The Lone Pundit and the Archdiocese of Boston

Have you ever noticed that reporters tend to go to the same pundits when reporting on particular subjects and sometimes rely on a single pundit to comment? And those stories often seem tailor-made for that pundit to comment on?

So in today’s Boston Herald, the reporter goes to Peter Borre of the so-called Council of Parishes, a tiny organization that purports to represent Boston Catholics, but which apparently has a tiny membership and almost no public footprint1, to comment on the “news” that the Archdiocese of Boston has hired a consultant to help with parish fundraising.

I worked in the Archdiocese of Boston’s fundraising arm for several years and then in a parish for several more. I am well aware of the deficiencies in fundraising in the Archdiocese. I also know that dioceses hiring consultants to help parishes with increased offertory campaigns or capital campaigns is as run-of-the-mill as hiring waste disposal firms to take away the trash. This is not news and one wonders why it is that the Herald decided this was news and perhaps whether the reporter called the pundit or the pundit called the reporter.

The Archdiocese of Boston has hired a fundraising agency to boost donations for parishes — an expense that shouldn’t be necessary with all the employees raising money in the finance department, a Catholic Church watchdog said Tuesday. … Borre told the Herald, “The use of an outside firm surprises me. They have salaried people in the finance department who are supposed to be pretty good at fundraising.”

Borre’s complaint is off-base. Fundraising doesn’t happen in the finance department. Fundraising is a separate function done by Boston Catholic Development Services, a department of the archdiocese which does fundraising for the clergy health and retirement fund, Catholic schools, and the annual Catholic Appeal that funds the operations of the Archdiocese.2 They also provide fundraising services and assistance to related Catholic entities within the Archdiocese, like parishes. There are definitely criticisms that can be leveled against the fundraising practices of the archdiocese and questions raised about the relative size and expense of BCDS compared to their results, but neither the reporter or the pundit come close to those.

You could also point out that lack of funding is not primarily a problem of extracting more money from the people left in the pews, but one of evangelization and discipleship (i.e. not more dollars per person, but more persons at the same dollar level).

But this Herald article is bunk, a criticism of a common and standard practice, and its reliance on a self-described Catholic Church watchdog is deceptive and religion reporters need to do a better job than this.

  1. They have a Facebook page with almost no followers and very little activity and a domain name that doesn’t have a web site. And their Facebook page links approvingly to information about schismatic parishes.
  2. Unlike some dioceses, the annual Appeal does not fund Catholic Charities. They do their own fundraising.

When Moderate is Bad

On the front page of today’s Boston Globe, there’s an article about Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, which complains that despite a hard swing to the left in the Democratic Party and his commanding reelection landslide win 1, he remains entrenched in the middle.

A couple of observations. First, When a Republican professes to be a moderate (i.e. liberal on social issues), the Globe calls it “taking a principled stand”, but when a Democrat professes to be a moderate (i.e. basically middle-of-the-road liberal on social and fiscal issues), it’s called “slow to take bold steps.”

Second, as I read the article, I’m left wondering where the news hook is. Why this article now? There is no particular policy initiative in question, no particular criticism from other Democrats. In other words, it’s either someone talking on background to the Globe who encouraged them to write this or the Globe’s editors themselves advocating for a harder turn to the left.

In fact, the reporter frames every issue in terms as if the most obvious correct course is the more liberal, the harder left one. There’s not even an acknowledgement that there are different ways of reaching the same goals, just the “way of courage” and the “way of playing it safe.”

Such is the state of political discourse here. We are becoming ever more radicalized. Our politicians are being dragged to the far left and the far right because only total adherence to the purity of ideology can be tolerated.

I don’t particularly like Marty Walsh, but I don’t live in the city and so I don’t have to worry about voting for or against him. But some of his policies seem to be benefiting the city. Many others I think are misguided or just plain wrong. Either way, I would prefer that those in power don’t pander to the extremes of their party, the way the presidential candidates are, but respond more to those in the vast middle who are evidently less vocal and less heard.

  1. But come on, when was the last time a sitting Boston mayor faced any kind of real electoral challenge? Decades!

The Podcasting Moment

Coffee cup and smartphone playing a podcast

Podcasting is big right now as seen by the big media companies moving into the podcasting space now. The Boston Globe writes about the podcasting explosion locally and nationally, including Spotify’s acquisition of Gimlet Media and Anchor and how heavily invested in it that public radio entities are getting.

