Newspapers, new media and reading from iPads in Mass

The last weekend of September I was in Kansas City, Kan., attending the fourth annual Catholic New Media Conference with more than 100 bloggers, podcasters, parish social media coordinators and assorted Church media professionals from around the country (and even a few from Europe). 

In some ways, I was the odd man out, as someone tied primarily, at least by job description and business card title, to the traditional medium of print newspaper. But our newsweekly team in recent years has set sail on the “digital sea,” in Pope Benedict XVI’s words, in an increasingly intense way, including Kindle versions of the newsweekly and our blog (, blogs on the revised translation of the Mass prayers ( and Pope Benedict’s reaction to the clerical sex abuse crisis, and a host of regularly updated Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts. And much more is in the works. 

Not that we think the newsweekly hard copy, even after 100 years in print, is destined for the dustbin of history anytime soon. It is the primary vehicle by which we deliver Catholic news, analysis and commentary to homes and parishes like yours, and remains the most read national Catholic newspaper in the country. 

But we’re trying to find ways to take the content we create for the newsweekly and deliver it to those who, like many of the younger generations, mine included, are more inclined to get their news through other (digital) channels. In fact, our emphasis is increasing on trying to create the best possible content first, and then adapting it for delivery in various channels, print included. 

It was an odd quirk of fate that after the media conference ended, I went to Sunday Mass in a modest Kansas City parish on the Kansas/Missouri border and saw a man in his 60s following along with the Mass readings on his iPad. None of his pew-mates seemed to give it a second thought, but I found it a little jarring; it was the first time I’d seem someone using a tablet computer during a Sunday liturgy. But maybe reading from tablets, Kindles and iPhones will be someday soon as common in church as it is already in airport terminals. And it might be no more distracting than seeing someone reading the bulletin during Mass. 

For attendees at the Catholic media conference, more questions were raised than answers found. But optimism seemed to be winning against anxiety. The potential for bringing the Gospel to new ways is enormous, as is the ability to engage Catholics in their parishes and as communities, both virtual and real. 

As one speaker said, a main goal of the new media (like that of the old) is to provide an encounter with other people and with God’s love that helps beat back the loneliness that is endemic to the people of our time, and which is the polar opposite of what we are created for.