Easter Googling

I bet an embarrassing number of us would find our Google searches reflect what we think about, our cares and concerns and our future plans. For instance, you might find variations of “royal wedding” and “Kate Middleton wedding dress” shamelessly appearing in my web history this week.

On religious holidays, you can probably expect a fair number of people searching for keywords related to religion. An analysis from Google suggests that people search for “church” more during Easter than they do around Christmas, Michelle Boorstein points out for the Washington Post‘s Under God blog. Editors might play on this idea in figuring out which stories to promote higher on their respective websites.

But during my regular website checks of the morning, I was surprised to see nothing about Easter or religion period on The New York Times home page this morning. The lead story was “An Ode to Spring, Whenever It Comes.” Now, I know religion coverage is not absent. The paper posted at least 13 religion stories since Good Friday, a seemingly higher number than usual.

In contrast, the Washington Post had links to six Easter stories on its home page. There were several trending topics on Twitter and Google related to the holiday, including “Merry Easter” and “how to tie a tie,” so it seems like it would be a decent web strategy to promote something related to the holiday today. I’m not a huge fan of doing holiday stories for holiday stories’ sake (or writing stories solely based on what people are searching for), but you would think that what people are searching for might be on the web editors’ minds.

Some of the most interesting coverage came from across the globe, including photo slideshows of how diverse the holiday looks (get your Easter egg fix here).

News outlets often use the holiday as a chance to spotlight violence or tension around the world–after all, most people expect holidays to be fairly peaceful. So you’ll see the highlights from Pope Benedict XVI’s message that focus on the current events in Libya, the Middle East and refugees in Europe. Or there’s the tiny Christian population in Japan celebrating the holiday amid the earthquake “resurrection.” Iraq is reporting more attacks near churches, furthering safety concerns for Christians who haven’t fled the country.

Another story that has been developing is the Chinese government’s crackdown on Shouwang Church, one of Beijing’s bigger underground Christian churches.

A few days ago, AFP provided some interesting details about how the church is spreading its message, including through Google Buzz since its website was shut down.

“As Easter is a very important day for us we must stick to our decision to worship outdoors,” senior Pastor Jin Tianming told AFP by phone from his Beijing home, where he has been under house arrest.

“This is our uncompromising position and a matter of faith. If they arrest our followers, this is the price we are willing to pay,” he said.

Authorities evicted Shouwang from its previous place of worship, a rented office space, in November and blocked the congregation of about 1,000 people from entering new premises purchased with church funds, Jin said.

After the Easter service arrests, AFP offered one of the more extensive reports on the Easter arrests.

“Between 20 and 30 followers were taken away by police,” senior pastor Jin Tianming told AFP by telephone from his home, where he is under house arrest. He said there were several police officers posted outside the building.

He added that the members of the congregation who were arrested had been taken to different police stations and that none had so far been released.

Jin had said before the planned gathering that the church considered Easter an important occasion and would stick to its decision to hold a service.

Of course, no Easter couldn’t be complete for journalists without covering President Obama’s whereabouts. It’s almost always a story because, well, he doesn’t attend a church regularly, so it is a bit out of the norm. Obama and his family attended Shiloh Baptist Church, and for some reason, AFP doesn’t think Baptist needs to be capitalized.

Obama’s attention is divided among many interests, but with a new religious freedom ambassador, it’ll be interesting to see whether international religious freedom plays a larger role for the administration in the coming months. After all, that kind of coverage probably won’t stem from Google trends.

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  • http://blog.emergingscholars.org Mike Hickerson

    FWIW, the NY Times iPhone app had 3 religion-related stories on its (free) Top News section this morning, out of about 10 stories altogether: the report about the Chinese churches, an article about evangelical church planters in Manhattan, and a story about a complicated same-sex custody battle that involves a TN pastor. As of right now, all but the Chinese church story have been replaced by more recent (i.e. breaking within the last 12 hours) stories.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Thanks, Mike. The NYT Android app is pretty terrible, so I tend to look at the RSS things. There definitely were quite a few stories to look at–curious who’s making the promotion decisions.

  • Jerry

    My local paper, the Contra Costa Times, had a piece entitled “The Rapture battle on billboards” http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_17910516?nclick_check=1 on Saturday. On the breaking news front page also on Saturday (now separate from the front page :-), there was an AP piece on the Pope’s answering online questions including one from a Muslim! http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory?id=13433386

    I guess people become interested in religion stories only on certain specified holidays in the minds of editors. Sigh.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Holidays are definitely the time when editors pick up the idea that religion is hot. It’s hard to know how to approach it with a fresh angle each year.

  • Jerry

    I just found that the BBC Asian Network had an Easter special. Audrey Dias chats to members of the Asian Christian Community Church. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b010m56q So if you’re interested in a different kind of Christian music from a different culture, you might like this show.