Saturday, November 7, 2015

Blogged to Death, Part II

At the risk of making you feel like you're being "blogged to death" let's continue with Part II.

Why Do We Blog?

One simple answer is that we want to be read. And therein lies the problem. Getting read is the prime directive for bloggers, otherwise they have, to put it bluntly, failed. A Catholic blogger with the purest motives must have readers or he doesn't connect with his message.

The simplest way to success (measured in page views to keep it simple) is to write what a segment of Catholics want to read, and -- remember the bear holding the fish, so this is important -- not to write what they don't want to read.  In other words, we mostly narrowcast.

Maybe you want to build your readership from traditionalists. That means you must write what traditionalists want to read. Your audience will not likely be satisfied by a story, for example, praising the "Novus Ordo" mass. Even if you want to observe that you attended a reverently said mass according to the newer liturgy that gave you a sense of simplicity and peace, you risk alienating your readership if you do write it.

After that, perhaps next week you are moved by the Catechism of the Catholic Church to write against the death penalty. Again, you are not giving your readership what they came for, but what they did not, and you begin to fear that your readership will shrink.

On the other side of the spectrum, perhaps a blogger has built a readership on satisfying liberals. They are not going to long tolerate articles on the problems of Vatican II, or why divorced and remarried Catholics should not receive communion under any circumstances.

One may object that, as a blogger, my conscience bids me write what I must, and I do so without a thought to readership. But, still that does not address the "circle of readers" problem the Bear will now describe. Whether you're giving them what they want out of a sense of mission, or with half an eye to readership, the result is the same, as we'll see next.

Are Catholic Bloggers Accomplishing Anything at All?

The Bear's concern is that our blogging is a closed circle. The people walk in holding a set of opinions, the blogger restates those opinions, and the people walk out, probably feeling a little more helpless than before, but confirmed in their opinions. Pope Francis exacerbates the problem by providing a wealth of easy material.

Is Catholic blogdom a healthy place? The Bear would say that blogs that do little but restate the same problems on a regular basis can't help but discourage readers -- even if that's what the readers want. But the Bear sees some Catholics with one foot out of the door, and thinks bloggers would do well to remember their words have an effect on people's souls. The Bear tends to think of his blogging duties as finished once posted. But blogs go out and live a life of their own, affecting people in unpredictable ways.

The Bear is not saying Catholic blogs are not well done, or nicely written, or informative or worth reading. Any bad examples are taken from the Bear's career.

The Bear is simply asking what bloggers feel they're accomplishing by another Francis story, or another scandal story, or another take on the same story being covered by every other blogger in that "market." The Bear isn't saying there is no legitimate purpose in those kind of stories, and he will self-edit those into his rotation as appropriate for this blog. After all, McDonalds sells a triple quarter pounder with cheese, supersized fries and you can even substitute a chocolate milkshake. (And yes, the Bear has had that.)

The Bear heard one internet Catholic celebrity tell us to attack the evil men around the Pope, but not the Pope. Apparently an Emmy-winning professional broadcaster with years of secular experience and a theology degree can't change anything with his attacks, despite having his own personal production studio and a new $25 a month donation program! Seriously, short of traveling to Rome and biting people in the face, what is the Bear going to accomplish by attacking anyone?

On the other hand, the Bear sees someone whose "contacts in Rome" are citing "rumors" that prelates are scared of social media. They don't understand it, and cannot comprehend its power. All this leading up to the declaration that we're making a difference! Well, maybe. The Bear's contacts in the Roma Bio Parco bear pits are getting lazy with the chill in the air. Let's just say the Bear doesn't feel he's directly affecting policy and leave at that, shall we?

Sometimes it's fun to imagine that someone prints out a "Dear Reinhard" and presents it to Cardinal Marx. That's just a Bear's fantasy. Because in the end, most of us are just talking to fellow Catholics. And each of them is going to take something away from their visit. (In this case probably uncomprehending boredom.)

