The Prodigal Altar Boy

Monday, July 26, 2010

COM480 Media Technology Blog Posting Week 2 Assignment

From December 1995 and December 2009, the number of cellular subscribers increased by 118% and the percentage of the U.S. population with wireless access increased from 13% to 91% (CTIA-The Wireless Association, 2009).  Manufacturers initially marketed cell phones to an upscale niche, primarily business users and people of means.  On the business side, cell phones were a tool to keep increase connectivity as well as the pace of business, resulting in more business.  For the upscale market, having a cell phone was a status symbol, indicating you were important enough to need the instant communication of a cell phone.

These early adopters of cell phones financed technological advances making them cheaper to own and operate.  As prices dropped, the utility of the cell phone migrated from the business/luxury class to penetration of nearly every socioeconomic class in America.  While business use is still a staple of the cell phone’s target market, current marketing aims at families, touting the advantages of using cell phones to stay connected.  The same technology that enables business people to connect with customers and expand the bottom line can also coordinate the schedules of working parents to attend to the demands of home, work, school and extracurricular activities.    

As dramatic as the rise in cellular penetration and the expansion of non-business use is the age of the typical cell phone user.  Because a subscriber has to be at least 18 years old to enter into a cellular service contract, very little data on users below that age is available.  The marketing of cell phones, particularly of the features most attractive to users under the age of 18 (such as texting), shows a shift in demographic focus by cell phone manufacturers.  According to 2008 Nielsen statistics, out of all cell phone users polled, 35% of users between the ages of 13-17 were able to recall text-messaging advertising.  The next closest age group was 18-24 (18%) (Nielsen Telecom Practice Group, 2008). So not only is cell phone use moving from business to home users, a growing demographic of the users are younger.  (Cell Subscriber Chart: (Kurzweil, 2005))

Much like cellular technology, newspapers represent a medium evolving before our eyes.  Once the primary source of news and information, newspapers struggle to adapt ahead of technologies that not only duplicate some of the key functions of newspapers, but do it faster and to a wider audience. 

Even discounting the advent of the 24-hour television news channel, internet news, topic-specific and general-knowledge websites are all challengers to the newspaper’s function as a provider of world and local news.   Blogs, applications such as Twitter, email, and social networking sites rival newspapers as sources and distribution networks for opinion, entertainment and entertainment news.  As newsprint real estate shrinks, syndicated cartoonists migrate their work to the Web, allowing readers a choice of comics.  The monetization of websites and blogs through content-specific ads threatens the newspaper’s financial underpinning, advertising.  As a result, already shrinking subscriptions must shoulder more of the fiscal weight to keep newspapers afloat (Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2007).

Newspapers are designed for rapid consumption, on the train, on the bus, at the desk, etc., then discarded.  Internet-enabled smartphones deliver the latest news, along with pictures, sound and video clips in the palm of your hand.  In addition to summarizing breaking news, users can use embedded links and search engines to go in depth on any story, or surf to the next item of interest.  Newspaper staff reporters cover the local beat while staff writers focus on in-depth pieces of local and sometimes national significance.  Local television websites provide the headlines along with video and updates, while dedicated web sites and blogs (often authored by former reporters) give readers continually evolving analysis of issues.

Still, newspapers survive, trying to evolve amid a landscape that seems to be just a step ahead.  Many papers experiment with a web presence, and while that may stave the inevitable, the extinction of the newspaper as we know it is unavoidable.  A more accurate statement is that the newspaper as I know it, is unavoidable. As the newspaper has evolved, through good times and bad, each generation has come to know and accept that iteration of the newspaper as the baseline.  To future consumers of whatever the newspaper will become, the changes I consider drastic (fewer pages, more ads, less substance, etc.), will become the norm until what’s left migrates to whatever the internet has become.  Just as very few young people bemoan the demise of the phone book, so will newsprint fade into technology’s horizon.

Wi-Fi wireless local area network (WLAN) technology, while not a media technology, per se, enabled the internet to migration from wired local area network (LAN) desktop and laptop computing to wireless computing by web-enabled smartphones and other devices.  Originally designed to simplify business computer networks  by eliminating the need for hardwire network connections, Wi-Fi use quickly evolved  to create WLAN networks in homes, and now to help businesses attract customers by offering on-premises Wi-Fi connections to the internet.   In 2009, AT&T reported 26million Wi-Fi connections in the first half of 2009, compared to 20 million connections for all of 2008 (Fleishman, 2009).  Originally used for tool for laptops and desktops, internet—enabled smartphones represent a growing segment of Wi-Fi users, with Apple devices representing one-third of all Wi-Fi-capable devices observed (Malik, 2009).  Wi-Fi user demographics show a segment using Wi-Fi as an extended home office or college library (Watershed Publishing, 2009).  

Besides laptops, notebooks and smartphones, portable music players and videogame devices use WLAN’s to access the internet.  Study results found that in addition extending their classroom or office for work or email, Wi-Fi users utilized a full spectrum of activities while connected via WLAN’s, from accessing social networks to researching and buying goods and services (Watershed Publishing, 2009).   While some businesses, such as hotels and resorts monetize WLAN access either through pay-per-use or subscription (HotSpotzz Network, 2003), other businesses, such as cafés and coffee shops, provide Wi-Fi access free of charge to attract customers.  As an added marketing feature, businesses can configure their WLAN’s to interact with smartphone GPS to guide customers to their store, as well as provided select content (electronic coupons, web-only specials) related to the business.  

