial product, to establish a wide and loyal readership (like Amy and Rocco have). If one is concerned about the "conservative" nature of the Catholic blogosphere, the only real answer seems to be for more "liberal" voices to just do their own thing out there and ... well ... compete!

I also find it a little ironic that Hayes is concerned about the Catholic credentials of the largely conservative Catholic blogosphere, and floats the idea of some kind of a virtual imprimatur for the use of the name "Catholic" in the blogosphere.
How does one know that the information that is printed on the pages of a blog is indeed Catholic? Anyone can start a blog and spout off opinions based on news items “ad nauseum” but does that make their statements accurate? The institutional church may well want to provide a watchdog on blogs, offer a virtual imprimatur to assure that they are Catholic. Perhaps there should be an official blog from a particular diocese or the Vatican? Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has started his own blog but the cardinal is the exception rather than the norm. With multiple sources being funneled into blogs and with the selling point being that blogs are raw and un-edited, a unified and accurate Catholic voice may be impossible to control.
That seems a bit impractical, to say the least . For instance, take Amy Welborn. She's an individual who's publishing her thoughts. How on earth would one get an imprimatur for her daily postings, without it becoming censorship, or a judgment on her personal standing with the Church? I really cannot imagine that this is what Hayes intended! The best "censorship" (if that's the word) is simply, quite literally, the marketplace of ideas. And a "caveat lector" attitude. Readers should be aware (and mature users of the Internet do know this) that not anything on the Net is equally reliable. And regular readers can become a pretty decent informal editorial team as well.

The other idea of more "official" blogs is a decent one. It might just get the "official" Catholic voice a little more out there on the Net. For instance, I would suspect that there was far more chatter about the recent statements from the USCCB in the Catholic blogosphere than over coffee-and-donuts after Mass in most parishes around the country.

And, more often than not, and this reflects my own bias, of course, I prefer the "Catholic news" to be filtered and transmitted by the blogosphere, where I learn a heck of a whole lot more about the story, than through the MSM, which more often than not, just doesn't get it.

My biggest beef with the Catholic blogosphere is indeed the vitriol (and snarkiness) that seem rather endemic to the enterprise. But that is, perhaps, just a reflection of the fact that we are quite human, and quite sinful. Caveat lector.

[Note: The Catholic World is having some server issues. Hayes' article seems to be incomplete. I think they're working on getting that corrected.]

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