It is difficult to be polite in talking about Vatican communications. Consider this: Despite the diminishing number of people around the world who listen to radio, the Vatican’s largest media employer is Vatican Radio. Meanwhile, digital media outlets need more attention given trends in media consumption–the pope’s popular Twitter account and the PopeApp for mobile devices are good examples. That anomaly was one illustration Cardinal George Pell gave yesterday as a reason the Vatican is poised to revamp its communications structures in the coming year or so with recommendations from a new communications committee announced yesterday at a Vatican news conference.
He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”
Anyone who has spent any time jumping from one Vatican communications source to another has certainly experienced the lack of coordination among the various outlets. That’s because almost a dozen different Vatican media outlets operate independently of one another without a coordinated strategy to make communications efficient and effective, according to Cardinal Pell who is prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy; he led yesterday’s announcement of the new committee.
The general lack of cohesiveness and, in some cases, responsiveness, in communications is rather startling in this day and age for an organization as large and prestigious as the Vatican.
Take a look at the marquis communications port, Vatican Radio [Its building and tower pictured above] Its web presence is clumsy, antiquated, confusing and Borax in design. But that’s just the beginning of the cacophony in Vatican-land where home-grown apps like Pope2You, the PopeApp, the Francis App and Missio, for instance, lack coordination of content, style and graphics. We have made note in the past of significant misses in PopeApp’s content. And isn’t a single Pope app quite enough? Meanwhile, some of their apps don’t hit the market quick enough. The apps designed for travelers to Rome for canonization of two popes this past spring came out ONE DAY before the events began. The next time a major event takes place at the Vatican, just try to figure out where to start to gather information from the various Vatican media outlets.
We are, therefore, not surprised that the report on the Vatican web site covering yesterday’s news conference on the new communications committee was offered as a “video” link that took us completely off the Vatican site and dumped us onto Vatican Radio’s web site–repeatedly re-loading the masthead in stacks with no video in the “Vatican player.” Look at this (Yikes!):
Perhaps someone is on vacation over there at VR. In any event, we can get better coverage of the news conference from professional news gatherers than from the Vatican itself at its news bulletin page, the only other link offered on its web site to read about the new commission (that we could see).
According to Cardinal Pell, the new communications commission has 12 months to come up with recommendations based on the findings of a consulting firm which had been hired in December to review the Vatican communications structures and recommend ways to streamline and modernize them. Communication outlets include: the Pontifical Council for Social Communications; the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano; Vatican Radio; the Vatican television production studio, CTV; the Vatican Information Service; the Vatican press office; the Fides missionary news agency; the main Vatican website; the news.va news aggregator; the Vatican publishing house LEV; and the Vatican printing press.
But anyone in the communications industry knows that communication outlets reach beyond the obvious. There’s official photography and then there’s unofficial photography in the form of “selfies” with the pope. Then we have those extemporaneous remarks reportedly made by the pope here and there. All of this needs coordination and control and–please God–a unified graphic signature to go with competent editorial content management. Let’s hope these uncomfortable points make the committee’s list of recommendations.
Granted, streamlining management and services can lead to many benefits including financial savings, but Cardinal Pell made a point to say “the priority is not economic;” it’s outreach. That is a crucial goal for a body commissioned by Christ to go out to the world to preach to all nations. It is comforting to see that the Vatican’s web of communications finally appears to be given the serious attention it deserves. Christ’s message of the Good News manifested in various words and works of the Church and its body are important for the entire world.
We pray for the communication committee’s success.
Photo of Vatican Radio building: Creative Commons