Cable and satellite television, especially when combined with digital video recorders (DVR), changed how we consume television programming.  Cable television originally did not stray far from the network model of broadcasting and while it did provide “premium” programming (movies, sporting events and themed channels), cable television still adhered to a schedule and even with the advent of VCR’s, controlled how consumers watched shows.  As cable television penetrated U.S. households, viewers of the network programming declined across all three networks ( Nielsen Media Research, 2006).  Cable programming,
rather than compete with network shows, was free to focus on specialized “channels” and produce content dictated by the theme of the channel.  As the “Big 3” depended on a variety of programming to attract audiences, each cable channel developed a unique identity (MTV, CNN, ESPN, TLC, Discovery, etc.), and concentrated on programming to support that identity.

Instead of augmenting “Big 3” network programming, cable television let more players provide programming and become a “network,” without having to invest in broadcast infrastructure.  Bypassing the need for over-the air-broadcast infrastructure let newer players roll that capital into highly specialized programming.   Competing for smaller and more diverse audiences replaces previous concerns about appealing to the broadest audience.  Cable and satellite television content providers, targeting smaller, discrete audiences, let advertisers pursue niche audiences with most of the demographic work already done.  DVR technology frees the audience from the strict schedule of the network model, to choose when they watch their favorite shows.  DVR’s, in addition to aiding in scheduling, organizing and storage of recordings, can also use search engine logic to find similar programming and make recommendations for additional recording.


Nielsen Media Research. (2006). Evening News Viewership, by Network. Washington, D.C.: The Project for Excellence in Journalism.
CTIA-The Wireless Association. (2009, December 31). CTIA Advocacy. Retrieved July 25, 2010, from CTIA.ORG:
Fleishman, G. (2009, July 28). AT&T's Wi-Fi Stats. Retrieved July 26, 2010, from Wi-Fi Net News:
HotSpotzz Network. (2003). WiFi market information and statistics. HotSpotzz Network.
Kurzweil, R. (2005). THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR: When Humans Transcend Biology. New York City: Viking Press.
Malik, O. (2009, August 18). How Smartphones Are Making Wi-Fi Hot Again. Retrieved July 26, 2010, from
Nielsen Telecom Practice Group. (2008, November 7). Recall of Any Text-message advertising Amongst Texters, by Age and ethnicity (Q2 2008). Retrieved July 25, 2010, from Fuor Digital:
Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. (2007, August 1). U.S. Daily Newspaper Circulation 1990-2006. Retrieved July 26, 2010, from
Watershed Publishing. (2009, June 30). Public Wi-Fi Hotspots Grow 400% Worldwide. Retrieved July 26, 2010, from Marketing Charts:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

TQ - The Thesis Excerpted From "Father Thomas J. Quinlan, 'Fool For Christ'" 2009 by Calvin Thomas, Jr.

          Stereotypes can distract the individual stereotyped (Steele & Aronson, 1995), creating a self-fulfilling prophecy and lowering performance. (Jandt, 2010, p. 89)  A recurring theme of the interview was the subject’s effort to offset the effects of racism by addressing the role of communication by the dominant as well as the minority (in this case African-American) cultures.  Additionally, the subject’s unorthodox approach to the priesthood, violating common expectations of how priests should behave, allowed him to be more persuasive (Seiter & Gass, 2004, p. 56).

Part of TQ’s communication strategy with the African-American community was to use his actions as a priest, friend and advocate to reinforce his genuine concern for the parish.  His non-verbal actions had to reinforce his communication.  His observation that it takes a long time for black people to trust someone, especially if they are white, displays cultural sensitivity that showed genuine respect.  He was acutely aware that the black parishioners were constantly observing and evaluating to determine if he really believed in what he said, and if he “practiced what he preached.”  TQ observed that once the Africa-American community was convinced that he considered himself equals with them, he was able to communicate on a deeper level. 
An ongoing effort in the African-American community was to counteract the effects of negative stereotypes.  While actions such as introducing the African-American flag and the seven principles of African unity caused controversy with the whites, and even some blacks within the parish, he wanted to overcome the “clichés”  that were holding African-Americans back.  His efforts predate research by Steele and Aronson on the risk of confirming negative stereotypes about one’s group (Steele & Aronson, 1995), and while their research looked at standardized testing, TQ feels those stereotypes, or “clichés” affect all aspects of self-identity.  Quinlan recalls firing two white nuns at The Basilica of St. Mary’s of the Immaculate Conception, “Because they would not make the school black.”  “They didn’t understand why you have to tell a little black kid, every day, you’ve got to say, ‘I am somebody.’ It sounds like a cliché, it sounds boring, it sounds dull, it sounds stupid to white people, but not to black kids.”  TQ talked about the lack of positive self-image and the pernicious effect of self-hate and emphasized the need to start early in life to instill self-esteem in black children.
TQ emphasizes the importance of language, and hints at the linguistic determinists’ view of language controlling thought (Jandt, 2010, p. 131) when he excoriates black parents for the way they talk to their children.  When a black parent tells a child, “Put your black ass down here,” TQ points out, “There’s no difference between a black ass and a white ass, so why emphasize it?  It’s a hidden form of self-hate, inferiority.”  That observation brings to mind the definition of power distance where less powerful members of a society expect and accept the unequal distribution of power (Jandt, 2010, p. 177).  In addition to expecting and accepting this inequality, TQ takes the black community to task for perpetuating this mindset through language.


