I was blessed to be able to attend the Catholic New Media Celebration(CNMC) this past Sunday since it all unfolded just a hop and a skip away from my home and because my knight in shining armor stepped up to the plate despite being post-call.
The Celebration gave me a chance to put faces with the names and lives of people I’ve been reading about for a little over a year. It also exposed me to a whole new world of Catholic media – podcasting. We have an iPod, but I don’t use it much and when I do, it’s to listen to music while I exercise or sometimes clean. However, that’s all about to change. There’s some great stuff out there and I’m getting a little sick of vacuuming to the Beatles anyway. (Oh, and Lisa Hendey of Catholic Mom chatted with me for her Catholic Moments Podcast. It all brought me back to my broadcast news days as an undergrad…)
Various speakers, bloggers, podcasters shared tips as well as wisdom for anyone who currently produces (or hopes to get started doing so) some form of new media. Here, I share what some of these experts had to say about new media. Bear in mind that I’m marbling in some of my own reflections; however, I’m a new kid on the blog(osphere). After freelancing for several years I only started blogging last spring. In other words, I’ve still got a lot to learn.
- Find your passion. “Where your treasure is, there also will be your heart.” (Matthew 6:21). Talk about stuff you love. Don’t try to be someone you’re not or to talk about things that you think others want to hear about. If your heart’s not in it, people will be able to tell.
- Learn the language. “The mystery of the kingdom of God has been granted to you. But to those outside everything comes in parables.” (Mark 4:11) You want to talk to your audience’s level and tap into their interests when talking about God (or anything!). Fr. Roderick gave the example of speaking to kids and how Jesus might have approached them. Fr. Roderick has used Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings, and now Indiana Jones to reveal God’s kingdom to podcast listeners. To me, this tip has a lot to do with finding your voice (and the tip above). Sometimes I try to be something I’m most definitely not – a theologian/philosopher – instead of wearing the hat that fits me well – a mom who loves her family and is trying to find God in the trenches of motherhood.
If you’re like me (a mom who blogs), then try to write conversationally and again, be yourself. I sometimes worry way too much about what others (AKA other bloggers) are doing instead of focusing on my talents and the insights the Holy Spirit helps me to uncover. I’m a newbie mom and blogger compared to a lot of people out there. That’s a good thing. That’s my niche (see below for more on this). I’m just starting my journey and that’s okay. I don’t need to feel like I’m as wise as some of the bloggers on my blogroll because I’m not. Wisdom comes with experience (not just age) and I don’t need to pretend like I’m wise beyond my experience (or years).
- Take your tools. “Take this staff in your hand; with it you are to perform.” (Exodus 4:17) I’ll add a tip to this one: Take your tools (computers, HTML code, microphone for podcasting, etc.), but don’t let them intimidate you. During the conference, speakers kept referring to the attendees as techno geeks, but I don’t fit that description at all. Oh, I fully embrace the “geek” part, being that I occasionally snort when I laugh and I thought Popple’s song “Binary” was hilarious, but I’m not much of a techno. My husband actually built our PC. He Googled “how to build a computer” and did it and talked about it while he was doing it and I, doting wife that I am, pretended to listen. HTML, computer lingo, downloads..all that stuff is very useful and necessary, but they only provide the vessel, not the message. Similarly, new media should not be seen as a competition to traditional media such as newspapers and television. All Catholic media are working for the same boss, as Susan Gerdvil of Catholics Come Home pointed out. We may be using different tools, but we’re delivering the same message and the only one we have to answer to at the end of the day – whether we’re blogging or not – is God.
- Start to speak [or write]! “Go then! It is I who will assist you in speaking and will teach you what you are to say.” (Exodus 4:12) Surrender your hearts and mind to the Holy Spirit and start to write (or speak on your podcast). The hardest part is sometimes starting.
- Post your podcast [or publish your blog]. “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4) Be fishers of men. Let your words reach someone and let the glory be God’s, not your own. (I’ll be discussing the blogging humility in part II.)