Podcasting is still not easy (yet) and there’s a significant learning curve if you want to do it right. It’s also difficult to stand out from the pack of all the other podcasts out there. In some ways, it’s like the days when blogging was transitioning from a hobby that a few people were turning into careers into professional advertiser-supported media platforms.

The article talks about the distributed nature of podcasting and how it would be a shame if one company became the gatekeeper and arbiter of podcasting, by which they seem to mean Apple, which had the first major podcast directory (and named podcasts after the iPod) but has not yet tried to control or monetize it. And while I’d guess that most people still find podcasts through Apple, there is a lot of competition in directories by Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn, podcast apps, and newcomers top the space like Spotify and Pandora.

But podcasts still have the problem that they’re hard for average people to find and consume. They have to download apps and subscribe to feeds, if they can find them, or listen to shows in open web browsers. It’s not like saying, “Watch that new show on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime.”

But it’s getting easier. If you have an Amazon Echo or a Google Home, you can say, “Alex/OK Google, play [Podcast Name] podcast,” and as you include the word “podcast” at the end, it should play it with no further fuss.

Of course, I have a vested interest in this whole conversation as the head of a small Catholic non-profit podcast network. I certainly wouldn’t be averse to some big player wanting to donate/invest money in our operation to help us keep going and reach more people.

We’re All Better Off For Chris Kimball Leaving America’s Test Kitchen

Chris Kimball

It’s not often that a messy public divorce, of sorts, leaves nearly everyone — or at least those of us who weren’t part of the relationship—better off for the split. Of course, I’m not talking about a real marriage or family, but of a corporate relationship.

In 2015, Chris Kimball left or was forced out of the America’s Test Kitchen empire he had founded several decades before. In case you don’t know, ATK includes an eponymous PBS TV show and a second show called Cook’s Country, a magazine of the same name and its more famous, older sibling Cook’s Illustrated, as well as recipe and equipment review web sites, and a cookbook publishing business.

Kimball founded the company in 1993 and led it from a Brookline, Massachusetts, brownstone until he left. Right before that point, the company had brought on its first CEO as it tried to deal with the changes in the way Americans get their food journalism in the age of the internet, but at some point in 2015 Kimball was forced out of his company by co-owners who thought he was no longer the man for the job.

At the time I was very skeptical of the move. I wrote here that this was a big mistake: “Chris Kimball is the face and personality of ATK and its driving force. This is like John Scully forcing Steve Jobs out of Apple in the 1980s. It is Kimball’s homespun, stolid Vermonter style that underpins everything they do from the magazines to the TV shows to the radio show.”

I’m happy to say I was wrong. Certainly things have worked out for Kimball, but it’s also worked out for ATK. Read More and Comment

The People Behind the Headlines

I have a neighbor who was in the news a couple of months ago and not for a good reason. Now, to be clear, I don’t know this neighbor personally and only became aware of them the day the news trucks were in front of their house a few streets over. But I do walk by their house every morning on my daily constitutionals.

They were in the news because they were a government employee who allegedly succumbed to temptation and stole public funds. It wasn’t a little bit, but it wasn’t a kingly sum either (given they were living in a small ranch-style house like mine). Still, it was allegedly a crime and a breach of the public trust so I’m not offering any excuses.

The reason I bring this up now is because I see they have suddenly sold their house. I don’t know for certain why—perhaps they had been planning a move all along—but the timing certainly suggests that the sale is not unrelated. Mounting a legal defense is expensive and paying restitution would not be cheap. And given that the person charged with the crime is now out of work and probably unable to get a new job at similar pay, finances are probably tight.

Again, I’m not interested in excusing a crime, even white-collar crime, but I am looking beyond the headlines and news stories to remember that there are people behind every story. People make bad decisions every day, maybe not criminal decisions like these ones are alleged to be, but certainly sinful ones. And we suffer the consequences of those actions. Sometimes we suffer the consequences of other people’s actions, like the family of the accused or another neighbor who recently had an out-of-control driver crash through her house and render it uninhabitable, not to mention the young lady in the car who lost her life.