 Seiter, J. S., & Gass, R. H. (2004). Perspectives on Persuasion, Social Influence, and Compliance Gaining. Boston, MA, USA: Pearson.
Jandt, F. E. (2010). An Introduction to intercultural communication: Identities in a global community (6th ed.). (T. R. Armstrong, D. Saoud, A. Baker, A. Virding, & G. Dickens, Eds.) Thousand Oaks, California, United States: SAGE Publications, Inc.
 Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 69 (5), 797.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

TQ on Race

TQ Leading protest in Norfolk, VA 1980

TQ admits his lack of interaction with people of color during his childhood, as well as his family's blue-collar, working class roots put him at a disadvantage at most of his parishes in that, “Half of it's been in uppity suburbia, everybody had a degree, a profession and a briefcase.”  He contrasted those parishes, with his postings to inner-city churches where he had to learn, “How black people had been cut off from society.  People didn't have checkbooks; they didn't know how to use money.  They went to terrible grocery stores.”  His early interaction with African-Americans showed him a community indifferent to the police and cynical of government.  As a white priest, he often bore the brunt of their frustration.  Their indifference to conditions echoes the findings of Jackson, Shin and Wilson that not only were they acknowledging the superiority and privilege of the dominant culture; they had internalized their own inferiority (Jandt, 2010, p. 31) (Jackson II, Shin, & Wilson, 2000).

 TQ addresses how harmful stereotypes permeated issues such as which mass people attended.  He noted that few whites attended 5:00PM mass at St. Mary's (predominantly black), “That's in the black neighborhood, and I'm afraid my car will be stolen. If it were a poor white neighborhood it would be the same thing, but they don't see that. Black equals bad, bad equals inferior.”  This observation mirrors the findings of Maddox and Gray who found skin color as an important factor in white and black representation of African-Americans (Maddox & Gray, 2002), as well as Dixon and Maddox's findings that dark skin tone was all that was needed to trigger racially stereotypical associations with black criminals (Dixon & Maddox, 2005).


(Excerpt from "Father Thomas J. Quinlan, 'Fool For Christ'"  2009 Calvin Thomas Jr.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

TQ and Communication

 TQ, contemplating more mischief
During his tenure at The Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Quinlan based liturgical years around "Star Wars" featuring Darth Vader as the devil, as well as a liturgy based on "The Wiz".  TQ freely alludes to the Expectancy Violations Theory aspect of his approach, stating, "My parishioners presume I'm crazy anyway, so I get away with murder."  Former parishioners echo the tenets of the theory, commenting, "Coming down the aisle on a motorcycle isn't so important compared to having people go home and and spend three hours discussing it...Most people go home and they don't remember the homily five minutes out the door.  But with T.Q., whether it's negative or positive, he makes you reflect on what you've heard."  Grounding his behavior in the New Testament, Quinlan asks, "Don't you think Jesus ruffled the feathers of everyone he ever met?"

His forays integrating pop culture with the liturgy paved the way for and paled in comparison to the liturgy of 1981.  That year Quinlan guided the predominantly African-American parish at St. Mary's in a liturgical year based on the life of slave rebellion leader Nat Turner.  TQ used Nat Turner's life to connect black Catholics with African-American history.  "You can't get 'Rootsier' for the African-American," TQ explained.  "You can't get more into black culture in American than to reflect on the meaning of the Nat Turner insurrection."  TQ tied Tuner's mission to free slaves to Christianity's tenet of liberating oppressed people.  Quinlan used Turner's belief he was destined for greatness as an object lesson on the connection between language and self-image, reminding them, "That was some statement for a black slave to make 153 years ago,: he told the congregation.  "That was saying, 'I am somebody' and 'black is beautiful' long before the first slaves were freed."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Welcome to Prodigal Altar Boy the blog. Ostensibly, this blog is part of an assignment for a class (COM 480), so don’t tell the instructor about the shameless self-promotion! Prodigal Altar Boy Productions is my documentary film company. Feel free to read what you like into the title. This blog chronicles ongoing work for my current documentary, about Father Thomas J. Quinlan, a (forcibly) retired, controversial priest currently living in the Tidewater area. “TQ,” as he is known, is the textbook definition of “character” and while the film will cover his many escapades, there is also a trail of changed lives and people brought closer to God by a man that put everything on the line and never looked back. I should mention that TQ was the pastor of the church I attended as a teenager (The Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception) and a lot of his style rubbed off on me. I am honored he let me into his life and convinced many people to let me into theirs to tell his story.

So sit back and enjoy the ride!