Going Social

September 2015

This past April we were pleased to announce the launch of the “mobile version” of the NOR, an exact digital replica of the print magazine, customized for superior readability on handheld mobile devices — smartphones, e-readers, and tablets of all kinds, including Kindles, iPads, and Nooks. This announcement marked the completion of the construction of what we’ve called the third of the “three pillars” that support our apostolate: print, web, and mobile. (Mobile subscriptions, which cost $20 per year, are available exclusively at our website, www.newoxfordreview.org.)

Our experiments in digital media haven’t, however, ended with the launch of our mobile version. We know that in today’s media environment, diversification is key; a website and a mobile version aren’t enough to sustain a publication. According to conventional wisdom, publications — even those, like the NOR, that consider their print editions to be their primary focus — need to develop a social-media presence.

And so we’ve (finally) made a sincere effort to raise our social-media profile. We are pleased to announce the launch of the NOR Twitter feed (@newoxfordreview) and the NOR Facebook page (www.facebook.com/newoxfordreview).

We’ve been on Twitter for a few years already and have used it primarily to tweet updates at our website — items that have been posted in the NOR News Link, and the featured articles of the day, whether from the current issue, the most recent past issue, or the archives. We invite Twitter users to “follow” us and to share our tweets with their own followers.

We are, however, new to Facebook. Like Twitter, we’ll use this platform to post links to the featured articles at our website and to share stories from the NOR News Link. Facebook offers greater flexibility and usability, so in addition to promoting the various features at our website, we’ll be able to highlight additional news stories and valuable outside commentary that don’t appear at our website. We invite Facebook users to “like” the official NOR Facebook page and to share our page and links with their “friends.”

Yes, we must distinguish the official NOR page from the two unofficial ones that pre-existed on Facebook. The first was “automatically generated” based on the entry for the NOR at Wikipedia.com and is “not affiliated with or endorsed by anyone associated with” the NOR, according to Facebook’s disclaimer. (A Wikipedia entry for the NOR does indeed exist, though it too is not of our doing and, even though Wikipedia content is user-generated and user-edited, we haven’t verified its accuracy — a residual aspect, we suppose, of our general ambivalence about social media, which we’re learning to undo.)

The second unofficial NOR Facebook page is a discussion group for NOR aficionados, lovingly created by one of our readers and categorized as a “closed” group, meaning that you must request membership with the group in order to join the discussions. That page is still in operation as of now — we’ve no mind to demand the cessation of an independent initiative that promotes the work we do. Facebook users may still request membership in this group. No membership is required at the official NOR page, however, and anyone can comment on our posts and activities, and even submit a review of our apostolate.

With Facebook and Twitter (not to mention the NOR website), you can stay connected to the NOR long after you’ve read the current issue, while becoming better informed about the current controversies that are shaping the world and with which the Church must contend.

One of the reasons it’s taken us so long to take this plunge is because we’ve long maintained that, in many cases, social media is a vehicle that accelerates the dumbing-down of modern discourse. A few years ago, your editor went to a Catholic media conference, attended by representatives from the major Catholic periodical publishers. The overriding concern among conference-goers was how to reach “the youth.” Worries were shared and strategies discussed. The consensus was that we all must get online and into every possible nook and cranny of the Internet because that’s where the youth are — we’ve got to become interactive, we’ve got to blog, post videos, do anything to get their attention. The youth are the new pagans and the Internet the new mission field.

Your editor was skeptical — not only about the soundness of the strategy but about its basic premise. Yes, news and commentary make the rounds, “likes” pile up, and people of similar persuasions can find each other in what’s been termed, oxymoronically, an online community. But studies have shown that a good amount of the lengthier, more in-depth commentary — like what many Catholic publishers produce — that’s shared on social media isn’t read to completion, isn’t fully digested, is simply here at this moment and gone a minute later, lost in the ever-expanding ether.

A common response among writers and publishers to not getting a full hearing is to begin blogging. But blogging is plagued by its own inherent problems: It requires the truncating of thoughts and arguments into easily digestible bite-size bits of information. To generalize: Most blog posts, even in the Catholic blogosphere, involve quick takes on the news of the day, or reactions to how so-and-so initially reacted to the news of the day. Nuance, eloquence, and the full exploration of a theme are often lost. A blogger’s scope is necessarily limited.

Frequent blogging especially forces writers to shrink their thinking as they mass-produce immediate and unreflective riffs on a given theme — there’s simply no time to reflect, due to the constant need to create “content.” Over time, their reactions can become predictably knee-jerk, and even good writers end up wasting their talents by bad-mouthing people whose interpretations differ from theirs.

Many bloggers, especially niche bloggers (which is what Catholic bloggers are), eventually dispense with argumentation altogether, instead “proving” their points by providing links to the posts of similarly themed blogs, which link to other similar blogs, ad infinitum, ultimately creating an insular, self-referencing circle of like-mindedness. After a while, round-robin groupthink based on what a particular clique believes to be self-evident truths reigns supreme, and nonconformists (basically everybody else) become scapegoats, soft targets of the in-group’s scorn.

Intellectual anemia ensues, and we’re left lamenting the lows to which mass communication has sunk. The most recent is a thing called, colloquially, outrage porn — you know, the delicious disapprobation of whoever has offended our sensibilities in the latest “shocking” news story served up for our consumption: Louisiana dentist shoots beloved lion in Zimbabwe! Donald Trump calls Mexican immigrants “criminals” and “rapists”! Pope accepts gift of communist crucifix! This latest iteration of Internet interaction, writes Presbyterian pastor Scott Sauls (Relevant magazine, June 10), “resembles actual pornography in that it aims for a cheap, temporary thrill at the expense of another human being…. It often escalates into the public shaming of groups and persons. Labeling, caricature and exclusion occur as offended parties rally together against a common enemy. There are many forms of online shaming: The angry blog, the critical tweet, the vicious comment on Facebook…. Sometimes the shaming escalates into a mob, a faux-community that latches on to the negative verdict and piles on. Under the pretense of righteous indignation, the mob licks its chops as it goes about demonizing, diminishing and destroying its target.”

