My mom didn’t just take me to Cub Scouts, she was the den leader. She didn’t just take me to religious education, she taught third grade. My dad would say, “Why can’t you belong to something without getting involved!?!” This comes from the man who would help anyone, any time, with just about anything. Pot. Kettle. Black. You get the idea.
Belonging without getting involved – this idea reminds me of some long-stated concerns posed by Catholic journalists. Journalists are taught that they shouldn’t get involved with their stories. They are supposed to remain unbiased. How to balance journalistic objectivity with serving a bishop has been the subject of many CPA sessions and countless conversations over cocktails. Sadly, this tension can lead to bishops feeling under-served and to editorial staffs being relegated to the sidelines.
But we can’t sit on the sidelines.
The Church needs to excel at media – we need to be effective in this arena and use it to our advantage. And here’s why: A recent Pew Report shows a record level of religious non-identity among American adults. And among Catholics, CARA reports that less than a quarter attend Mass each week. It is no wonder the Church faces attacks on religious liberty, marriage and life. How many people will listen to the Church on important issues of the day if they don’t first know and love the Lord? Will even our own Catholics listen to the Church if they don’t first identify with being Catholic or feel connected to their faith?
Most Catholic journalists do not sit on the sidelines. They are faithful Catholics and would point out how closely they work with their bishops. They use journalistic standards in order to present the truth not found in secular media. And they will tell you that they evangelize. So, if all of this is true, is our work just journalism, or is it something greater? And perhaps more important, is the news format doing our content justice or is there a better way to reach God’s people?
It is encouraging to see this realization leading to a massive change in self-identity, process, content and product. If I am more than a journalist and I produce more than news, then what am I? You are a content evangelist! By identifying ourselves as content evangelists, we tie ourselves directly to the primary task of our bishop/publishers – to evangelize! And we open ourselves up to the range of possibilities of how content can be presented to benefit the Church.
Case in point is the subject of this month’s feature – Frank Morock. Before his legendary career as a Catholic communicator, Frank came from a news background. In the Diocese of Raleigh, he led the change from a diocesan newspaper to a magazine format. Ten years later, the NC Catholics magazine is still sent free to every Catholic home. Frank was an early adopter of this shift from focusing on news to focusing on evangelization. The magazine format lends itself to the new priority of inspirational personal faith stories and columns that connect people to the Church, and it provides ample space to report on diocesan news and important issues in the wider Church.
Free distribution means all content can also be placed online, making it easy for people to share it and use it to evangelize. Ironically, FAITH Catholic research shows this media model actually increases readership of the news and drives traffic to diocesan websites. When media resources pivot toward evangelization first, it changes everything. With all that is facing the Church, our publications need to become fully integrated with the work of our bishops. We need to inspire people with the message of Christ as well as inform them. We can’t sit on the sidelines and just report on issues facing the Church. As content evangelists, we belong to the Church! We need to be involved, and we can make a difference.