Horcruxes, technology addiction, and the search for personal wholeness. See the post by Br Conor at Jericho Tree.
Posts Tagged ‘media’
I’ve been involved in a new Catholic website called Jericho Tree.
You can visit the site here. Do subscribe to the email list in the right-hand side-bar.
You can visit the Facebook page here. Please do publicise the site by liking the page.
If you’ve got any feedback it’s most helpful to leave it on the site itself - on the feedback page here.
Here is the blurb from the ABOUT page.
Jericho Tree is a magazine-style website bringing together articles and videos about faith, culture, lifestyle and news – from a Catholic perspective.
The title ‘Jericho Tree’ refers to the meeting between Zacchaeus and Jesus in Chapter 19 of the Gospel of St Luke. As Jesus enters Jericho, Zacchaeus longs to see him, but he is too short, and the crowds are too big. So he climbs a tree in order to get a better view.
“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.
“When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.
“All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’”
The idea is to create a forum for great Catholic writing, mainly from a UK perspective, but with some international contributors as well; and to link to other articles and videos that take a fresh look at the world from a Catholic perspective. Quiet a few people have promised to write, and a few have already started. We’ll see how it develops over the next few months!
Posted in Media, Politics, tagged freedom, freedom of the press, human rights, Inter Mirifica, internet, journalistic ethics, Leveson Inquiry, Leveson Report, media, media ethics, newspapers, Politics, press, press freedom, Vatican II on December 1, 2012 | 3 Comments »
With the Leveson Report just out, and the Year of Faith ongoing, I went back to the document Inter Mirifica, the Decree on the Media of Social Communications from the Second Vatican Council, promulgated on 4 December 1963.
It has to be said that this is not the most celebrated of the documents from Vatican II. Many commentators think that it was not creative enough, not sensitive to the moment, not aware of the need for the Church to open out to the world. But it’s interesting to read – fifty years later – the two main paragraphs that concern what we would now call ‘media ethics’ (see paragraphs 5 and 12 copied below).
The primary concern is to protect the freedom of the press, and to highlight the importance of a free media for the common good. I don’t know the background to the document well, but one of the defining features of the political landscape will have been the Cold War, and the multiple threats to freedom that were emerging in Eastern Bloc countries. The main worry for the Council fathers was not press intrusion but state intrusion. So they assert the ‘right to information’.
Nevertheless, this right is not absolute. It requires truth, justice, charity; respect for the laws of morality and the rights and dignity of individuals; and the manner of communication should be ‘proper and decent’. Public authority should protect this freedom of information, but it is also obliged ‘to exercise a fitting and careful watch lest grave damage befall public morals and the welfare of society through the base use of these media’. The language is almost archaic; the meaning is clear.
So you can’t move from Inter Mirifica to a concrete conclusion about which recommendations in the Leveson report to implement, but there are some helpful principles here which seem as relevant as they were fifty years ago.
Here are the relevant paragraphs:
5. It is, however, especially necessary that all parties concerned should adopt for themselves a proper moral outlook on the use of these media, especially with respect to certain questions that have been vigorously aired in our day.
The first question has to do with “information,” as it is called, or the search for and reporting of the news. Now clearly this has become most useful and very often necessary for the progress of contemporary society and for achieving closer links among men. The prompt publication of affairs and events provides every individual with a fuller, continuing acquaintance with them, and thus all can contribute more effectively to the common good and more readily promote and advance the welfare of the entire civil society. Therefore, in society men have a right to information, in accord with the circumstances in each case, about matters concerning individuals or the community. The proper exercise of this right demands, however, that the news itself that is communicated should always be true and complete, within the bounds of justice and charity. In addition, the manner in which the news is communicated should be proper and decent. This means that in both the search for news and in reporting it, there must be full respect for the laws of morality and for the legitimate rights and dignity of the individual. For not all knowledge is helpful, but “it is charity that edifies.”
12. The public authority, in these matters, is bound by special responsibilities in view of the common good, to which these media are ordered. The same authority has, in virtue of its office, the duty of protecting and safeguarding true and just freedom of information, a freedom that is totally necessary for the welfare of contemporary society, especially when it is a question of freedom of the press. It ought also to encourage spiritual values, culture and the fine arts and guarantee the rights of those who wish to use the media. Moreover, public authority has the duty of helping those projects which, though they are certainly most beneficial for young people, cannot otherwise be undertaken.
