The influence of blogs

A combination of several things I read today made me think about how influential blogs are, especially Catholic blogs.

Father Z writes this blog post about priest bloggers and the issue of influence is discussed further in the comments. A certain Dutch blogger seems to think she is important enough to have caused the temporary closure of the website of the diocese of Rotterdam. Schoppenkoning concluded a month ago that we bloggers are really not as important and influential as we would like to think. In his Message for World Communications Day Pope Benedict XVI encourages priests to make use of modern media, including blogs.

These are just four points to consider. The Internet is big, very big. So is the Catholic Church. Certain Catholic blogs are also quite well-read, but is that enough? Are size and influence, so to speak, balanced?

A look at the situation in the Netherlands: When there are few Catholic bloggers, it takes little effort for them to be heard over their fellow Catholics, and therefore seem influential. But when we look at the raw numbers, as Schoppenkoning did, this is all very relative. My blog had some 3,500 views this month, from an international audience. 3,500 is not even 2% of the population of Groningen. That is not influential, and I don’t pretend it is, although to me the numbers very gratifying. I hazard to guess that the numbers are higher for other Dutch Catholic blogs, but not in the order of ten to twenty times as high. There are more than 4 million Catholics in the Netherlands. I would assume that Catholic blogs reach significantly less than 10% of them.

Blogging and other social media are important, and should be encouraged. It is a very easy way to reach people and relay information to them. No, more than just relaying information, communicating on a deeper level than is possible via radio or TV. Looking at the audience reached by Father Roderick, and their feedback, would support that.

It is easy to look at your blog and conclude it does well, and that you have done all you could. But there is still an entire world out there, even – no, especially – within the borders of the Netherlands. And there is a lot to gain if we want to make our voices be heard again – a necessity in our mute and inward-looking parishes and communities.

A blog, a podcast, any other means to reach out to people, is a great start. It is not necessarily an achievement if we want to reach out. Blogs by themselves very rarely work that way, unless you are one of a handful of very popular bloggers and podcasters, like Father Z or Fr Roderick, for example. But these men have the great advantage of having a large national or international audience (in both cases very much an American audience). Reaching the relatively small Dutch Catholic population is a different game altogether.

I don’t have the answers, though. But I think it is something to be aware off. A few thousand page views is great, but they are not a measure of influence. I even wonder if solitary Internet activities alone can ever be influential enough…

Still, Catholics: get active, reach out to others, be visible. It’s a good start, if not the be-all and end-all.

This quote by Saint Francis is also valid here: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

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