The Circle of Readers

The Bear would like to return to the circle of readers. Most Catholic bloggers, the Bear would reiterate, are not reaching cardinals or the Pope of Rome. They are having zero impact on policy. They are not saving the Church, either from the right or from the left.

This is important to realize is because it makes a difference in how we write. Regular Catholics have come to a blog to get the expected ration of narrowcast kibble. That affects us, as bloggers, because we fear if we give them something unexpected -- hearts, stars and clovers, maybe --- they won't like it. If we feel the urge to challenge them, maybe we won't.

Elizabeth Scalia quickly drew back from a "challenging" article. Maureen Mullarkey was fired from First Things for being too critical of the Pope. The consequences may be more direct and severe for the big names, but not so different for small bloggers. Writers fear nothing more than the absence of an audience.

Postman Meets the Catholic Blogosphere

The Bear thinks Postman would find the internet's provision of new forms of "action" interesting. He would be horrified at the glut of narrowcast, decontextualized information, however.

Bloggers might consciously put the reader first, and then blog like his (or her) readership's opinion of what he writes doesn't matter. The Bear cannot speak for anyone else. He may be the only one enjoys a spike and feels bad over a slump. That is about as naked and shameful an example of pure ego as you will find. There is nothing sadder than a bear riding a bicycle with nobody watching.

Also, the Bear doesn't read many blogs, if any, before he writes. He feels that might influence his unique ursine point of view.

That rotating circle of readers becomes a circle of friends gathered around to be entertained and perhaps edified by the Bear. Psychologists explain gambling addiction in terms of "intermittent variable rewards." What's exciting when you pull the handle, or click the link, is not that you're guaranteed something you'll like, but the uncertainty. If you got a buck every time you put in a quarter, you might work until your arm fell off, but it wouldn't be "gambling;" it wouldn't be fun. The Bear hopes you never know what you'll find in the woodlands.

He knows some will like that, and some haven't.

The Eternal Perspective

A billion years of earthly controversies don't even scratch the surface of eternity. Hell goes all the way down to the lake of fire. As for Pope Francis, he's the poster child for the low information-action ratio. You will beat your head against that rock until your psyche is bloodied and your faith is rattled, and Francesco testa dura won't even notice.

So at last, what do we bloggers feel we are accomplishing? Revealing to the world that we have a problem Pope? Announcing that the Church has a lot of imperfect people in it who are in positions to cause immense damage? We already know that, so there must be something else. The Bear has often felt like he is his own tiny Bill O'Reilly, providing the outrage of the day, then checking his ratings. Blogging isn't a bad hobby, but the Bear will try to remember that it involves a whole lot more people than toy trains.

Perhaps one thing we accomplish is to provide the companionship of the shipwrecked, clinging to our flotsam as the sun sets, but clinging more tightly to our fellow survivors, calling toward each invisible other from keyboard to keyboard as darkness gathers.

Any implied criticism is not directed at anyone in particular, nor has the Bear followed his own advice. The Bear shall close with some excellent counsel from the inspired writer, St. Paul, who wrote about the necessity of edifying speech. "Edifying" means to build up, to build a house.

"Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear." Ephesians 4:29.


  1. Yes, this blog feels like a circle of friends to me, which is highly unusual in my internet travels. I think it may partly be the range of topics, from the Church to criminal defense tactics to bathing chickens.

    Thank you for blogging! I'm not convinced you're changing the world, but I am convinced you're a positive influence on me.

    1. That's one of the nicest comments I've ever gotten! Thank you, Elizabeth.

      I sometimes wonder about my activity in the comments section. After all, I get to have my say in the main part, so shouldn't I leave people alone in the comment box?

      But the whole concept of the Bear, who is a character in himself, who pops up at unexpected times in articles, and the woodland creatures, etc. is to encourage a sense of community, as well as for fun. (Bears are really into fun.) I've noticed my reader-to-comment ratio is usually pretty high. That pleases me. That's why it makes me sad when people get upset and leave. But that's the way it is, in the woodlands.