Lastly, the same public authority, which legitimately concerns itself with the health of the citizenry, is obliged, through the promulgation and careful enforcement of laws, to exercise a fitting and careful watch lest grave damage befall public morals and the welfare of society through the base use of these media. Such vigilance in no wise restricts the freedom of individuals or groups, especially where there is a lack of adequate precaution on the part of those who are professionally engaged in using these media.
Posted in Media, Psychology, tagged creativity, digital media, distractions, email, genius, inbox, management, media, production, productivity, professionalism, space, success, texting, work, workplace on November 26, 2012 | 4 Comments »
Most of us deal with the little things first. We check texts and emails; we try to respond to the urgent requests others send us; we set about tidying up, clearing the decks, in the vain hope of creating some physical, mental and digital space in which we can one day address the really important and creative projects that matter to us.
Mark McGuinness explains why this doesn’t work.
The trouble with this approach is that you end up spending the best part of the day on other people’s priorities, running their errands, and giving them what they need. By the time you finally settle down to your own work, it could be mid-afternoon, when your energy has dipped and it’s hard to focus on anything properly. “Oh well, maybe tomorrow will be better,” you tell yourself.
But when tomorrow comes round there’s another pile of emails, phone messages, and to-do list items. If you carry on like this you will spend most of your time on reactive work, responding to incoming demands and answering questions framed by other people. It’s a never-ending hamster wheel. And it will never lead to remarkable work, in Seth Godin‘s sense, “worthy of being remarked on.” We don’t find it remarkable when our expectations are met – only when they are exceeded, or when we are surprised by something completely unexpected.
So what does McGuinness do instead?
The single most important change I’ve made in my own working habits has been to start doing things the other way round – i.e. begin the day with creative work on my own top priorities, with the phone and email switched off. And I never schedule meetings in the morning, if there’s any way of avoiding it. This means that whatever else happens, I get my most important work done – and looking back, all of my biggest successes have been the result of making this simple change.
It wasn’t easy, and still isn’t, particularly when I get phone messages beginning “I sent you an email two hours ago…!”
By definition, taking this approach goes against the grain of others’ expectations, and the pressures they put on you. It can take an act of willpower to switch off the world, even for an hour, during the working day. For some strange reason, it feels “unprofessional” to be knuckling down to work in this way.
The thing is, if you want to create something truly remarkable, it won’t be built in a day. A great novel, a stunning design, a game-changing software application, a revolutionary company – this kind of thing takes time, thought, craft, and persistence. And on any given day, it will never appear as “urgent” as those four emails (in the last half-hour) from Client X or Colleague Y, asking for things you’ve already given them or which they probably don’t really need.
So if you’re going to prioritize this kind of work – your real work – you may have to go through a wall of anxiety in order to get it done. And you’ll probably have to put up with complaints and reproaches from people who have no idea what you’re trying to achieve, and can’t understand what could be more important than their needs.
Yes, it feels uncomfortable, and sometimes people get upset, but it’s much better to disappoint a few people over small things, than to sacrifice the big things for an empty inbox. Otherwise you’re sacrificing real productivity for the illusion of professionalism.
McGuinness finishes with some practical tips:
1. Creative work first, reactive work second.
Either start the day on your creative work, or make sure you block out time for it later in the day – preferably at a time when you typically feel energized and productive.
2. Tune out distractions.
You know the drill – email off, phone off, work from home if you can, stick your headphones on if you can’t.
3. Make exceptions for VIPs.
Don’t be reckless. If you’re working with a client to a deadline, or your boss needs something urgently, treat them like VIPs and give them special access – e.g. leave the phone on and answer if they ring (everyone else gets the voicemail).
4. Be really efficient at reactive work.
You can’t ignore everybody all the time. The better your productivity systems, the more promptly you’ll be able to respond to their requests – and the more time you’ll have free for your own work.
I don’t do this, but I think it’s worth trying.
Posted in Culture/Arts, Media, tagged addiction, child development, children, children and TV, education, how much TV should you watch, media, parenting, psychology, television, TV on October 12, 2012 | 6 Comments »
TV time should be limited for children, and under-threes should be kept away from television altogether – writes Sarah Boseley.
These are the conclusions of a recent report.
