DeSales Media Group heralds new age of communication in Brooklyn Diocese

The DeSales Media Group recreated Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam" on a billboard as a way to advertise the "Reconciliation Monday" campaign.

New York — The DeSales Media Group is on the edge of news in the Diocese of Brooklyn, producing communications both in print and digitally that address current events and bridge the disconnect between younger computer generations and the church.

Since 2011, Msgr. Kieran Harrington, president and chairman, has worked to create a unified voice for expressing the news of the diocese in response to Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio's request for streamlined communications.

"We wanted to bring it all together so that the good news [of the diocese] gets out," Harrington said. "People didn't know all of the positive, noteworthy and relevant things that were happening in the Diocese of Brooklyn."

Now, the diocese's various newspapers, television networks, websites and social media accounts are centralized to offer not only a Catholic perspective on local and national news, but also an opportunity to reach out to the digital generations who use social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Efforts to reach more young people have proved successful. In 2013, for example, DeSales launched an ad campaign known as "Hipster Jesus," which resulted in national coverage from media sources such as The Huffington Post. The campaign featured an image of a Jesus figure wearing a long, white robe and a pair of converse sneakers, portraying Jesus as the "Original Hipster" as a way to reach out to young people.

As part of the "Reconciliation Monday" campaign that encourages people to participate in the sacrament of Reconciliation the Monday after Palm Sunday, the group recreated Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam" on a billboard as a way to advertise the campaign's message of forgiveness.  (Watch a video of the creation here).

"We try to take some risks with our messaging. That's how a story catches on. Playing it safe just doesn't work to get the word out," Harrington stated.

DeSales has taken the initiative to make a statement that is heard. But the media group has also contracted out communication services to local parishes, Catholic schools in the diocese and other Catholic organizations affiliated with the diocese. These contracts serve as the primary source of funds for DeSales alongside the group's foremost contract with the Diocese of Brooklyn itself. Many parishes and schools have benefited from new websites designed by DeSales to be interactive and user-friendly, as well as the Meet Me in Church online calendar that advertises events across the diocese.

"You can never have enough communication," said Carolyn Erstad, director of communications at DeSales. "Just when you think you have enough, you realize you need more."

In addition to using a broader range of new media to reach younger generations, this nonprofit organization is not afraid to address current social issues that young people tend to show an interest in, such as immigration.

"The church is committed to supporting the immigrant faithful. Offering stories about the support and services the church provides is something DeSales tries to do, while remaining mindful to never exploit the stories of the people being helped," Harrington said.

Over the past few years, DeSales Media has stirred discussions about immigration and the diversity of the church through ad campaigns such as "All Faces" in 2013, which aimed to welcome peoples of all backgrounds and ethnicities to participate in church life and activities. Today, the media group is working to encourage a broader range of communications across different languages by expanding the Spanish newspaper and hosting a Chinese radio show.

To add to the immigration discussion, the media group plans to host Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, as the keynote speaker at the upcoming World Communications Day Catholic Media Conference on May 17 at BRIC Media House in Brooklyn. Tobin spoke in support of immigrants in May at an interfaith gathering in Newark, encouraging listeners to stand up and say "no" to deportation policies that would separate families.

"It's very easy to say no and do nothing. But we take courage in what Pope Francis said, 'go and make a mess of things,'" Harrington said.

The Catholic Media Conference poses to address how religion and people of faith can apply media and be on the edge of technology.

[Michelle Schmid is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a freelance writer as well as a creative blogger.] 

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