“broadcast” to “narrowcast”

In the National Catholic Register (which you can distinguish from the other NCR because the Register is Catholic), there is an offering by our friend and recent recipient of a WDTPRS coffee mug Fr. Dwight Longenecker about priests and blogs… something I believe I know a little about.

Fr. Longenecker makes a good distinction, which it is useful to repeat here.  He is talking about the how older forms of social communication connect with people compared to newer forms:

The term “broadcast” applies to “casting the net” [The image Pope John Paul used when speaking about the use of the internet.] as well as the simple method of sowing seeds by casting them wide across the field. While these images work well for traditional broadcasting, we should be aware of the fundamental shift that is going on within the world of media.

The shift is from “broadcast” to “narrowcast.” Put simply, the old method of publishing — radio, television and film production — was to produce the work and then send it out to the widest possible audience. It was expensive to produce a book, a radio show, a movie or television program, so the producer had to distribute his work to a vast audience in order to make a profit.

Technology now allows us to “narrowcast” instead of “broadcast.” Anyone can produce a “radio show.” It’s called a podcast, and it costs virtually nothing.
I can produce video clips just by talking to my laptop, which has a built-in camera and microphone. I can produce leaflets and articles and distribute all of this material instantly to a global audience through the Internet.
While broadcasters distributed widely to a comparatively local audience, narrowcasters distribute globally to a narrow audience.  [While this is certainly true in the case of most bloggers, some are using those same simple tools but are able to reach a very large "field" or "catch" indeed.  So, this doesn’t have to be perceived as a narrow audience.]

This shift means that audiences for all forms of Internet media are selecting not only what they want to view, read and listen to, but also when they want view, read and listen. [While they always have, this is a good point.  There is so much out there, and it is so much easier to get at from the desktop or a phone, people are choosing what works for them within the parameters of their time and interest.  Think about how TV was 40 years ago.  There were a very few channels… and mostly nothing on.  Now there are zillions, and mostly nothing on.  But you can choose your nothing from a greater range.  I am facetious, but you get my drift.   Talk radio changed radio. The phenomenon of cable news and satellite dishes has changed news.  The blogsophere is another effect.  Alternative media are very influential.] This is a very important distinction, and one that impacts how priests should use the Internet for evangelization.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Magpie says:

    I wonder how much business or site traffic the fishwrap NCR gets from people who are actually looking for the Catholic NCR?

  2. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    Broadcasting is a technique for sowing seeds, and has nothing to do with nets. It doesn’t change the rest of his article. As a Mid-Westerner, I felt compelled to say so.

  3. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    oooOOOOOpppps. A second reading reveals that I spoke too soon. Sorry Fr. L. I am chagrinned.

  4. tzard says:

    Re: Narrowcasting – perhaps for people who keep returning to a blog. But didn’t people always do this with newspapers – skim first then read?

    But blogs like this are also broadcasting – when they link among themselves. They are also reaching a wider audience when they are indexed by search engines, recommended among friends. And the effect can last months and years (for search indexes last way past the original event.

    Would you call a book without an index broadcasting but one with an index narrowcasting? I think perhaps the good Fr. L is missing the forest in pointing out the trees.

  5. It is exciting to participate in a global community that can hopefully decipher true apostles of Christ and raise awareness of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. It seems that it is the duty of lay persons and religious to use any media necessary to feed the many souls that long for the good news.

    As a poor student of journalism, I noticed even then(2000) that the thoughts of man, whether on paper or riding on ethernet, would never be depleted. The Holy Spirit was global before, but now he is fiberoptic.

  6. Bryan says:

    I’m going to stick my nose in here as a 20-year veteran of the broadcast industry (full disclosure: I’m in private industry now, but still maintain my hands in trying to build a Catholic radio news service network via the net….).

    The old model of broadcast (‘we talk, you listen’) with its top-down model of American Big Broadcast Company (sic) sitting at the top and ostensibly local ‘affiliates’ at the point of distribution is rapidly being swept into the dustbin. It’s inefficient, both from a physical plant (you should have seen the ABC Radio Net head end in NYC, where I spent almost 11 years…very impressive, but, ultimately, inflexible to handle the new models). As the country gets wired more and more for network connectivity, the means of production, distribution, and, dare say, formation of opinion, becomes more and more ‘democratized’ and moved to the level of local origination and control to a global audience. It’s a peasant’s revolt, in many ways. Noisy, wrestling in the mud, chaotic. But a revolt, nonetheless.

    Why? On some level, nature (in all its wondrous forms) abhors a vacuum. And by relying on a few self-appointed (and self-righteous to some extent), there developed a vacuum of divergent thought. For too long, we depended on the good offices of a somewhat amorphous ‘network’ that was, to a large extent, extremely inbred and clannish, being the filters of what could be considered ‘news worthy’; it was a feature of every news organization I worked for (and I worked for some of the best…and still have friends ‘in the biz’…) that they monitored each other…so, to a large extent, what you saw or heard was based on an informal consensus among people, though they worked for different companies, all attended the same parties, union shop meetings, or restaurants. Very insular, and, that’s why, except for presentational differences, the major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN…leaving Fox out, since they’re the rebels according to the zeitgeist of the other 4…) all seem to tell the same story in the same order. It IS pack journalism…been there, done that, and even contributed to it from time to time.

    Contrast that to what you see in the internet and blogosphere. Even though Fr. Z and a lot of the other well-known apologists have had face time on the tube, there are just as many others, you and me included, who also provide sources of information, insight, and intelligence to an audience we never may know of (I’m constantly surprised at where people are listening from when I look at my streaming logs…), and we know not what effect. The traditional nets do, certainly.

    But, you can see the grasping and flailing around as the Old Guard (or gatekeeper, if you will) tries to impress its model of information distribution on a means of dispersal that is, by its very nature, unable to be funneled into a set and predictable pattern. The very unruliness of the democratization of information dispersal makes it so.

    So, for every Andrew Sullivan or Ariana Huffington, there’s a Father Z., Thomas Peters, or Amy Welborn. Whereas before, only Huffingtons of the world may have been heard (since their viewpoints all kind of fall into the same sociopolitical groove as the traditional gatekeepers…), we’ve taken it upon ourselves to give voice to what was studiously ignored or marginalized for too many years.

    And that’s a good thing. The more truth that is spoken to power, the more power overreacts and drives people away. I believe that people of good will WANT to hear the truth. And the duty of every Catholic is to preach the Gospel. It’s been driven down too long. And that’s why the traditional electronic media, cat box liners such as NCR, and the New York Slimes are struggling. Because they no longer control the sole means of information distribution.

    I could go on…but probably overstayed my welcome…

  7. mpm says:


    Would you care to comment — as a professional — on the phenomenon that as people have been “filtering” their information, their original impressions/prejuidices only tend to be reinforced? … and possible remedies for it?

    [Obviously, I think of self-filtering as a “bad thing” in general, not necessarily worse than the MSM elites filtering for you, but one for which there is no obvious solution (such as competition).]

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