The ghosts in Google News

Young master Jeremy Lott is on to something important with his post yesterday about trying to find a natural niche for religion within Google News. This whole task is not easy and, yes, it is closely related to the overarching purpose of this blog and our search for religion “ghosts” between the lines of many news stories in the MSM.

A few weeks ago, I tried to do the new Google thing where you set up your personal version of the News page that searches the Google world and creates a special section. I, of course, wanted a religion section.

So I started — with the user-friendly Google interface — trying to select a few search terms that would give me a nice Google religion section.

It didn’t work. Why?

Well, what search terms would you select? You can start with the usual names for religious groups — Catholic, Jewish, Baptist, Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan, Presbyterian, Charismatic, Disciples, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Methodist, Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal, etc., etc. Get the point? How many names and niche groups would you need, just to handle the North American scene?

When I left the religion beat at the Rocky Mountain News, I had file folders up and running on 250-plus religious denominations, groups, leaders and movements.

Google that.

And this kind of online search would yield next to nothing about the subtle parts of religion news that most fascinate me.

A denominational search gets you, well, the “usual suspects.” As the Catholic uber-blogger said in a comment to Jeremy:

Yeah, I did a “Catholic” section on my customized page.

Problem is that 75% of the stories are sports scores.

But I can get through them pretty quickly.

But I think you’re right — a built-in religion section would be good.

Posted by Amy Welborn at 1:01 pm on June 12, 2005

Does a denominational search get you the “ghosts” in the world of entertainment, sports, business, politics, science and academia? It will net some of them, but not many. And it would miss the most interesting ones, since they are rooted in faith elements that are hard to pin down. It will miss most of the true ghosts.

It’s like the work of our best MSM Godbeat reporters. The better the journalist, the harder it is to lock them up on a niche page. We have commented on this before and it will remain at the heart of the GetReligion task.

We’ll keep trying and we want you to join in. For example, if you get some great Google “religion page” search terms, let us know. We can send them to the Google powers that be, to help them create a lively home for this crucial news content.

Search on.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Dave Roberts

    Evangelical in Google news is quite fruitful. Only part of the story you are pursuing I know you but gives you a steady flow of news

  • holmegm

    If you use minus signs, you can require that certain terms *not* be present.

    For example:
    christian -sports -football -basketball -baseball -championship -Dillahunty

    Works pretty well :)

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    I often search using the following terms:

    (obviously, mine are geared towards my blog)

    Also, I always search by date instead of relevance since what is relevant to me is often quite different to what is relevant to google.

  • Stephen A.

    I get plenty of religion stories by creating a category with the single word “religion.”

    But when I use multiple words, such as the denomination list, or even the list of some pagan-related words as Jason suggests, I get nothing. Why? Because (I believe) creating a category searches for ALL of the words in that story.

    How are you guys doing it?

  • Joe Perez

    I have to do two types of Googles to find items related to gay issues: one, for “gay” which turns up items in the MSM and gay press; two, for “homosexual” for the conservative religious press.

  • Jill

    Hey, why not try a search on LeBlanc, Lott, and Mattingly? ;)

    Terry, did you know about this article in last Saturday’s Dallas Morning News? GetReligion gets mentioned!

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  • Mike Brugge

    No, we do not need Google to screen religion stories into a religion gulag. As you all have continually noted, the most interesting religion stories start out as cultural issues stories, and are notable for their religious/ ethical/ moral elements. When a religion ghost is involved, the story may be days old before these dimensions of a story are pointed out to the clueless media types. You are just going to have to continue to rely on your friends to point these stories out to you.
    – Mike B.

  • Joel Anderson

    I agree that getting Google to decide what belongs in a religion ghetto isn’t needed. I do appreciate the reminder that one can customize the feed. I’m having good results with a “Religion” feed that searches:

    faith church believe

    Is there a way to do “or” for keywords.

    [actually another search with just the word "bible" seems to be good, too]