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Is Social Media Killing Catholic Media?

Did you wish all your Facebook friends a Merry Christmas? Sure you did. And probably clicked over to Linkedin, Google+, and Twitter too. Or maybe I am leaving out your favorite social media hangout.

Social media is an important part of the online day for many of us Catholics and for many of us it is a way that we access Catholic media. In fact, writers, editors and other Catholic content producers are virtually forced (yes, that was a pun!) to engage with social media in order to get the word out about our content.

It might seem like social media is a real positive for Catholic media. After all, it helps content creators and media outlets like Catholic Lane connect with our audience – you have “liked” Catholic Lane on FB haven’t you? – and I know that as a daily reader of a variety of Catholic media, I have found many articles and been introduced to many writers through social media.

So what’s this about “killing Catholic media”?

Let me just talk turkey to you for a few minutes, friends, about money. Have you ever heard the saying “information wants to be free”? The phrase is attributed to Stewart Brand creator of the Last Whole Earth Catalog. In a 1984 conversation with Steve Wozniak, Brand said:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.

The internet was already a place of mucho “free “information even before social media took off. Social media increases by orders of magnitude the amount of free information (content) and access to it. But what Brand left out of his equation was the cost of creating content. Information wants to be expensive, not merely because it can change your life, but because another human being has already changed his or her life to provide you with the information.

This is just another way of saying that Catholic writers, editors, webmasters, etc. gotta eat, too. When Brand says that the cost of getting information out is getting lower and lower, he isn’t factoring in the cost of creating that information to begin with.

Because I have worked in Catholic media for a number of years, I get contacted by someone on average every other week wanting to know how to “make it” in Catholic media: how to get a book published, how to get a blog noticed, how to get paid as a writer. I always share what little (and it is little) I know, and help with what contacts I can. But the sad bottom line I find myself giving is this:

If you are a person who needs to support a family, please do not attempt to do so by working in Catholic media.  Get a “real job” where you can make “real money” and let the writing, blogging, video making, podcasting, or whatever be a hobby or sideline.  If you are among the rare few, you might be able at some point to turn it into a full-time paying job, but don’t count on it.

I call this sad because it really is a shame that Catholics do not support Catholic media with the same enthusiasm that Protestants support their media — and ours is better, even!  As reported here, another great Catholic print publication has just bit the dust.  Social media is intensifying the dire situation of Catholic print media and extending it to online publications. Here is how:

Not many years ago it was reasonable to expect that you could build a website and with solid content attract enough readers to be able to use advertising to get revenue that would support your site and the staff to run it.  Advertising revenue on websites works the way advertising revenue works in other media. Magazines and newspapers charge by circulation; radio and TV on the basis of ratings that tell what kind of reach they have.  Websites, logically, depend on the numbers of visitors they have.

And this is where social media proves to be both a blessing and a curse for Catholic sites. On the one hand, social media can lead people to a website as articles are shared, but social media is more and more taking the place of time spent on Catholic websites, driving down readership and hence revenues, making it harder and harder for Catholics to make a living creating Catholic content. Catholic people themselves are driving revenue away from their fellow Catholics and toward social media sites.

There is another more subtle danger from social media. Benjamin Wiker explored it in “The Importance of Not Being Stupid”  about the way the Internet and Internet reading threatened to make us less likely — and over time, less able — to engage in the kind of slow, long, deliberate reading that good books demand:

Surfing the Internet is an apt metaphor. Habitual users are masters of skimming along the surface of the web, climbing and dropping from page to page, weaving and ducking from hyperlink to hyperlink.

The unfortunate downside is that all this frenetic cyber-darting causes their minds literally to reconfigure themselves accordingly. They become creatures whose brains are what they do. Skimmers with a cerebral sweeny. Neither out far nor in deep, they have lost the power, the distinctly human power, to go beyond the surface….

“So what?” you might say. “This is the information age. Deep and slow are out. Wide and fast are in.”

Here’s what. The deep and slow are what makes us human. The loss of our ability to concentrate, to patiently unearth what lies below the surface, means the withering away of sapiens from homo. …

Whatever its considerable merits, the measurable effect of continual Internet use is to transform our minds by the bloomin’, buzzin’ confusion itself. Hamlet might be on the Internet, but after reading a few lines, we hit the initial hyperlink to Shakespeare’s bio and skim a couple paragraphs, hit Stratford-upon-Avon and glance at the map, hit Warwickshire out of idle curiosity, then take time out for an email check, click on the Drudge Report and scan the headlines, glide through a few stories, then sample a few blogs, back to the email…

G. K. Chesterton once defined madness as “using mental activity so as to reach mental helplessness.” This seems to me to be the real effect of the medium of the Internet on the mind.