A review of the evidence in the Archives Of Disease in Childhood says children’s obsession with TV, computers and screen games is causing developmental damage as well as long-term physical harm. Doctors at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which co-owns the journal with the British Medical Journal group, say they are concerned. Guidelines in the US, Canada and Australia already urge limits on children’s screen time, but there are none yet in Britain.
The review was written by psychologist Dr Aric Sigman, author of a book on the subject, following a speech he gave to the RCPCH’s annual conference. On average, he says, a British teenager spends six hours a day looking at screens at home – not including any time at school. In North America, it is nearer eight hours. But, says Sigman, negative effects on health kick in after about two hours of sitting still, with increased long-term risks of obesity and heart problems.
The critical time for brain growth is the first three years of life, he says. That is when babies and small children need to interact with their parents, eye to eye, and not with a screen.
Prof Mitch Blair, officer for health promotion at the college, said: “Whether it’s mobile phones, games consoles, TVs or laptops, advances in technology mean children are exposed to screens for longer amounts of time than ever before. We are becoming increasingly concerned, as are paediatricians in several other countries, as to how this affects the rapidly developing brain in children and young people.”
The US department of health and human services now specifically cites the reduction of screen time as a health priority, aiming “to increase the proportion of children aged 0 to two years who view no television or videos on an average weekday” and increase the proportion of older children up to 18 who have no more than two hours’ screen time a day.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has also issued guidance, saying “media – both foreground and background – have potentially negative effects and no known positive effects for children younger than 2 years”. The Canadian Paediatric Society says no child should be allowed to have a television, computer or video game equipment in his or her bedroom.
Sigman goes further, suggesting no screen time for the under-threes, rising gradually to a maximum of two hours for the over-16s. Parents should “encourage” no screens in the bedroom, he says, and be aware that their own viewing habits will influence their children.
But what can you do?
The RCPH’s Professor Blair said there were some simple steps parents could take, “such as limiting toddler exposure as much as possible, keeping TVs and computers out of children’s bedrooms, restricting prolonged periods of screen time (we would recommend less than two hours a day) and choosing programmes that have an educational element.”
But Justine Roberts, co-founder of Mumsnet, said it was hard for parents to compete with technology. “It would be great if someone could invent a lock that could automatically ensure a daily shut down of all the different devices in and around the home after a designated period. Until such a thing is invented, it’s going to be an ongoing battle to keep on top of everything,” she said.
Any thoughts from parents? Is the no TV ideal possible? Is it realistic? Is it even desirable?
We had a visit to Stonor Park recently. This is the house near Henley where St Edmund Campion was finally caught. It’s full of intricately constructed priest holes and escape routes. It’s also set in a valley of exquisite beauty in the Oxfordshire countryside, and worth a visit even if you are not into the martyrs or recusant history. See their website here for information about visiting.
The highlight for me, with all my interest in media and communication, was to visit the room on the second floor above the front door. This is where the famous printing press stood, on which Campion’s Decem Rationes was printed. It was wonderful to imagine them hidden up there, working without enough type, wondering whether they would even manage to finish and distribute the work. What faith it must have taken, and courage.
Forgive me copying some words from a previous post about Campion and the text, just in case you don’t know the story:
In the Spring of 1581, Edmund Campion had been in England as a Jesuit missionary for just over a year. Fifteen years earlier he had preached before Queen Elizabeth in Oxford, and now he was in Lancashire on the run from government spies. Between illicit sermons and undercover Masses Campion was writing a Latin treatise called Decem Rationes, Ten Reasons, in which he set forth the Catholic faith and challenged his compatriots to debate with him.
Kathleen Jones describes what happened when the manuscript was finished: “It was extremely difficult to get this work printed. Eventually the work was carried out on a secret press at the house of Dame Cecilia Stonor in Stonor Park, Berkshire. Lady Stonor was later to die in prison for her part in this enterprise. Owing to a shortage of type, the treatise had to be set one page at a time, and it took half a dozen typesetters (dressed as gentlemen to disarm suspicion) nine weeks to set it. On Oxford’s Commemoration Sunday, 27 June 1581, four hundred copies were found distributed on the benches of the university church. The publication of Decem Rationes caused a tremendous sensation, and efforts to capture Campion were redoubled” (Butler’s Lives of the Saints, New Full Edition, Liturgical Press, 2000, 12:3).
