Letter From New York April 14, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

In the belly…

Odyssey Networks, my base client, is a multi-faith, not for profit organization, the largest coalition of faith groups and faith organizations using media to “build bridges of understanding.” So it made every good sense that they would be attending the Religious Communicators Congress, an every ten-year event that gathered together those involved with religious communications – from denominations to religious organizations. The theme this decade was: Embrace Change.

And religious organizations, as well as anyone else in the communications biz, needs to embrace change because change is breathing down the neck of anyone who is connecting with anyone else using some form of media. It is a time when older generations don’t want to yield to digital delivery and young generations are wedded to social networking communications. Conversation is down; texting is up. Facebook and Twitter are the rage – but will they be in twelve months or is there some hot new technology about to break through? Change is everywhere. Internet viewing of video is up by 12% year to year; mobile video viewing is up 57% and with the advent of the iPad and the plethora of pretenders racing up behind it researchers are beginning to believe that in less than five years more people will be accessing ye old internet via a mobile device than they will from a land based PC. Ah, the technical times, they are a-changin’. Again. Yet. Still.

Now, if a couple of years ago someone had told me that I would be finding myself at the Religious Communicators Congress, I would have looked slightly askance though would not have ruled it out – I long ago surrendered saying I would never do something as it seemed that once I did the “never” thing became reality. But it would have surprised me so, to be truthful, it was with some bemusement I found myself at the RCC [Religious Communicators Congress] in Chicago this past week. On some level, it felt like a bit of a time warp and that I had found myself amongst many of the people with whom I had taught at a Catholic High School, back in the day. One of my colleagues, himself an ordained minister, fondly called the constituents “church people.” And they were that, good, kind, deep believing people who had dedicated much of their lives to their work which was an extension of their beliefs. They are much to be admired, as a group.
And as a group they are struggling with the rapidity of technological change that is sweeping across the communications landscape everywhere. And doing it with fewer resources – the attendance at this Congress was down 50% from the last. Many denominations are being forced into severe cut backs in staffing to deal with falling financial contributions. More and more Americans are declaring themselves spiritual but not religious and certainly not denomination focused.

Core congregations are aging and dwindling while young members seem harder to reach and the technology through which those younger members communicate can seem bedeviling. In other words, religious communicators are sharing the same problems of most of media professionals. Change is sweeping through the land and to fight it is impossible, equivalent of telling the tide not to rise. It can’t be done.

And change is affecting the way mainstream media covers religion – more and more media outlets are finding covering religion an expense they must live without. The number of reporters covering the religious waterfront is falling dramatically and those that are left behind face prodigious workloads. Say, before you leave the office could you just look over that 10,000 pages of transcript about the pedophile priest accusation and get off a story about it?

So the theme of the week: Embrace Change! was appropriate for the time. Change will come, wanted or not and there is no way to fight it so best to turn to it and embrace change as the lover you always wanted but hadn’t had until now.

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2 Responses to “Letter From New York April 14, 2010”

  1. Bob Altman Says:

    Great letter: You are seriously pensive and beautifully conversant.

    Appreciate your opinions Mat.

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