Anyone who’s witnessed, or gotten swept up by, this deplorable yet widespread online phenomenon knows how consuming, and ultimately corrosive, it can be — not to mention that, at best, it’s a near occasion of sin.

This type of discourse in this type of media environment isn’t conducive to the cultivation of a well-read, well-formed body of citizens, whether of an earthly or an eternal city. Yet, in the grand effort to reach “the youth,” we’re subjected to the spectacle of Catholic “old media” types — even those who once prided themselves on their insistence that they would never blog — blogging and shooting videos of themselves discussing what they’ve been blogging about, reveling in righteous indignation while they demonize and destroy their targets.

And what are youth supposed to make of all this? Whether or not they’re into it, it’s not clear to us how this type of “journalism” (or, as some Catholics fancy it, “evangelization”) serves the youth. Who could it possibly serve to truncate the Gospel message and the fullness of the Catholic faith, and deliver the dumbed-down versions in user-friendly formats that are basically indistinguishable from the mass products of popular culture? Hasn’t this error been refuted by the failures of Catholic catechesis and liturgical experimentation since Vatican II?

It’s no secret that print publications primarily serve an older demographic. But the youth of today won’t always be young. Even now, yesterday’s youth are filtering into that older demographic. Won’t they too want to partake of the goods of adulthood and maturity? Well no, not if we don’t present these to them as something valuable and attractive — admittedly no easy task in today’s youth-obsessed culture.

Does it serve the youth to treat them as emotionally immature and incapable of improving on their short attention spans? Surely these aren’t qualities Catholic media should reinforce. The better approach would be to treat the youth as the adults we hope they’ll become. We want them to grow up and out of the bad habits of youth, don’t we? Then we should try to give them the tools to grapple with life’s “big questions.” That’s what Catholic publishing accomplishes, when it’s at its best.

And that’s why, despite our forays into the digital realm, we’re so intent on preserving our print publication. Eventually, each one of us will need to power down, to slow down, to read and reflect on the important matters — matters that are not necessarily tied up in the day’s events or celebrities’ foibles but involve the spirit and man’s final end. That’s where we want to “meet” the youth. That’s what we try to provide in each issue of the NOR. That’s why our mobile version is an exact replica of the print edition. That’s why our website features the articles we’ve published in our print edition. And that’s why our Facebook page links to those same articles.

This is not to say that staying informed about the world’s travails is unimportant. Not in the least. There are myriad controversies and challenges out there, and as Christians we must be prepared to face them. But our preparation depends on our ability to place these things into a larger context — the context of the truths of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, and our place in salvation history. This is why the work of the NOR has never been merely to discuss and analyze the news. We do that, yes, but we also present new looks into historical events and figures, into literature, philosophy, theology, and old (even ancient) controversies, out of which the Church’s vast store of knowledge has developed.

But we can’t do this by ourselves. The NOR needs not only writers and editors but readers and — yes — donors. As mentioned in our April editorial (“Going Mobile”), we need to raise $213,000 to get our financial house in order (we operated at a deficit of $50,000 in 2014; our income was down by $82,000, our assets were down by $15,000, and our expenses were up by $14,000) and to launch initiatives to replenish our print readership (which has declined by twelve percent since 2012).

So far, thanks to those who’ve responded to our initial plea, we have brought in $94,958. We’re off to a good start, and we are grateful for those who have carried us this far, but we’re still a long way from reaching our fundraising goal. We still need to raise $118,042.

We know we can’t simply sit back and wait for more angels to come to our rescue. So we’re putting some of the funds we’ve already raised into a new print-advertising campaign and a new direct-mail subscription appeal. As we wrote in April, the mobile version of the NOR won’t last long if there’s no print edition to digitize — and neither will our social-media initiatives. The print publication drives everything we do.

As we’ve been known to repeat, the NOR receives no institutional support, we have no endowment, and we don’t receive any funding from the Catholic Church. As such, we’ll never be able to do all the things that an organization like, say, First Things does — pay staff bloggers, host online symposia, charter cruise ships to exotic locales with famous guest speakers, get invited into the halls of power and even whisper into the ears of the high and mighty.

But those aren’t things we’re inclined to do, even if we could. Our focus is simple: To publish a magazine that is unique, essential, and remains faithful to its mission of exploring ideas related to faith and culture from a viewpoint informed by the timeless teachings of the Catholic Church — in a word, a magazine that is orthodox in the fullest possible sense of the word, and that doesn’t fall prey to passing ideological fads or the manufactured outrages of the day.

The only way we can do so is to rely on the generosity of our readers. If the work we’ve described is something you want to see continue, please help us reach our fundraising goal by sending your donation to:
New Oxford Review
1069 Kains Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94706
Checks and money orders may be made payable to: New Oxford Review. We also accept VISA, MasterCard, and Discover credit-card donations at our website (click here) as well as by U.S. mail (at the above address) and by telephone (510-526-5374, ext. 0). The NOR is a nonprofit religious organization and has 501(c)(3) status with the Internal Revenue Service. Donations are, therefore, tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Please remember the NOR in your prayers.

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