You can guess why I wanted to re-tell this well-known story today. We’ve come here to celebrate World Communications Day, and by chance we are doing this on the feast of the Martyrs of England and Wales. It provides a wonderful opportunity to connect these two themes of Christian witness and social communication.
The story of Edmund Campion shows us that any Christian who wants to witness to their faith beyond their immediate circle of family and friends will need to use the communications media. Not just to use them reluctantly, but to embrace them with a passion. For Campion, this meant the printing press. I love the historical detail that they didn’t have enough movable type to set the whole book. Can you imagine the frustration, and the consequent dedication that was required: to set one page, to print it; then to reshuffle type, and print the next page. Six men holed away in a Berkshire manor house for two months. And then the audacity of smuggling the printed texts into Oxford.
Are we, as the Church today, completely engaged with the communications media? Are we realising its potential for good? Are we putting our energy and intelligence into using the media effectively? Our time and people and money? What would Edmund Campion be doing today to communicate his Ten Reasons?
[Andrew Webb adds: I think Campion was arrested at Lyford Grange, not Stonor]
If you have been interested in the work they do, and wondered if you could get involved in any way, applications are now open for the Third National Speakers Training, which is taking place in the West of England over three weekends between September and December 2012.
Here is the text from their website.
Catholic Voices was originally created for the 2010 papal visit, when 25 ‘ordinary’ Catholics received training in communications techniques and media skills, as well as in-depth briefings on the neuralgic issues behind most news stories concerning the Church. The ‘Catholic Voices’ appeared on more than 100 programmes at the time of the visit, and continue to give interviews on TV and radio. The project has led to books, similar projects abroad, the Catholic Voices ‘Academy’, regular communications workshops and talks, and the enthusiastic backing of both bishops and broadcasters.
The heart of the project remains our ambition to create, each year, a growing number of trained Catholic Voices (CVs) who, together with the original team, make themselves available to comment on radio and television. In Autumn last year a second ‘National Speakers’ Training’ took place in Leeds over three weekends; the 18 new CVs have joined the original CVs in making regular media appearances (many of which are recorded and uploaded to this website).
This year, the third National Speakers’ Training will be held, following the same three-weekend format, at retreat houses in Clifton and Plymouth dioceses (Emmaus in Bristol, Ammerdown nr Bath, and Buckfast Abbey in Devon). Although we hope to receive applications from these and neighbouring dioceses (Menevia, Cardiff, etc.) you are welcome to apply from anywhere in England and Wales. The training is free, but we ask participants to pay for their travel and accommodation if they are able.
We welcome applications from any practising, committed Catholics aged between 20 and 45; who are available on all three training weekends and one of the interview dates; who believe they may have a calling as a Catholic Voice; and who will offer themselves after the training for interviews on a variety of topics.
Dates: Interviews will be on 10 September in Bristol and 15 September in London. The three residential weekends, each lasting from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, will be: 21-23 September, 19-21 October, and 14-16 December.
If you would like to be considered for the CV national speakers’ training, please email email@example.com for an application form and further details. Deadline for applications is 20 July 2012. In the meantime, please direct any queries to the same email address.
How to present the Catholic faith with clarity, intelligence, kindness, conviction and concision; and without being aggressive or defensive
Posted in Culture/Arts, Media, Politics, Religion, tagged apologetics, Austen Ivereigh, Catholic Voices, Catholic Voices Academy, controversy, culture, faith, Kathleen Griffin, media on October 12, 2011 | 1 Comment »
I posted about the Catholic Voices project last year, which trained a group of young Catholics in the art of speaking about their faith in the quick-fire settings of media interviews and public debates.
A couple of weeks ago I attended the launch of their book Catholic Voices: Putting the Case for the Church in the Era of 24-Hour News, written by two of the project’s founders, Austen Ivereigh and Kathleen Griffin. It should be a great resource for any Catholics wanting to understand what their faith really has to say about any number of controversial contemporary questions, and hoping to learn some tips about how to present it.
Here is some of the blurb [slightly adapted]:
Catholic Voices is a new sort of apologetics, one that helped make the visit of Pope Benedict to the UK in September 2010 such an extraordinary PR success for the Church. The book is based on the expert briefings given to the original Catholic Voices team. It combines arguments and facts with practical media skills, hearing the question behind the question and listening for the positive intention behind the criticisms. It gives insider tips on how to present arguments clearly, compellingly and concisely in a quick-fire atmosphere. It is aimed not just at those speaking into a microphone, but at the parish priest, pastoral assistant, catechist, teacher, student – and at every Catholic who is wanting to answer questions on difficult topics in the news and give the reasons for what they believe.