- Create community. “All who believed were together and had all things in common.” (Acts 2:42). Hunt for your audience. Don’t be afraid to market yourself and to promote your blog. Catholic author and popular blogger Mark Shea reminded CNMC attendees that asking another blogger to include a link to your blog is not shameless self-promotion. Likewise, as much as this goes against human nature, we can’t think of fellow Catholic bloggers as competitors. If another blogger has a gazillion subscribers, rejoice! The message is being heard. And if you ever find yourself doubting that the Internet doesn’t serve much of a purpose in evangelization, read “Google and Ye Shall Find: The Internet and the New Evangelization” by Jennifer of Conversion Diary.
And some other great tips from some of the other speakers:
- Carve out a unique niche. Amy Welborn, a well-established blogger and talented Catholic writer (her A Woman’s Book of Days never gathers dust on my bookshelf), talked about how newbie bloggers need to offer a fresh perspective and find their niche. I know of several blogs I frequent that have done this quite well. Rachel Balducci of Testosterhome, for example, is a mom of five boys and not only thought up of a great name for her blog, but she shares a unique perspective of living among many men. Similarly, Heidi Hess Saxton writes about being an adoptive mom at Mommy Monsters.
What’s my niche? I’m kind of an impulsive person and jumped into blogging without really thinking about my audience. After the conference, I’ve decided something I have that others don’t is a lack of experience.
What I mean is I’m fairly new at this whole mommy gig. What I lack in experience I make up for in raw honesty: Mothering two little ones, both of which who need me to help them with virtually everything, is a lot different than the veteran homeschooling mom of six. I’m learning as I go and I’m sharing about it.
Other things I consider unique about my perspective: I’m a cradle and orthodox Catholic in a mixed marriage, a supporter of ecological breastfeeding, attachment parenting, and NFP (though this sometimes scares the heck out of me), homeschooling “discerner” (rather than homeschooling guru), freelance writer, former eating disorder sufferer, creative writing teacher for kids, and wife of a resident.
So that’s a little broad, but that’s what I have to offer. I think the big theme I’m striving for with all those side things is searching for and finding God in the trenches. Most often for me it’s in the trenches of marriage and motherhood. But sometimes it’s in my reflection in the mirror that I’m scrutinizing, or in a poem written by a child, or in an interview of someone for a secular publication that wasn’t supposed to be about God at all.
Think about what you have to share. Are you a rock climber? A convert? A re-vert? A world traveler? A Yoda fan? Feel the force! Errrr…I mean, find your path, and stop worrying about what everyone else is doing.
- Use blogging/podcasting as a way to facilitate the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. More wisdom from Amy Welborn (she specifically mentioned the corporal works; I added the spiritual works on my own). Promote your favorite charities (scroll down and look to the right to see some of mine). If someone makes a harsh comment on your blog, bear his or her wrongs patiently as Jesus would have done. Use your blog as a way to show the world what it means to be a loving person (or, like I often do, a mom who stumbles often but tries to not stay down for long…unless it’s nap time and both kids are miraculously snoozing).
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. I’m my worst critic. I think that’s true of most people. Fr. Chris Decker and Joshua LeBlanc from Catholic Underground discussed how God can work through you even when you think you’re at your worst. To spread the Good News, you’ve got to put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid and don’t wait until you’ve got everything all figured out. (As if that will ever happen.) Sometimes that fear, that pride of wanting to put forth only your best “work,” all those stumbling blocks to publishing that first (or 100th) post is Satan’s way of keeping you from touching the lives of others. Fearless evangelization is the most powerful kind of all.
Something should also be said about people who feel a calling to write (or create a podcast) about their faith but are reluctant and don’t see them as the “right” person. God has been known to call unlikely people to do great things. In the blogging world, it seems to me the most reluctant ones sometimes have the most profound things to say. (Jeff Miller of The Curt Jester comes to mind. The man behind this extremely popular blog said more than once during the blog panel that he can’t write. Thankfully, God and a whole lot of people in Cyberspace think differently and he keeps at it.)
- Keep things in perspective. Blogging/podcasting and professing the faith in other ways is all very important, but don’t let them consume you. I’ve written about this before, but you’ve got to be out there praying, living your life, nurturing your kids and husband, running barefoot in the grass… Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of writing something and I’ll hear my baby wake up from a nap and I’ll think, “No. Don’t wake up yet. I have to finish writing this blog about how much I love you.” Uh, I don’t think I need to point out the irony in those thoughts. So learn to separate your blogging life from your real life and always make sure you’re spending more time in the latter.
To be continued…