Webinar Video: How to Write a News Release for Your Ministry

Today my office sponsored a free webinar on writing news releases on behalf of your school, parish, or ministry. The webinar was led by Kathie Sass, director of communications for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, and it includes very helpful tips and advice for crafting releases that will appeal to the secular news media.

Kathie was also kind enough to provide the slides she used during her presentation:

Notes and Resources – Evangelizing and Catechizing Digital Natives

photo by Steve Woods/stock.xchng

Today I led a workshop for the Catechetical Leadership Association for the Diocese of Des Moines (CLADD). These parish catechetical leaders and I explored how to engage the “net generation” in their faith through the tools of the new media. Below are my slides and notes for the event as well as additional resources and recommendations for further reading.

Thanks again to John Gaffney of the Diocese of Des Moines for the invitation and to the great catechetical leaders I met today — thank you for your participation and for making me feel welcome among you!



My notes from today’s presentation are available as a PDF file.

Web Resources




photo by Steve Woods/stock.xchng

Catechetical DVDs are Dead (But Do They Know It Yet?)

In an effort to expand my son’s cultural horizons I recently exposed him to a great one-two punch of classic science fiction:  the original Star Trek episode “Space Seed” and it’s silver screen sequel Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan:

It wasn’t until a day or two after watching the movie that I realized I had hit a significant milestone in media use. Being a fan of classic Star Trek I own all the good movies (II, III, IV, VI, and First Contact) on DVD. And yet, when it came time to watch with my son, it didn’t even occur to me to fish out the disc and pop it into the DVD player. Instead we sat in front of the computer and loaded it on Netflix. I mentioned this on Twitter and found that I was hardly alone in this shift.

This caused me to reflect on the state of catechetical media. I’ve seen a number of big DVD releases from Catholic publishers lately (Fr. Barron’s Catholicism being the most ready example) and I’ve even ordered some for my office’s library. But if DVDs are a dying format we have to ask: what comes next?

The biggest shift in media use has been from physical media to streaming services. Just as I used Netflix to watch Wrath of Khan with my son, more and more people are forgoing physical media in favor of services that give instant access to a large library of titles. This isn’t just true of video; services such as Pandora and Spotify are replacing CD libraries for a lot of young adults. How fast is this shift happening? Let’s put it this way: I can’t remember the last CD player I owned and I don’t expect to buy another DVD player. Ever.

Will catechetical publishers be able to make this shift from discs to streaming? I’m not sure.  I don’t know the details of how media companies get their titles onto Netflix or Hulu or what sort of reimbursement they receive. Suffice to say that, given the size of their market, it will probably be difficult for Catholic catechetical publishers to get their titles onto most of the mainstream services. They may need to look for some smaller streaming providers or develop in-house solutions. This won’t necessarily solve the problem, though, since many people (and parishes) will be reluctant to pay for additional streaming services on top of whatever mainstream provider they are already shelling out their $10 per month to.

I know a few folks in Catholic publishing read my blog and I’d love to hear from them in the comments. Have your companies explored putting video content on a mainstream streaming service? If so, what would be involved? If no, why not?

For catechists and other folks: Would you (or your parish) be willing to pay for a separate streaming service for Catholic content? What about individual services from various Catholic publishers? What features would you look for in a Catholic streaming service?

Episode 011 – The Gift of Media

011This month we’re featuring an interview with Dr. Eugene Gan, associate professor of communication arts at Franciscan University of Steubenville and author of Infinte Bandwidth: Encountering Christ in the Media. We discussed the Church’s teaching on media, where to find good media, and how parents and catechists have a hand in forming children’s understanding and use of media.

Here are the links mentioned in the podcast:

As always, tell us what you think about the interview — and how you’ve used media effectively in your catechetical programs — by leaving a comment.

Click to Play – 011 – The Gift of Media

Book Review: Infinite Bandwidth

One of the (good) problems about the Church is that she has a lot to say about a lot of things. This is good because the Church is concerned with many things and brings to bear the Gospel message on all facets of human life. It is a problem because wading through all the writings on a single topic — and walking away with a systematic understanding of that topic — can be time consuming and overwhelming, even for those of us used to reading ecclesial language.

Infinite Bandwidth: Encountering Christ in the Media does the work for you by  condensing  and systematizing the Church’s teaching on social communications. In doing so Dr. Eugene Gan provides an invaluable resource for those of us engaged in and interested in new technologies and their impact on the work of the Church.

Dr. Gan has pulled from nearly 100 years worth of Church teaching on media seven general principles for how Catholic are called to enjoy, produce, and interpret media messages. Each chapter follow a general pattern:

  1. a basic overview of the principle in question;
  2. concrete examples for how the principal is used or ignored;
  3. reflections on why the principal matters;
  4. and a section on applying the principle in real life.

For instance, in in the chapter explaining the Church’s teaching that media should be truthful, Dr. Gan starts with an objective truth; reflects on the truth contained in Schindler’s List, contrasting it with the false impression and fabrications often  encountered  in the online world; notes how the media uses stories to influence our understanding of truth; and ends with some practical ideas and  reflection  questions.

Thankfully, Dr. Gan avoids a strident parochialism in his book. Along the way he praises both explicitly Christian (EWTN, The Passion of the Christ, SQPN, etc.)  and overtly secular media productions (The Dark Knight, Life is Beautiful, etc.). He also doesn’t pull any punches criticizing religious productions that take shortcuts with production values and fail to make themselves attractive to their target audience.

Infinite Bandwidth should be required reading for anyone interested in the intersection of faith and media. Just as the Theology of the Body makes Bl. Pope John Paul II’s teachings on human sexuality accessible to the average reader, Dr. Gan’s book makes the Church’s teachings on social communications less intimidating and more lucid.  In fact I could see catechists and educators using this book with high school students or adults as part of a media literacy curriculum.

