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