Friday, February 29, 2008

“If nominated, I will not run, and if elected, I will not... hey, wait a minute!”

By the time you read this, submissions for nominations for the 2008 Catholic Blog Awards will be over, as of 12:00 noon North American central time today. A number of blogs solicited for support from their readers this year, including those who need the advertising like a hole in the head. This year, I decided not to.

In past years, I cited what I believed to be a faulty premise about the whole idea, which was basically that if you weren't already a famous Catholic writer or speaker, or a priest, you didn't stand much of a chance of nomination anyway. (This was due to a phenomenon to which I have referred as "the formula." If you're in the business of radio, you don't have to ask what that means.) I realize that may be a little harsh, and that the people of CyberCatholics who operate this program every year have nothing but the best of intentions. In fact, they deserve a lot of credit for earning the respect that comes with such awards as this. But this is less about them, than it is about the medium itself. And if that medium is going to be an opportunity for new voices to be heard, we need to stop using the criteria which can only benefit of the same old ones. In other words, we need to level the playing field.

To that end, I'm happy to report that the year of Our Lord 2007 made a liar out of me, as it was a landmark year in the Catholic blogosphere. Several of the most prominent bloggers took a significant change of direction. Amy Welborn, usually touted in Catholic press articles as "the queen of Catholic blogdom" (someone else's quotation, not mine), re-named her blog, and got out of the business of being the perennial source of "church chat" for the rest of us. The result was fewer and even more thought-provoking commentaries, less activity in her comboxes (with a few notable exceptions), and the ability to further concentrate on a successful writing career. The combox of Dom Bettinelli has seen less activity this past year as well, as he distanced himself from reporting on ecclesiastical intrigue, given his new position with the Archdiocese of Boston. Father James Tucker was transferred to the largest parish of his diocese. Besides being a more demanding assignment, he realized that the rest of the Catholic blogosphere was doing what he himself had set out to provide, thus it was time for him to move on. Finally, Toronto writer Kathy Shaidle, who was blogging before blogging as we know it even existed, renamed her own, and took it in a whole new direction. More social-political commentary, less "church chat." Different focus, same bite.

All of these bloggers to this day command the respect of their peers. But after five years of what is affectionately known as "Saint Blog's Parish," and with time marching on, there emerges in their place a new status quo, one less dependent on the conventional publishing media for affirmation. This is a clear sign that the weblog is emerging as an effective means of Catholic witness in its own right.

With the release of the Holy Father's motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, the classical form of the Roman Liturgy (popularly known as the "Tridentine Mass" or the "Traditional Latin Mass") is now part of the regular, if juridically extraordinary, worship of the Roman church. Three examples of blogs that specialize in this somewhat arcane subject, have been the source of very timely information, not to mention very lively combox exchanges. One is a group effort headed by my Close Personal Friend Shown Tribe known as The New Liturgical Movement. Another example consists of writers operating under pseudonyms (which seems to bring out the intemperate side of most people, this crowd and their regular commenters being no exception), entitled Rorate Caeli. Last but not least, there is the indefatigable Father John Zuhlsdorf's own What Does The Prayer Really Say? (WDTPRS). And so, we're seeing the continued rise of the "niche blog."

Last year, I gave a very pointed assessment of the Catholic blogosphere:

[T]ry to find an article on "Catholic blogs" that does not mention the same one or two individuals (and you know who you are, dahhh-lings!). My point -- and it is my ONLY point -- is that one cannot claim the internet has come on its own as a tool for getting the Catholic message across. Not when it is predominated by those who are already well established in other related media. And once you concede that, you also have to concede that an award for excellence in that medium may not be saying much.

Ain't I a stinker?

What's more, and with tongue planted firmly in cheek, I used that occasion to give reasons why my readers should NOT vote for me. Despite my pleading, I was nominated (just barely, in some cases, with only my own vote plus one other equally enlightened soul), in eight categories. Since even one vote put you in the hopper, it was nice but... well, you know. Apparently the good people who manage the annual awards do too, as I believe they may be raising the bar this year.

Now, while I've been known to tout my own blog, I generally don't use this occasion to promote anyone else's. This year will be an exception, because a new player has emerged in the Catholic blogosphere, one that breaks the previous conventions, raises this medium to a new level, and manages to be a class act in the process. Creative Minority Report is the creation (was that a pun?) of Matthew and Patrick Archbold, two brothers from Philadelphia with journalistic backgrounds. Now, anybody can link clever one-liners to a story in the Catholic press, and there are some very popular blogs that do, with the usual gaggle of combox junkies. What sets the guys at CMR apart is, they do it WELL. But for that little stint in Cincinnati, where they were guests on the talk show of a Catholic radio station, the Archies don't have a constant book-and-lecture-tour going. In fact, until they cooked up this idea, they were pretty much unknown in the Catholic universe, and they're likely to stay that way, inasmuch as self-aggrandizement is the last thing on their minds. And as if this endeavor were not enough, Patrick appears to have more time on his hands, thus inspiring another blog entitled Summorum Pontificum, devoted strictly to news related to the papal decree for which it is named.

Come to think of it, I can't imagine how these guys make a living while doing such a consistently good job with this Creative Minority thing. Every weekday, every weekend, brings us something new, something fresh, something... well, damned original. They deserve more attention from the rest of you clowns than they already get, quite frankly. Maybe some of the combox junkies can either get a life or get on board the Creative Minority train. They might learn something.

Who knows, if we all keep reading, maybe we'll ALL learn something.


Jeff Miller said...

Creative Minority Report is excellent.

Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

First, I certainly agree about Creative Minority Report. Excellent blog!

Second, I'm going to relate here a funny story I was told: It seems that Ken Arnold, a GOP congressional primary candidate in the Illinois 8th District was on a conservative talk show on a small radio station in Waukegan.

Ken was endorsed by the Sun-Times, and by two of his opponents from the same race two years earlier, but the host demanded to know who else had endorsed him.

At something of a loss, he said, "well, Regular Guy Paul endorsed me."

Ken finished third out of three on election day. But my blog has come into its own.

Patrick Archbold said...

Forgive me David, I never realized just how wise you really are.

David L Alexander said...

Yeah, that's me, Pat. Best kept secret in the Catholic blogosphere.