Two-Way Communication, Redux

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 10, 2009

I’m catching my breath after writing email replies for nearly the entire day yesterday. This is the risk one incurs for a Monday if one happens to write a provocative commentary on a Friday. There will always be many thoughtful responses, including scores of correspondents who really should receive a reply. And this raises the question, again, of how we handle two-way communication at CatholicCulture.org.

Users may recall that when we first merged Catholic World News and CatholicCulture.org into a single site, the performance of the Sound Off! feature, which many users enjoyed on the CWNews site, suffered. Gradually we got the bumps out, but the feature is available in only a few places on a site that now has a far broader range of content, so it tends to get lost. At first I thought we’d solve that problem by extending Sound Off! to all news, all commentaries, and all web site reviews. In reality, though, we’ve done nothing to extend it all. More on this in a moment.

Particularly attentive users may also recall that when we merged the two sites, we opened a Letters to the Editor section. Because of a near total lack of interest, it lasted little more than a month. Admittedly, there was much confusion over which of our communications links did what in the early weeks after our release of this feature. It wasn’t always easy to distinguish between Letters, Sound Off! and Email to the Editors. But even when we got the problems sorted out, there appeared to be virtually no interest in Letters to the Editor.

Yet emails to the editors have continued fast and furious, often with permission to quote. I spend a good deal of time answering these messages personally, and I sometimes summarize how opinion is running in the blog. Phil Lawler periodically selects representative messages and responds to the points they raise, also in the blog (see the Mailbag category). But this does not amount to much compared with the level of communication we receive.

Back to Sound Off!, two considerations have kept us from expanding it. First, the format does not lend itself to particularly thoughtful posts; it favors pithy comments, and works best by adding entertainment value to a limited range of items. Second, most of the entries tend to be posted by the same small group of people, often saying similar things. Thus, while Sound Off! provides some entertainment and serves as a modest outlet for those who enjoy making public comments, its value as a resource is not high, and we have no evidence that it is important to a wide range of users. In other words, being by nature somewhat thin, Sound Off! seems unlikely to benefit from being spread even thinner.

And yet, behind the scenes, there is a tremendous amount of communication going on, communication which we value greatly, and from which we learn much. So should we provide greater opportunities for public comments from users? Some users might welcome such opportunities or at least enjoy the results. Others may regard this as a distraction from their main purposes in visiting the site. If you have an opinion about user commentary, please share it with me.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 6 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: feedback - Oct. 02, 2018 12:12 PM ET USA

    Admonishment should not be confused with accusation. Admonishment is a call to conversion, while accusation seeks to condemn - that's what the devil does. Great reminder of the admonishments (not "accusations") by the prophet Isaiah. Jeremiah, Amos, and all other prophets got themselves in trouble for admonishing the people. Our Savior Himself frequently admonished the Pharisees for being hypocrites and "as whitewashed tombs filled with all kind of filth." It was always His call to repentance.

  • Posted by: Edward I. - Sep. 29, 2018 4:32 AM ET USA

    It's not nice to pick on the mentally ill, Doctor.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Sep. 29, 2018 1:23 AM ET USA

    Let me add a few more choice words to ILM's definition: ultraconservative, rigid, black and white, judgmental, lover of doctrines and rules, doctor of the law, accuser of others instead of himself. Did I leave any out?

  • Posted by: ILM - Sep. 28, 2018 1:30 AM ET USA

    Definition of a right wing extremist: someone who accepts the Church’s teachings on birth control, abortion, sex only within marriage, and marriage as only the union of one man and one woman.

  • Posted by: MWCooney - Sep. 27, 2018 10:49 PM ET USA

    Well stated, and a good description of the methods and motivations of the evil we face. Intellects gone dark seem to be increasing in their number, and in the depths to which they are willing to retreat in order to not be confronted by a reality that does not conform to their own perverted view of the world. The Great Accuser is truly the instigator of these poor souls.

  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Sep. 27, 2018 2:46 PM ET USA

    In this case, the Holy Father has done just what a worldly leader would do when accused of wrongdoing: he accuses the accuser, intending to blunt the criticism by demeaning the person expressing it. But that similarity with worldly leaders is a problem in itself! Wouldn't a truly humble Christian leader take the reproof charitably, search his soul honestly, and present the evidence clearly to his flock? In short, shouldn't he be DIFFERENT from worldly leaders?