Cathblog - Cyberspace: Our New Meeting Place

iPhones and tablets ready? Shoot! Agora, ancient and modern, St Peter’s Square, after the announcement of Pope Francis.

From The Washington Post

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All my working life has been in media; in newspapers, magazines, print, and now in digital and social media. My current role as Publisher at Church Resources brings these together in a very fulfilling way.

In every one of those manifestations – all previously in the secular media – my work was about the Gospel value of proclaiming the truth. I did not know it at the time, but it was all about those words in Scripture, ‘Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ (Jn 8:32).

If you want to know the truth, you must actively seek the truth: of people, of situations, of events. Then, as a writer, you must, as fairly and accurately as possible, retell it so it is understandable and effective.

I have been involved in reporting on some very big media events in my life. There were some joyous events to cover such as weddings, Royal and otherwise; the birth of children, Royal and otherwise.

There have been small moments of truth, too, which by retelling took the specific experience of one person to millions of readers.

There were great events: like reporting on the lighting of the Olympic flame in Greece, ahead of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000; and glamorous ones, like covering the launch of Dior’s new fragrance, J’Adore, for The Sun Herald, which had me on a four-day boondoggle  to the south of France.

And then there were the terrible events. I remember covering the news of a racist murder in Perth; Louis Johnson was brutally killed by skinheads in 1992 and finally buried at the age of 19 in his country after his adoptive parents took him home to Alice Springs.

Another ghastly story I covered was for The Sydney Morning Herald; the murder of a little child. I remember his mother insisted I look at the tiny form in the white casket in an undertaker’s rooms in Newtown, so I could see just how beautiful her son was in order to tell the world. But I saw the effects of a terrible bashing death, barely disguised by the hand of the post-mortem make-up artist and then had to find a way to express that while keeping his mother’s belief and her child’s dignity intact.

In every one of these stories, I was obliged to tell the truth, to bring the reader or the viewer into the reality of the people who had been touched by circumstance in either a wonderful or dreadful way.

But it is in digital media, and increasingly, through social media, that I find a more direct though at times uncomfortable interaction with readers.

I became aware of the power of social media when CathNews covered the canonisation of Mary MacKillop in 2010. We had bloggers there who sent in firsthand reports via email and we used group file sharing sites such as Flickr for sending and receiving images. In a series of around 15 special editions of CathNews during eight or nine days, the immediacy and the power of social media was on show.

With the recent resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, social media was at the forefront again. I had a heads up just after 10pm on that Monday and by 10:15 I had spoken to our Ambassador to the Holy See to confirm it. By then a Twitter feed had alerted a friend of mine who had gone into the Vatican website and was able to forward the details.

With this swiftly moving story – a real collision between my working life and faith – the new meeting place was forming. TV cameras, radio reporters, print journalists were rolling into St Peter’s Square alright, but most of them were reaching for their mobile devices to tweet short bursts of news on the run while the longer, background truths were discovered, understood, and crafted later.

They were in the new agora Pope Benedict XVI speaks of in his message for the 47th World Communications Day, this Sunday: ‘….where digital social networks which are helping to open a public square in which people share ideas, information and opinions, and in which new relationships and forms of community can come into being,” (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the 47th World Communications Day. Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization. 2013).

During the past last 12 months, I had developed an appreciation the benefits of using Facebook, both personally and professionally and have enjoyed seeing who is responding to my posts.

But I’ve also been dismayed by what can be unleashed on social media too. I have been absolutely lacerated by some CathNews readers for being too conservative, too liberal and a heretic.

However, this just teaches me that we do, in a way, leave ourselves open to many gifts, but also to a level of vulnerability by using the new media.

This is the challenge for me: learning how to deal with the way some people feel entitled to denigrate others on social media, ignorant of the laws of defamation.

I was, however, incredibly heartened by the coverage of the election of Pope Francis, which oddly brought together disparate elements in the service of the media and the Church…

(From WORD MADE FLESH AND ‘SHARED’ AMONG US. The collection is a publication of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Communications Office. Copyright 2013. The eBook can be downloaded for free by clicking on the link to the 47th World Communications Day on www.catholic.org.au)

Christine Hogan is Publisher at Church Resources, with oversight of its faith-based publications, including the flagships CathNews and CathNews Perspectives, and Bulletin Notes. She is the author of six non-fiction titles, including The Veiled Lands: A woman’s journey into the heart of the Islamic world, and Look At Me: 50 Years of Australian television and the women who made it.

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources

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