And the author blurb:
Austen Ivereigh is a former public affairs director for the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, a writer and journalist, a regular contributor to the Guardian and America magazine who appears regularly as a commentator on the Catholic Church for radio and TV news programmes. Kathleen Griffin is an award-winning broadcaster, writer and senior lecturer in Broadcast Media at the University of Brighton. For many years a producer and reporter for BBC Radio 4, her many books include The Forgiveness Formula.
The new Catholic Voices website has also been launched recently – take a look if you are interested. There is lots of news about the new Catholic Voices Academy, the launch of another book about the development of the project itself, and the new Northern Speakers’ Programme that started this weekend.
[I must declare an 'interest': I've been the chaplain of the group since it's launch last year. But I think I'd be posting about it even if I weren't...]
They are desperate for funds. Here is their pitch to donors.
Catholic Voices is funded by donations from individuals and foundations and relies on the generosity of donors to continue its work. Please help us to:
√ serve both the Church and media by training informed, media-aware lay voices to articulate Catholic teachings on key issues;
√ support Catholics wanting to better articulate the wisdom of their faith through workshops, briefings, and authoritative arguments and information;
√ bring together Catholics engaged in public activities to develop commonly held propositions which express the insights and beauty of the Christian tradition, in order better to ‘put the case for the promotion of faith’s wisdom and vision in the public forum’.
If you feel moved to support this work, you can donate by paypal at the bottom of this page here.
Lucy Kellaway gets nostalgic whenever she thinks of the prehistoric flip-chart pad and its unwieldly aluminium legs.
She has managed not to use PowerPoint as a presenter, even though she has been forced to watch more PowerPoint slides than she can count.
And what have I got from the experience? It is hard to say because my default reaction has been to blank it. I can’t remember one single slide that I’ve ever been shown. And as I must have been shown hundreds of thousands of them altogether, a hit rate of zero seems rather on the low side. This doesn’t mean I’ve never sat through a good PowerPoint presentation. But when I have, it has been because the person speaking managed to get a message across despite the distracting visual clamour going on behind them.
The Anti PowerPoint party has attempted to calculate the economic damage of gawping at all these slides and has concluded that Europe wastes €110bn a year from people sitting though dull presentations.
I suspect the true figure is even worse, as this ignores the secondary effects. PowerPoint must be the least enjoyable way of wasting time there is; a heavy slideshow can leave one feeling grumpy and passive and in no frame of mind for proper work.
Worse, it lowers the quality of discussion and leads to bad decisions. PowerPoint performs the miracle of making things simultaneously too simple and too complicated. It reduces subtle ideas to bullet points, while it encourages you to pad out a presentation with irrelevant data because cutting and pasting is far too easy.
The APPP is hoping to fight PowerPoint through peaceful means; it wants lots of journalists to write articles just like this one. Even if lots do, I hold out little hope of success. The seminal, devastating article on the subject, PowerPoint is Evil, was written by Edward Tufte in 2003 and published in Wired. And what has happened since then? Nothing, except that PowerPoint has gone on getting bigger.
Persuading everyone to stop using PowerPoint is going to be much harder than persuading them, say, to reuse plastic bags or get the loft insulated. People cling to it for three powerful reasons. First, because everyone else does. Second, because it is much easier than writing a proper speech, where you have to think carefully about what you are saying ahead of time. Third, and most important, PowerPoint assuages speakers’ nerves – standing in a room with low lights, dumbly following prompts on a screen is not all that frightening.
Kellaway thinks the APPP is too tame, and needs to resort to direct action:
…which would advocate cutting the wire in the middle of the table that connects the laptop to the projector. Or it could help people tamper with slides, inserting at random ones that said: “HERE IS ANOTHER DULL SLIDE” or showed a picture of people fast asleep.
Better still would be to campaign for an outright ban. In a world without the crutch of PowerPoint, presentations would be fewer in number – people would be put off by nerves and by the hard slog of preparation – and shorter. It might even mean that audiences listened. The human voice, especially when connected to a brain that has done some thinking, and a body that has done some rehearsing, can be a wonderful, memorable thing.