      And it makes me happy if they come back.

      I appreciate my high-quality commenters. Even our troll is exemplary.

  2. Perhaps one thing we accomplish is to provide the companionship of the shipwrecked, clinging to our flotsam as the sun sets, but clinging more tightly to our fellow survivors, calling toward each invisible other from keyboard to keyboard as darkness gathers.

    I think this is a big part of the motivation for many readers of orthodox/traditional blogs. We are surrounded, both in our everyday lives and on the internet, by normalists and Mottramists who cannot see (or refuse to acknowledge) the crisis that we are in, and who attack those who raise unsettling questions. For such people, the ortho-blogs are an oasis, a place to converse with like-minded brethren and to take comfort in the knowledge that we aren't alone. Without the internet, these good people would be as scattered, disorganized, and demoralized as they were during the Council.

    Of course there are dangers associated with this behavior. What human endeavor is free from them? People might get whipped up into imprudent anger or despair. They might become further alienated from the company of their flesh and blood, IRL Catholic brethren. They might get tunnel vision, as you argue. But we're all adults, and on balance I come down on the side of abusus non tollit usum. I believe the benefits outweigh the risks by a considerable margin.

    My own motivation is a little different. Though I do appreciate the reassurance that I'm not a crazy person, I am driven first and foremost to understand the unfortunately interesting times we live in and the nature of the crisis we face. I seek to understand where many of our hierarchs intend to take us, and why. How did men charged with teaching and preserving the Deposit of Faith go so badly awry? What are they thinking? What bizarre worldview--what distortion of Catholic theology--animates our pope?

    As for the echo chamber, I have spent the great bulk of my adult life to date as a leftist atheist, so I am more than passingly familiar with that world. It doesn't strike me as a great mistake to now seek the company and edification of my new compatriots. Secular liberals and ordinary liberal Catholics (but I repeat myself) hold no great mysteries for me, but I am very interested in how the dominance of their ideology works itself out, both in the world and in the Church.

    1. Thanks for reading a long two-part essay. Everyone who did that gets a pull from the Bear's Big Grab Bag of Fun. (Warning, for some reason it doesn't seem to be much fun for most people.)

      Yes, I think you keyed on the main purpose of these sort of blogs, just as Elizabeth mentioned community. When you think about it, it is not essentially linked to content at all. Since the Bear thinks in circus terms, it is the experience of being under the big top, eating popcorn, and experiencing "that warm glow of confusion, that space cadet glow," as Pink Floyd has it.

      I would argue that bloggers are not penalized for not giving their readers what they want (at least not in the short term), but may be for giving readers what they DON'T want. That's the challenge of a non-trad, conservative, eclectic blog. "Ladies and gentlemen, see far above your heads, the Bear walking the tightrope!"

      Your motivation to understand is welcome. If the Bear has a problem with the Catholic blogosphere, it's the dearth of analysis compared to news. The pace of the news cycle is so fast, there's no time for analysis, unless you decide that's going to be your bag.

      If not, you could always write the Daily Doom. (I still like the jingle, "Fox News Alert, We're All Gonna Die!") I guess that's what I had in mind with "the circle of readers" problem. Perhaps I'm a little more worried about the negative effects of the internet than you are, though. As you enjoy trying to understand the lefties, I enjoy looking at communication and psychology.

      I didn't even know you had a blog, Murray. Feel free to put up a link.

      And praise our Father for bringing you home to His Son! Amen!

  3. I confess not to reading everything. I have my thoughts here:
    What motivates one to blog? I think it's often the desire to express one's concern with what (s)he sees in the world/church and in a way that is safe (aka anonymous).

