Secular Media Spreading the Gospel?
Interview With Communications Director From Denver
DENVER, Colorado, AUG. 22, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The Church must avail of the secular media and thus reach a broader audience than religious sources can offer, said the Denver Archdiocese’s director of communications.
In this interview with ZENIT, Jeanette DeMelo, who works under the direction of Archbishop Charles Chaput, discusses the role of the diocesan communication’s office in spreading the Gospel.
Q: The Church document, “Aetatis Novae,” says that it is essential for every diocese and bishops’ conference to have a pastoral plan for social communications. What are the main objectives of your communications department?
DeMelo: The success of evangelization depends on our effectiveness to communicate a message and publicize it. The job is done in various ways.
Our office takes Mark 16:15 — “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” — as our starting point.
We help all of the various offices of the archdioceses spread the Gospel by helping them with the techniques of communicating.
Our archdiocese has a weekly newspaper that is a primary means for communicating the message of the archdiocese, whether it is from the Family and Life office, the office of evangelization, or the office of the archbishop.
In the newspaper, we communicate the message of those offices, as well as the stories that happen all over the archdiocese in parishes, families’ homes and Catholic organizations.
Another principal means of communication is our Web site. We try to put new material up daily. We also put the archbishop’s columns and his public statements on the Web site, because we know that many people are using the Web to seek out this information.
Q: Public relations play a big role in communications. What is the status of your department’s relationship with the local newspaper, radio and television stations?
DeMelo: The relationship with secular media is a huge part of my job. I believe it is essential for the Church to be engaged with the secular media because there is only so much we can communicate through our own means.
We need to reach a broader audience because what the Church is called to do is to proclaim the Gospel to all people, not just to fellow Catholics.
When I first came to Denver, the way I developed the relationship with secular media was to make appointments with various newsrooms and the staff of the newspapers and television stations.
We asked them to tell us what kind of news was interesting to them and what they expected and hoped for in a relationship with the Catholic Church.
We also told them about our schools and some background about what kind of material we could give them, as well as how to get in touch with us when they needed quotes or experts on life issues, education, parenting, or marriage and family.
Our office has also done a lot of work with the secular media with the issue of immigration.
We are constantly sending them statements by the archbishop, letters to the editor, or op-ed pieces.
Most recently, on the feast of Corpus Christi, we had both newspapers covering a procession that went through the Capital Hill neighborhood around the cathedral.
They did a pretty in-depth story on the feast of Corpus Christi. I thought that was an accomplishment to get the Eucharist in the secular newspaper.
Q: The retired president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Archbishop Foley, said that he is convinced that communication is the essential work of a bishop. Archbishop Chaput seems to carry out this role quite effectively. How closely does he work with your department?
DeMelo: Archbishop Chaput has experience in communications from work with his community. He is a Capuchin and was their director of communications for quite a while.
He always says that it is just “common sense,” but I think he is very good in this particular field.
Not every bishop is media savvy and that has a lot to do with personality rather than some magic secret.
Archbishop Chaput has a personality that engages well in the media format. He works very closely with our department.
I am on his senior staff and we meet with the archbishop on a weekly basis so I am aware of what is going on in other departments and the other staff is aware what is going on from a communications standpoint.
The other thing that makes Archbishop Chaput really effective is that he communicates via e-mail very regularly.
I can send him an e-mail and he will respond within the hour even when he is traveling. It is an effective way to be on the same page and I appreciate it greatly.
He also takes our suggestions very well. We could suggest to him to write an op-ed piece or to sit down with a reporter to talk about this or that issue and he is usually willing.
Every bishop has his style in communicating the Gospel. I think there are different ways to be effective.
Q: In universal terms, what do you believe is lacking, if anything, in Church communications today?
DeMelo: Chancery offices and archdioceses have many offices and sometimes it is simply internal communication that becomes difficult.
We are so big and cover such a wide range of ministries and services that it is hard to make sure the communications office knows what is going on everywhere.
We need to develop ways of keeping up internal communications. For example, some dioceses are doing intranets, bulletins, or newsletters between offices.
On the other hand, I think the Church needs to progress more in the use of new media.
We need to be up to speed with the constantly changing world of the Internet and the opportunities that exist there.
We could post creative videos, not simply a talking head, but perhaps a little vignette, even posting them on YouTube, if that is what is going to capture people’s attention and bring them back to the Church.
Those kinds of things are captivating and interesting.
The technological world changes so fast. It is our job to keep up with it and use it for the sake of the Gospel.