It’s a reminder to me to remember the news is not a reality show, that there are people in pain and hurting all around. These are people who need prayers and care. I regret that I didn’t know these neighbors and don’t know most of my neighbors despite having lived in this house for a decade now. Such isolation is a symptom of our modern life, of the general disconnection among people who live in this area, and of my own introverted tendencies. I need to remedy that.

I need constant reminders that the people in the news or who go viral on social media or who show up in the comment boxes online are all real people with real struggles who are loved by God and for whom Christ died to save. It seems so simple and yet I often need reminders.

Podcasting Equipment For Beginners

As someone who has been involved in podcasting for almost a decade and who podcasts as a full-time job now, I often get asked for recommendations for podcasting equipment for beginners. I wish I had a good quick answer for that, but I don’t. That’s because there is a lot to consider first.1 But before we get into the equipment, first dispose of any ideas that podcasting is like what you see on TV shows like God Friended Me. Just no.

What kind of podcast?

Is this going to be informal for a few friends? Are you going for a wide audience? Are you planning on commercializing it? Are you podcasting for your business or organization?

Where will you record it?

At your desk? In the car? On the go? Coffee shops? At a podium or lectern? In a lot of different places?

Who will you record it with?

Are you making a solo podcast? Are you doing a podcast with a co-host? A group of people? The same people or a changing panel?

How will you record it with them?

If you’re recording with other people, will they be joining you in your office? Via Skype or other remote service? In a car? Outside? On the road?

How much is your budget?

You can spend almost nothing up to thousands of dollars, although a decent setup that can last you through several advances in expertise can be had for a couple hundred dollars.

How long do you think you’ll be doing this?

Are you not sure if you want to make a commitment? Are you looking to experiment? Or do you plan on doing this years with a regularly scheduled show?

Starting small

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Uber Deception on the Benefits of Congestion Pricing

An Uber executive writes an op-ed in today’s Boston Globe touting the benefits of congestion pricing to reduce traffic in Boston. Andrew Salzberg, Uber’s head of transportation policy, says that it’s a fact that traffic in Boston is among the worst in the country and that are mass transit systems need new investment. But his argument is based on sleight of hand and misdirection and his claims of Uber’s selflessness are misleading.

Before looking at Salzberg’s claims, I should note that congestion pricing and per-mile tolling have long been part of some politicians’ wish lists. As recently as 2016, the Legislature considered a bill to begin a pilot program to tax drivers based on the number of miles traveled. Earlier, the former state governor Deval Patrick floated the idea of toll gates at every exit on every highway in the state. So, this is not some pie-in-the-sky isolated proposal by Salzberg and Uber.

Now to begin, Salzberg claims that “all vehicles should pay to use the roads,” implying that unless you’re paying a toll you’re driving for free. This is false. We arelady pay for the privilege of driving on Massachusetts roads through a use tax that is the gas tax. In fact, we pay 26.54 cents per gallon in state tax 1, which in 2016 brought in $766 million total, a significant growth from prior years due to both an increase in the tax from 24 cents in 2013 and the rebounding economy. Now, advocates will claim that increasing fuel efficiency of vehicles is lowering the amount of gas consumed (that’s not a bad thing!), but as we can see that is a very long term problem, not a short term one. However, the bottom line is that Massachusetts taxpayers are indeed paying a road fee to the tune of three-quarters of a billion dollars per year in just gas taxes.
Read More and Comment

In Response to IRL, by Amy

It’s an odd feeling to find myself even in partial disagreement with my friend Amy Welborn, and I am now doubting myself, but I will press on nonetheless. Amy is writing this week about technology and today she writes about the Church, evangelization, and technology.

To be sure, there’s much I agree with. Like her, I believe that parish and diocesan websites are vitally important and need to be done better. Parish websites, first and above all, need to make it easy for people to get the information they came for, usually the Mass times, including the holy day of obligation Mass times. They also need to be kept up to date. The worst failing of parish web sites is out of date content and the second worst is the failure to put new content up. I have held that every parish needs someone whose primary job is to go to every meeting possible and otherwise to badger the staff for stuff to put on the web site (and in the bulletin). Read More and Comment

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