    Are we doing this for ourselves or for others? Fame and recognition?
    If we are trying to further some change, we are like liberal journalists with an agenda. I don't like that. It appears that Catholic and secular conservative blogging, as extensive as it is, has been a failure. I have remarked before on the HWM of Catholic orthodoxy in 2004. Then Obama, then Francis. What went wrong?

    I have no idea whether I have any impact in the 10 years I've been blogging. The same few readers will have the same agreements or disagreements with me tomorrow as they did yesterday. Although I appreciate the kind souls, kindred spirits.

    So, how can my blog be of value to others if I am going to do it? Are we trying to educate readers? Help them spiritually? I have adopted educational or spiritual themes from time to time in addition to daily news.

    Yes, the horrors of novus ordo liturgy are old news at this point. Boring. I moved beyond it for the most part. It was nice to find out that there were others like me out there. But it was time to grow from that. I found for my own spiritual wellbeing it was important to do positive things with blogging.

    Well, that's what I think about it all for now.

    1. I agree. I happened to read some of the more popular traditionalist blogs this weekend and disappointment is a mild world for what I felt. There's a lot of talking about "fighting" this and "war" that, and "defeating" them. What I believe they don't realize is that they're just talking to the sameq people they talked to last year, and will be talking to next year, and they are not moving the Big Needle at all. This is how I take your insight. I agree, and visualize it as a vast and dismal circle of readers shuffling by each day for the same soup they had yesterday and will have tomorrow.

      I think bloggers are essentially writers. If we weren't Catholic, we'd still be blogging on goats, make-up, or whatever. The Church provides a rich and important subject to mine, and one moreover that never fails to provide a story, these days! But the Bear isn't going to cause any big changes. There is always the chance of doing something small for someone. That's ambitious enough. Anything more is delusional.

      I like your educational posts about DeSmet, as an example. Maybe they don't generate much feedback, but they're not the kind of articles that would.

      One thing Pope Francis has done is smoked out the more extreme elements on the left (who think they've got a shot) and the right ("Fox News Alert, We're all Going to Die!")

      I think the more extreme you are as a blogger, the narrower your broadcast, and the smaller, but more fervent your readership. That provides positive reinforcement and possibly inflates your sense of empowerment (ah, another reason we blog).

      I have a good idea what my numbers are going to be for now, barring major linkage like Pewsitter or First Things. They're usually not very impressive. So in the end, perhaps blogging is a sort of intellectual hobby that may do some good or at least provide entertainment.

  4. This was honest to the point of hurting and healing. I am one easily led, embarrassingly so, like a horse to the rattle of the feed bucket. But even so, I have been able to recognize the good stuff. Entertainment, enlightenment, edifying. Thank you.
    The "small stuff" is important.

  5. Some repetition for your circle of readers is good, in the sense of using your considerable analytical skills to apply good old principles to bad new stories coming out of the Vatican. Repeated defense against repeated attacks reassures frightened woodland creatures that Truth will not be worn down and out. Fighting back is edifying. Silence would not be reassuring.

    Of course you should not try to cover every bad new story, but I think it is wise to step in occasionally: intermittent variable rewards for your readers! (Like pics of baby goats!) Or you can link to some other writer who handles the task well... Have you read Sandro Magister just recently? He put the Synod into the context of the decades-long battle between Kasper and Ratzinger over CDR in a way that I found oddly reassuring. Magister has a good bed-side manner.

    1. I'm not much of a linker. I figure everyone has their own favorite blogs, and this one is more thematic than typical anyway. The Bear feels obligated to get on his bicycle and ride around the ring himself if he's going to advertise a Bear show. Some stories, like the Synod are not very well sourced (e.g. "sources" and "rumors"), and the Pope's maybe brain tumor. There's just not much the Bear can do that that sort of thing.

      Real stories get commented on on a case-by-case basis, as always, if the Bear feels he can put something in context or add something.

      I was just saying we need some new baby goat pictures.

    2. Typical originally typed in as "topical," and changed by spell check.


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