Brian Holdsworth, left, has launched the first ever Fisher’s NET Awards looking for the best Catholic web sites. CatholicAnswers.com’s Jon Sorenson, right, is excited to be part of the judging panel.

Casting the NET onto new public squares

By 
  • September 26, 2015

When the Apostles first set out to evangelize to the world, they stood in public squares to preach about the Kingdom of God and Jesus’ resurrection. But today, Brian Holdsworth said the new public squares are on the Internet and this is where the Church must be.

This is why his design company, Holds Worth Design, launched the first ever Fisher’s NET Awards for the best Catholic web sites. Best- CatholicWebsites.com is meant to recognize Catholic institutions and organizations that are growing a dynamic presence for the Church online.

“The public square as such (during the day of the Apostles) doesn’t really exist any more... but it does exist on the Internet,” said Holdsworth.

“And so if that’s true, then we need to be responding to that same commission, but in a new way... proclaiming the truth of the Catholic faith in that medium.”

Fisher’s NET Awards first launched in August and over the past month the web site opened nominations to the public, with

about 100 nominations rolling in. On Sept. 8, the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, voting for the nominees officially opened.

There are 10 categories that the users can vote for online, including Best Blog, Best Ecclesial Site, Best Education Site, Best Parish Site, Best Press Site, Best Resources Site and Best Social Justice Site.

Many notable web sites, such as CatholicMemes.com, Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire and Catholic-Link, have been nominated for Best Social Media Presence Site. NET Ministries Canada and Catholic Christian Outreach are among the nominees for Best Ministry Site. The Archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Catholic Youth is nominated for Best Youth Site.

“Our intention was to offer enough categories that all Catholic organizations would be eligible and would have a fair opportunity,” said Holdsworth. “For example, we have an ecclesial category, but then we also offer a parish category... we wanted to break those two up and make it fair for parishes, but also make sure that we’re recognizing parishes because they’re sort of in the trenches of our culture.”

Each category will be judged according to its visual appeal, information architecture and technical performance or achievement.

The judging criteria were specifically developed to emphasize the visual presentation and performance of the web site. However, Holdsworth said that this does not mean that the content is not important.

“One thing that I really treasure about our faith is the fact that there is just really, really good teaching in it. If you’re ever stuck on something... you don’t have to look very far for profound answers to something,” said Holdsworth.

“The content itself is really strong and powerful, but content alone depends on it being received by a given audience.”

Holdsworth assembled a diverse panel of judges among former clients and fellow Catholic communications professionals, such as Fr. Thomas Rosica, Salt+Light Media Foundation CEO, Brandon Vogt, best-selling author and prominent speaker, and Lino Rulli, host of The Catholic Guy on SiriusXM radio.

Jon Sorensen, who manages apostolate events, marketing and online presence for CatholicAnswers.

com, said he is excited to be a part of the Fisher’s NET judging panel to see what the public likes.

“(Catholic Answers is) in the middle of redesigning our web site ourselves so we have some of that (criteria) to live up to ourselves,” he said. “I’m interested in how people do things... but also seeing what the people like. Who are the people most interested in and why?”

Sorensen said that he hopes Fisher’s NET encourages more dynamic web sites for other Catholic organizations and that the awards will become a resource of organizations that have been successful in that work.

“I think it’s important that Catholics be up to date with the presentation of the Gospel on the Internet. The Internet is constantly evolving and I think we need to evolve with it,” he said.

Cassie Pease, a Catholic graphic designer based in South Dakota, is also a member of the judging panel looking forward to Fisher’s NET’s first award season. Along with her colleague, Tianna Mallet from Edmonton, Pease will pay special attention to the graphic elements of the nominees.

“I think it’s bringing that beauty that the Church has always had through sacred art... and just breathing new life in to it,” she said. “I realized that looking on Facebook and other social media that people are really craving these designs... that they can share this beauty that we have as Catholics with their friends.”

On Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the voting period closes and the judges will vote for a winner based on the top three most popular nominees in each category. Because many of the judges, including Holdsworth himself, have their web sites up for nomination, a judge’s vote is not counted where there is a conflict of interest.

“This is the case for so many of the judges and this is, perhaps, just a symptom of the fact that professionals in this sphere who are focused on the Church’s mission are marginal so there is some significant overlap,” he said.

“At the end of the day, we could just leave out outside opinion and award ourselves a bunch of awards, but that wouldn’t be much fun. We wanted this to be about the community affirming the best of the best and that’s the only worthwhile way to gain recognition.”

Holdsworth adds that for the 2016 Fisher’s NET Awards, he aims to have all of the nominees completely driven by the public.

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