What’s your experience as a presenter or as someone on the receiving end? Is this just a needless rant from a bunch of technological luddites? Or a genuine insight into the way we have been duped into using something we don’t want and don’t really need?
Most Catholic churches in this country don’t have a screen and projector mounted in the sanctuary, but I’ve been to a service in the US where an evangelical preacher used PowerPoint slides to illustrate his sermon. I liked it! But don’t worry – I wouldn’t want it during Mass…
Posted in Media, Morality, Psychology, Spirituality, tagged carers, end of time, Eric Cantona, Forrest Gump, gothic cathedrals, greatness, humility, last Judgment, love, media, nuns, pride, Sky Sky sports, St Thérèse on August 3, 2010 | 3 Comments »
You have probably seen the Sky ‘no compromise’ TV advertising campaign in which Eric Cantona, Forrest Gump-like, walks through some of the great moments of sporting history.
I saw one of the associated posters driving down the A40 recently, which has Cantona looking broody beside the following caption:
WHAT’S THE POINT OF GREATNESS IF YOU CANNOT WATCH IT?
It’s meant as a rhetorical question, but surely there are plenty of answers. Even before I had hit the next set of traffic lights my mind darted from the exquisite carvings around the vault of a gothic cathedral, too distant for the unaided human eye to see, to the spiritual heroism of an enclosed nun like St Thérèse of Lisieux, to the hundreds of thousands of relatives caring for their sick and disabled loved ones without acknowledgement or reward.
But perhaps Eric and his Sky-paymasters would counter, like the medieval theologians, that all this hidden greatness is indeed meant to be seen: in the present moment by God, and at the end of time at the Last Judgment by the whole of creation. Quite an audience. And perhaps they’d give an even less theological answer, which is that I can only point to examples of such hidden greatness and humility because they have in fact come to light. I can take my binoculars to Chartres Cathedral, read a book about Thérèse, or see a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the lives of carers in modern Britain. Technology and the media have made it possible for me to discover this hidden greatness for myself and then to speak about it to others. Lots of paradoxes here.
Posted in Culture/Arts, Religion, Science/Technology, tagged apologetics, Cardinal Newman, Catholic Church, Catholic Evidence Guild, Catholic Voices, communications, culture, evangelisation, media, Pope Benedict, secular media, secularism, Worth Abbey on July 17, 2010 | 10 Comments »
It often seems that Christians in general (and the Catholic Church in particular) are locked in a perpetual battle with the secular media. The Church thinks the media is out to get it; and the media assumes that the Church has nothing credible to say to the contemporary culture. That’s the way the story is told.
I was at Worth Abbey last weekend, helping with a retreat for members of Catholic Voices. The whole project is built on the idea that the media can be a force for good in society, and that Catholics need to engage with the media more and not less.
Take a look at the promotional video here:
You can read a recent article here about Catholic Voices from the National Catholic Register.
And here are some words of explanation from their website. I especially like the quote from Cardinal Newman:
To train 20-25 Catholics in the art of speaking about their faith in the quick-fire settings of media interviews and public debates.
Catholic Voices has three main sources of inspiration:
1. A recognition of the need for articulate, reasoned and committed Catholics to be present in the media, especially during the papal visit when the Church will be placed under the spotlight.
2. Cardinal Newman’s call for “a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men [and women] who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it.”
3. Pope Benedict XVI’s 1 February call, in his address to the English and Welsh bishops in Rome, for Catholics in the UK to “insist upon your right to participate in national debate through respectful dialogue with other elements in society” and for “great writers and communicators” to follow the example of Cardinal Newman in courageously communicating their faith.
Yes, in the apologetic tradition – understanding your faith and the teaching of the Church, and learning how to express these clearly, succinctly, and reasonably. But CATHOLIC VOICES is different from the old model in that it is geared to the demands of the modern media.
Partly the training is in media skills. Many people simply aren’t familiar with the idiom and the methods of modern TV and radio. That lack of familiarity can make even the most articulate Catholics defensive or simply ineffective. CATHOLIC VOICES will show how you can be open, transparent and positive in the media, as long as you are also strategic. Part of that is understanding the role of journalism and the pressures that exist on editors and journalists.
