Interview with Brandon Vogt, author of “Church and New Media”

Church and New MediaThe Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet (Our Sunday Visitor, August 2011) is a new book by Brandon Vogt that reveals the benefits, dangers, and potential of new media. It covers many of today’s most popular digital tools including blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, podcasts, text messaging, and interactive websites.

In the following interview, Vogt describes what led to writing the book and points out some of the issues the Church faces as it begins to embrace New Media. 

You can read a review of the book here.

What got you thinking about writing the book – what was the inspiration?

A few things led me to write this book. First was the realization that we are currently in the most revolutionary communication shift since the printing press. New media has profoundly changed the way we relate and share information today. Second, I saw many individual Catholics and organizations who were already taking advantage of new media and doing some pretty impressive things. Third, as a whole, I thought the Church was doing a pretty poor job of using these tools. Technologically we’re behind Protestant communities by about 2-3 years and compared to the secular world we’re lagging by a good half-decade.

The goal of The Church and New Media, therefore, is to show how new media can help carry out the Church’s mission in the modern world. It teaches how individuals, parishes, and dioceses can use new media to spread the faith, form the faithful, build community, and promote justice.

Who is the book written for – Priests, laity, both? And, is it only for techies?

The book is written for anyone and everyone! In fact the list of contributors reveals its diversity. We have priests, bishops, and even a Cardinal, but we also have stay-at-home moms, doctoral candidates, full-time bloggers, and the leader of an international pro-life ministry. I think anyone, including religious and laypeople, men and women, young and old, will find the book informative and inspiring.

And it’s also written for people with all levels of technical expertise. Whether you have no idea what a tweet is or if you know five different coding languages, you’ll find the book helpful. Those who have never used any new media tools, though, can take advantage of the detailed glossary of new media terms included in the back of the book.

In your opinion, what’s the biggest obstacle to the Church becoming more media-savvy?

Fear. Time and again, when I’ve asked Communication Directors and parish representatives why they don’t use new media, their answers essentially boil down to fear.

There are many reasons that Catholics are afraid–fear of the unknown, fear of liability, fear of opening up conversations to possible detraction. But this is why I think Blessed John Paul II was a new media prophet. One of his favorite encouragements to the Church was “Do not be afraid!” In fact, in his document The Rapid Development, he explicitly says “Do not be afraid of new technologies!”

This is the voice of courage the Church needs to have echoing in her ears. The courage of Christ should trump the fear of the unknown. For even the winds of new technology obey his command.

Are there any examples of individuals or groups that you believe are doing a good job with New Media?

Well, first of all, and I would say this even if you weren’t interviewing me, in my mind Catholic Tech Talk has become the premier source for Catholic new media tips and articles. So count yourself as one of the best examples.

I could list dozens and dozens of others but it’d be easier to just point to the Church and New Media book. There we feature twelve expert authors who each contribute a chapter as well as many other exemplary Catholics throughout the book’s sidebars. When you finish reading the book, you’ll not only have plenty of examples to imitate but you’ll be inspired to take your own steps out onto the “digital continent.”

Last week, Matthew Warner wrote a provocative piece about the Church losing control of ‘The Message’. As more and more Catholics create New Media, do you think the Church risks losing control of “The Message”.

I don’t agree with saying “the Church” is losing control of the Message. The Church can never lose control of the Message–it’s bound to her and is native to her DNA. What I think Matt meant, though, is that “Church officials” are losing control of the message.

Assuming that’s what he meant when he said “the Church”, I thought his article was brilliant and agree with both of his points: the Church is losing control of the Message, and that is a good thing. If you look at instances of explosive growth throughout Church history you’ll discover that these movements occurred when the Gospel was unleashed and allowed to spread virally.

The Gospel is like sand. When you try to control, grasp, or hoard it, it seeps through your hands and you lose it. When you try to control the conversation, the movement, or the spread instead of submitting to the Holy Spirit, you quench its power.

I don’t mean to say that bishops and priests should lose their authority. In fact I think their authority should be respected more by Catholics. What I mean is that they should maintain the borders around the world’s online playground but should let their flock run free within. Church officials should lay the ground-rules for charitable conversation but should become facilitators instead of pontificators.

That’s an impressive video/trailer for the book. How’d you make it?

I’m going to a do a blog post soon about how I made the trailer, but the short answer is that I used Sony Vegas (a video editing program that you can usually find for around $100). The only pieces of content that I paid for were the audio track ($15) and the short video clip of someone typing on a Mac keyboard ($10). All the other pictures and videos were found online, legally and royalty-free without attribution requirements.

With the video, I wanted to do two things simultaneously. First I wanted it to promote the book, but I also wanted to show how Catholics can easily and inexpensively create evocative media. With millions of stock photos and videos available online, the possibilities are almost unlimited.

I’m guessing Google+ came out after you released the book. Based on the explosive growth Google+ is enjoying, will there be an addendum, or do you have any thoughts about it?

I don’t know if there will be an addendum to the book, but I’m sure we’ll wrestle with it over at the Church and New Media Blog. My initial thought as I played around with Google+ was that the “Circles” feature solves one of the primary problems of Catholic new media use.

Many Catholics, especially those working in official Church positions, don’t want to mingle their professional and personal lives. On tools like Facebook and Twitter, this is a real problem.

But on Google+, it’s simple. You can create one Circle for your family, one for your friends, one for your parish, and one for each of your ministries. Instead of having multiple accounts, as you’re forced to do with other platforms, Google+ aggregates everything in one place.

If you haven’t already, check out http://www.churchandnewmedia.com where you can learn more about Brandon’s book, find a list of contributors and endorsements, and explore the many special resources. You can also download a free sample from the book and find links to purchase it.
Brandon Vogt

Brandon Vogt

Brandon Vogt is a Catholic writer and speaker who blogs at The Thin Veil. He writes on spirituality, technology, and social-justice, and features regular book reviews and weekly giveaways. He also manages the Church and New Media Blog and in May 2011 was invited to the Vatican to dialogue with Church officials and international bloggers on social media. Brandon daylights as a mechanical engineer in Casselberry, FL, where he lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their two children, Isaiah and Teresa.

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