Book Review: The Church and New Media

I’ll get to the bottom line first: Brandon Vogt has edited one of the most important books on Catholics in the online world — not so much because of its  ruminations  on the Church’s understanding of social  communications  (I’ll review that book on Wednesday); not because it shows how to set up a blog or Facebook page (it would quickly be out of date if it tried to to that); but because  The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet will inspire a whole new wave of Catholic innovation, experimentation, and expansion in the digital continent.

Vogt is convinced that the Church will need to embrace new media just as she came to embrace print, radio, and television. He opens the book by posing these questions:

The world is waiting and listening in the virtual sphere. Will the Church remain silent, or will her voice be proclaimed fromthe rooftops (and the laptops)? Will she plunge the message of Christ into Facebook feeds, blog posts, podcasts, and text messages, or will she be digitally impotent?

Vogt’s leaves the answers to his contributors, a veritable Who’s Who of the Catholic online world including Fr. Robert Barron, Mark Shea, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Lisa Hendey, and Thomas Peters, among others. Each contributor offers a  reflection  on some aspect of the online apostolate, from  dialoguing  on blogs to reaching specific audiences; creating communities to using new media in the parish.

Fr. Longenecker’s chapter on the new apologetics is especially good. Fr. Longenecker outlines his general approach to blogging on online discourse, which could be described as generous, demonstrative, and welcoming. I was really taken with this passage:

…I am not convinced that many souls are won by argument. It is famously said about apologetics that you can win an argument and lose a soul. The apologetics on my blog are woven into a much bigger picture of Catholicism. I want the reader to glimpse the power and the glory of the Catholic Church, but I also want them to glimpse the humanity and humor of being Catholic. In other words, I want them to glimpse the art of being Catholic ” not just the argument for being Catholic.

If I could, I would copy this passage and have every Catholic blogger keep it taped to their computer screen.

In fact, this is a recurring theme in the book: it’s not enough to set up a blog and start explaining why the Church is correct and everyone else is going to hell. Blogs, Facebook, Google+, Twitter — they’re all about community and relationship, and nurturing those two things is a vital component to apologetics, evangelization, and catechesis.

I’m grateful that Vogt has chosen to highlight the work of other Catholics in sidebars scattered throughout the book — and not just because I’m one of them! These sidebars serve to expand on and illustrate the concepts and stories presented in the chapters and offer another avenue for Catholics to discover the richness and possibilities for living the faith on the digital continent.

Vogt has also set up a great website at  www.churchandnewmedia.com. In addition to the usual promotional materials and blog, the site also includes a great list of resources — including how-tos and videos — for anyone who may be interested in dipping their toes into the online media world.

The Church and New Media is an important contribution to the ongoing conversation about how the Church utilizes these new technologies to continue its work in the world. I look forward to seeing what the “next generation” of online Catholic leaders, inspired by the book’s contributors, brings to the table.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things…

Today is Catholic Media Promotion Day, a day when when Catholics list “their favorite 3 blogs, 3 podcasts, 3 other media, 3 random Catholic things online, and their own projects.” Here, in no particular order, are my favorite Catholic:

Blogs (Catechetical)

This is a hard category because there are so many great ones! Among the ones I rarely miss:

Blogs (Non-Catechetical)


This is another hard one for me, because I don’t listen to a lot of Catholic podcasts. This no doubt reflects a defect in my moral character. Lately I’ve been sampling


An exceedingly difficult category. I’ll limit myself here to popular books, rather than theological books or spiritual classics. (It should also go without saying that I’m not including the Bible here.)

Random Catholic Things Online

Book Review: Branding Faith

“Marketing” is a bad word in church circles. It implies manipulation, impure intentions and other chicanery. This is not without reason; corporate marketing has become a science, with companies spending millions of dollars to understand the psychological and sociological impact of advertising. Many Christians, understandably, believe it would be unseemly — if not sinful — to employ modern marketing techniques on behalf of the Church.

Phil Cooke‘s 2008 book, Branding Faith: Why Some Churches and Nonprofits Impact Culture and Others Don’t, seeks to change some of these perceptions. Cooke specializes in the intersection of faith and media and acts as a consultant helping religious organizations to better tell their story.

Branding, according to Cooke, is all about the story that surrounds a business or organization. It’s what immediately comes to people’s minds when they think of the organization. With this in mind, he challenges Christian organizations to think carefully about what makes them unique in the world so as to better share their story and help people understand who they are and what they stand for.

Cooke does an admirable job of pointing out the potential dangers in “over-thinking” marketing efforts. He devotes an entire chapter to how churches and non-profits risk losing their identity to marketing “gimmicks” and trying to chase relevancy “ and how potential parishioners are turned off by such efforts. I was especially relieved to see Cooke emphasizing the personal relationship between the organization and the individual:

In a world in which few people have   close friends, expand your community and get to know people. Enlarge your network of really close friends. Perhaps it’s becuase I was raised before the digital age that I still value face-to-face communication far more than phone conversations or email.

That having been said, the book should read with some discernment. Cooke, understandably, speaks almost exclusively from a Protestant point of view. Emphasis is placed on the importance of preaching (an emphasis which is complementary to, but different from, the sacramental view of liturgy in the Catholic Church) and, as a result, puts a heavy emphasis on the importance of the leader’s communication skills.

Nevertheless I think there are some good insights for any Christian organization trying to understand how to share its passion and invite others to work with them. It will certainly challenge those who think that marketing has no place in the life of the Church to reconsider their position.