A large part of the training will be on the issues that the media – and society at large – is interested in. Church teaching can often seem abstract, aloof or inhuman; it needs grounding in real human experience. Rather than seminars in church teaching, we’re arranging vigorous dialogues with experts where the hard questions are not skirted but confronted straight on. That allows our team to think through their own positions, and for the co-ordinators to assess which speakers will be best to talk on which topics.
We do not see our task as evangelising through the media. We respect the media’s role to probe, question, and hold to account those who have power and influence, as the Church does. In responding to this demand, we are not so much evangelising as clearing the obstacles to evangelisation – presenting, we hope, the true face of the Church to replace the often mythical one portrayed in the media. What’s needed is an attitude of openness and transparency: we respect the media’s role in holding us to account, and we are happy to give an account of ourselves. If that leads to people having a truer view of the Church and the Catholic faith, we’ll have achieved our objectives. We are concerned less with persuading people than with articulating the Church’s positions in a way that is accessible, reasonable and accurate.
I might as well post the second half of the sermon, which has its own distinctive theme: the need for all those working in the media to witness to the truth, however difficult that may be.
But there is a broader truth to the Decem Rationes controversy. It’s not just that Christians should use the media to witness to Christian truth, it’s that the very purpose of the communications media is to witness to truth. Not just Christian truth, any truth, the truth of whatever is at hand. You might dismiss this as a romantic fantasy. I’m like Toby Young in his book ‘How to lose friends and alienate people’. He crossed the Atlantic in search of these heroic New York newspapermen, whose only concern was to speak truth to power. He ended up working on the gossip column at Vanity Fair.
It’s easy to be cynical. But my impression of people in the media is that they are still full of idealism. It’s just that the ideals get suffocated by other influences. There are the long-term pressures that you might call ‘cultural’ or ‘political’: to turn the news media into an arm of the entertainment industry; to manipulate the media for political or commercial ends, etc. But for you as individuals working in the media the challenges are probably more short term and personal: worries about contracts, budgets, deadlines; editorial pressures from above; tensions between colleagues; worrying about the present project or the future career; the pressure to dumb down, to oversimplify, to sensationalise.
The pressure to frame the story in a way that betrays its essential meaning, or to follow a story you know is trivial just because others are following it. All of this makes it difficult on a day-to-day basis to hold on to the ideals that brought you here in the first place. Difficult even to keep to the most basic principle in media ethics: to tell the truth.
It’s the same for the church, especially for her leaders and representatives. We are called to witness to the truth. Not just the truth of Christian faith, but also the truth of the present situation – including our failures and mistakes. Nothing can be gained from hiding the truth. It’s only a love of truth, even of difficult truths, that will save us, and will help others to trust us.
So what can we do? Well, here are two thoughts from the Scriptures. First, let’s keep our integrity. It doesn’t mean we will avoid every compromise, or live up to every one of our ideals. But at the very least let us not go against our conscience in the workplace, and let us make sure that we don’t cross that fundamental ethical line of speaking or writing what is not true. St Stephen was killed simply because he told others what he had seen: ‘I see the Son of Man Standing at the Right Hand of God’. He was killed for telling the truth. We may not seek martyrdom, but we can still seek the truth in the highly pressured circumstances of our work.
Second, let’s preserve our Christian faith. St Stephen only managed to endure this ordeal because he was filled with the Holy Spirit and because his gaze was fixed on Heaven. I don’t mean that you should fall on your knees and gaze into the heavens whenever you have a tense moment in the newsroom. But you need to be rooted in something deeper than the immediate demands being made on you each day. You need to be rooted in your faith. This involves the simplest of decisions: to practice your faith, to pray each day, to speak about your Christian faith with others — if the moment arises: that you are a Christian, that you are a Catholic, that it matters to you. These aren’t obligations or burdens, they are the foundations that make it possible for you to stay steady during all the madness of the working week. They are the same foundations that gave St Edmund Campion the passion he needed to print his illicit text, and the courage to endure his martyrdom.
The Guardian has scanned the front pages of fourteen newspapers today.
You can see the wildly different ways in which the election of a lifetime is being presented: from the Sun’s Obamaesque picture of David Cameron, ‘OUR ONLY HOPE’, to the Mirror’s ‘PRIME MINISTER? REALLY?’ splashed across a grim-looking photo of the same man. You could do a whole degree in media studies analysing the different presentations.