If that is the effect of the Internet generally, I have to wonder at the more frenetic effect upon concentration and engagement of social media. Have we gone from Wiker’s questioning if we are losing our ability to read a book, to the question of whether we have the mental discipline to follow the shorter line of reasoning that runs through a single article? How many of us have read the little blurb from an article on Facebook and jumped into the rolling discussion underneath it, without ever even bothering to read the article in question?

But back to the money – and here is where it all ties together: Please Catholic people, if we want Catholic media to survive online, here is a simple thing you can do. Choose a Catholic website – I strongly suggest Catholic Lane! – and make it your homepage. If you need to have a work-related site for a homepage, or if you feel you absolutely must have your Facebook page as a homepage, at least, use a Catholic site as one of your homepages (you can set more than one homepage through the Internet options tool of your browser). This way you will visit an actual Catholic website every day. Hopefully, you will read an article or two and maybe even share in a more in-depth discussion in the comment boxes than is possible on Facebook. By all means share what you are reading through social media – but understand that you directly visiting and clicking on articles at a Catholic website translates into the  advertising revenue that Catholic websites need to survive.

Of course you can always give money to your favorite sites (hint, hint) and your donations are needed and appreciated. (We don’t intend to make begging for donations a habit around here – but that Donate link at the top of the site ain’t just there for decoration, ya’ know.)  Nevertheless from day to day, it is your frequent routine visits to Catholic sites, your sustained reading and engagement with the thoughts of other Catholics, and yes, getting offline from time to time to read a good Catholic book or magazine that will make the long term difference in the health and viability of Catholic media.


Mary Kochan, former Senior Editor of CatholicExchange, is Editor-at-Large  of CatholicLane.com.

Raised as a  third-generation Jehovah's Witness, Mary worked her way backwards through the Protestant Reformation to enter the Catholic Church on Trinity Sunday, 1996.  Mary has spoken in many settings, to groups large and small, on the topic of destructive cultism and has been a guest on both local and national radio programs. To arrange for Mary to speak at your event, you may contact her at kochanmar@gmail.com.

  • Kathleen Woodman

    Amen, Mary! I agree with the necessity to be able to hold a thought and follow through with a line of reasoning all the way to its conclusion. The computer can be very distracting with all the items flashing in your face, competing for your attention. There’s nothing like a good book with great ideas to keep the brain supple and sane. The internet is very useful, but does have limitations.

  • Tarheel

    I fear book reading as many of us know it is going to be a lost “art”. Recently here in Alabama the Legislature wants to provide all kids in grades 9 through 12 with tablets instead of books. Somehow they feel this will be cheaper than books, but I see way too many of these tablets “walking away” forever, but that is a different story. Technology has made us aware of how much it costs to print books. I work in the wireless industry. Everyone of the manuals we use to maintain our wireless network is provided to us on a CD or via a secure site download.

    Even bookstores promote eReaders. Instead of paying $20 for that book you want, you can download it now for $5. Sorry I tried an eReader and it ain’t the same. Just how do I put notes in the margin of something I really like on one of those things?

    As for me I still treasure and enjoy sitting down with a good book (as in a printed paper kind)and “escaping to another world” or “shutting out the noise of the day”. I even print out a good many of the articles I read on the internet. If I didn’t share what I printed out just from Catholic Lane I would have a nice notebook full of wonderful information.

    I do have Catholic Lane as a ‘home page’ at work and at home. Thankfully multiple tabs on my browser allow that. And I ‘share’ and ‘like’ numerous articles that I read here.

    Sadly I think way too many Catholics use catholic media the way they practice their faith. “Oh yeah, I go to Mass.”

  • http://www.homeschoolingmama.com ChristineHebert

    I find that the use of internet has affected students ability to grasp concepts that require more than a cursory glance. My 15 year old daughter can spend hours on Facebook and Youtube clicking from 3 minute video to 2 line “thought” endlessly, but ask her to read a book, especially a classic that requires thought, and she moans and gripes about how “boring” it is. I am fearful for what our society will look like in just a few more short years. While I use social media, I do not use it as much as business “gurus” would have me use it, and I find it dreadfully full of tripe.
    I never thought about how actually visiting the website adds to the revenue, so I have always had a blank home page. I think I will change that today.

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