Meanwhile, Down on the Blog...

            As new information technologies continue to transform the way people communicate, will the Catholic Church be a “player”?

            That was the question of the day for a panel I served on at the recent New Evangelization of America Conference in Dallas. Each of us gave a short presentation and then welcomed questions by the audience.

A youthful-looking panelist named Brian Barcaro, senior partner of Acolyte, LLC, a Pittsburgh-based Internet software company, talked about “blogging.” I didn’t have the slightest idea what he was talking about. He went on to say that web pages were now outdated. Blogging had moved in. So much for my Web site!

            It seems the term “blog” is short for Web log (or “weblogs”). The definition from NetLingo’s Internet Dictionary sounds simple enough, “a frequent, chronological publication of personal thoughts and Web links.” Sort of an online diary, the typical “blog” consists of the blogger’s own thoughts on whatever strikes his or her fancy, along with related links to Web sites and other people’s blogs.

            Blogs are really nothing new. People posted online journals long before the term was coined. But, the trend gained momentum with the introduction of automated publishing systems, most notably Blogger (at blogger.com). These publishing systems make it easy to maintain an online diary and update it frequently.

            The Catholic Blog Reviewer at catholic-blog-reviewer.blogspot.com is an example of someone using blogger.com’s publishing system to produce their own blog. The author’s first blog was on January 16, 2003 at 9:18 a.m. It is a comment about the look of Mark Shea’s blog at markshea.blogspot.com. Although the author likes Shea’s blog, he says of its layout, “Am I the only one who has noticed that the words in the left-hand column are aligned on the right? I know that this may seem like something trivial to most of you, but it is driving me NUTS!!!!!!!”

            Great writing it’s not, but few blogs fail to attract at least some site traffic. In fact, most blogs offer surfers to post comments of their own—and there are many takers. The above entry, for example, generated two replies from Web surfers on the same day the post went up.

            To respond to a blog at Catholic Blog Reviewer, you just press the “Shout Out” link at the bottom of each journal entry. A small window pops up showing previous responses along with the responder’s contact information and the posting date and time. Below this is a form to fill out to post your own response.

            Blogging seems to use the message-board technology that has been around for some time. However, the diary format, which lends itself to a breezy, conversational presentation, has proved very appealing—to bloggers and visitors alike. For that reason the quality of blogs runs the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous. Among the best and most popular Catholic blogs are Shea’s, author Amy Welborn’s (www.amywelborn.blogspot.com), former Register staff writer Eve Tushnet’s (eve-tushnet.blogspot.com), screenwriting instructor Barbara Nicolosi’s (www.churchofthemasses.blogspot.com) and Envoy magazine’s (www.envoymagazine.com/envoyencore).

‘Blegging’ for Dollars

            Opinions on blogs vary. To some, they facilitate important debate and dialogue. Others fear they are a quick way to spread false information and uncharitable judgment.

            Journalist Andrew Sullivan, who maintains a very polished and professional-looking blog, believes blogs will play an important role in shaping the future of journalism. Why? Because blogging bypasses established magazines, newspapers and editors and allows for a direct peer-to-peer journalism to flourish. He started his blog, www.andrewsullivan.com, in October, 2000, publishing small tidbits of opinion and observation about various happenings at least twice a day. Sullivan started with a few hundred readers, some of whom began to respond. They took an interest and began sending their own suggestions, links, ideas and material to him. In talking about the Florida presidential election nightmare, Sullivan received input from a Florida politics professor on every possible angle on the vote. Soon Sullivan was way ahead of major news outlets on obscure electoral details about chads and voting machines.

            Within six months of beginning his blog, Sullivan found he had close to 5,000 individual visits a day and the numbers kept growing each month after. What began as fun now was becoming work—and he wasn’t getting paid for it! He began posting click-through advertising on his blog to bring in some income. Whenever someone bought anything at the advertiser’s site by going through his, he received a small commission. Much better for Sullivan, and other bloggers, was soliciting donations from frequent visitors to his blog—“blegging,” in the clever language of bloggers. In 2001, Sullivan received $27,000 through online donations.

            (Sullivan’s site is a good example of success in the blog arena, but Register readers should be aware that he is a Catholic who loudly dissents from the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality.)

Not everyone agrees with Sullivan that blogs are important to journalism. Elizabeth Osder, a visiting professor at The University of Southern California's School of Journalism, had this to say: "They're about as interesting as friends who make you look at their scrap books." She sees to much of a fascination with self-expression and opinion without expertise, resources and reporting.

The Register’s Tim Drake stopped blogging, saying, “Perhaps it’s just me, but isn’t it a prideful thing?” He said bloggers were “talking only to themselves.” Now he uses his site as an online portfolio.

            So will I be abandoning this column to start up my own blog? Probably not. But I will be watching to see what develops in the burgeoning world of “blogdom”—where anyone, including the Church, can be a player.

Monthly Web Pics

            There’s no time like Holy Week to look at the Stations of the Cross online.

            Jerusalem – The Way of the Cross at christusrex.com/www1/jvc/index.html posted by the Franciscans and Michael Olteanu, director of Christus Rex et Redemptor Mundi, shows those holy places Jesus walked on the way to His Cross. Definitely a good place to start.

            To use the Stations of the Cross written by John Cardinal Newman in 1860, go to landru.i-link-2.net/shnyves/The_Way_of_the_Cross.html.

            A Salesian Way of the Cross, based on the writings of St. Frances de Sales, can be found at webdesk.com/catholic/prayers/salesianwayofthecross.html.

            The Stations of the Cross for the Victims of Abortion, written by Father Cletus Healy, S.J. is at nd.edu/~mary/classic/Stations.html; it’s certainly apt for today.

            The Way of the Cross of a Migrant at cjd.org/stories/cross.html was posted by Casa Juan Diego, a Catholic Worker house for immigrants and refugees.

            The Monks of Adoration’s Stabat Mater Stations at monksofadoration.org/stabmats.html contain the Stations of the Cross with pictures, text and audio to pray along with. The Stabat Mater Stations are unique in that they combine the traditional Stabat Mater hymn melody with meditations on each Station in poetic form.

Brother John Raymond welcomes
e-mail at john@aplusconsultingnow.com.

He is author of Catholics on the Internet: 2000-2001,
Webmaster of www.monkofadoration.org