Friday, April 08, 2011

"Benvenuto, Blogosfero": At the Vatican, a New Media Meet-Up

In a fitting tribute to a pontiff whose last major text prophetically spoke of the "rapid development" of the means of communication, the Holy See has announced plans for a first-of-its-kind encounter with the world of new media, to be held a day after the 1 May beatification of Pope John Paul II.

Arranged by the Pontifical Councils for Culture and Social Communications, the "Meeting with Bloggers" will take place at the Via della Conciliazione building where both dicasteries have their offices.

Intended to foster an exchange between bloggers and the global church's media chiefs, the gathering is being kept to a quota of 150 attendees who register with the Social Communications office, with panels of new-media folk and officials comprising the two halves of the session.

Here, the PCCS release announcing the event:
A meeting for bloggers will take place in Rome on the afternoon of Monday 2 May 2011.

The aim of the meeting, which is being organised by the Pontifical Councils for Culture and Social Communications, is to allow for a dialogue between bloggers and Church representatives, to listen to the experiences of those who are actively involved in this arena, and to achieve a greater understanding of the needs of that community. The meeting will also allow for a presentation of some of the initiatives to engage with new media practitioners being taken by the Church, both in Rome and at the local level.

In two panels, speakers will open up some of the key issues in order to set up a more general discussion open to all participants. The first panel will involve 5 bloggers – they will be chosen to represent different language groups and each will address a specific theme of general relevance. The second panel will draw on people involved in the Church’s communications outreach – they will speak of their experiences in working with new media and initiatives aimed at ensuring an effective engagement by the Church with bloggers.

Among those participating at the meeting will be Cardinal Ravasi of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Archbishop Celli of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and Father Lombardi of the Vatican’s Press Office and Vatican Radio. An important dimension of the meeting is to allow an opportunity for informal exchange and contact between those attending with a view to opening further avenues of interaction.

The meeting is taking place on the day after the Beatification of Pope John Paul II in order to take advantage of the likely presence in Rome of many bloggers. The invitation is open to all, but bloggers who wish to attend need to apply by emailing and sending a link to their blog. As space is limited to 150 seats and there is a desire to have a representation of the entire blogosphere, entrance passes and further details will be distributed with a view to the diversity of language and geography, typology of blogs (institutional or private, multivoice or personal), subjects of blogs, and timeliness of request.

Simultaneous translation will be provided for Italian, English, French, Polish and Spanish.

The venue is the Palazzo San Pio X, in via della Conciliazione, 5.
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To be sure, there are two ways of looking at the initiative....

Particularly given the approach to date of other prominent church entities -- namely, to publicly blast, then issue norms on a reality whose most successful ad intra practitioners have never been meaningfully engaged in substance -- one vantage would be right to see this announcement as a step in the right direction, be encouraged by the open hand and hope that the spirit of goodwill might trickle down to the venues where that's still needed (not as many as they used to be, sure, but still some out there). Considering the standard fare of Vatican culture, that something like this is coming from the top is all the more notable and edifying -- indeed, even astonishing.

At the same time, however, all of six months since a full-tilt, week-long Congress on the future of the "establishment" Catholic press -- one capped with a private papal audience -- another angle will have a hard time seeing the gulf of treatment between the two groups as anything but more evidence of a second-class status for the ecclesial works of communication that, these days, have arguably taken the lead when it comes to commanding interest and readership, not to mention driving the broader news-cycle. Add in the feelings of institutional disenfranchisement or suspicion (or worse) that motivated a considerable number of bloggers, podcasters, tweeps and the like to take to the plow to begin with, and the prospect of hearing the salaried types talk up "initiatives aimed at ensuring an effective engagement" is likely enough to send a chill down a good few spines.

Bottom line: sure, this is a start. But, as ever, the final analysis rests with these pages' many betters....

Ergo, as only new media can bring about, let a thousand judgments bloom.