The newspaper that lands in my front yard -- that would be the Baltimore Sun -- has just completed a major overhaul of its online edition. Click here if you want to see its guide to this project. This means we have another chance to play an online game that we have been playing since the earliest days of GetReligion, a game that we could call "Can you find the religion news?"
There are two assumptions behind this game: (1) Religion news is very important (duh!) at the local, national and global levels. (2) Since religious faith is such a powerful force in the news, it should be easy -- convenient, even -- for readers to find the religion coverage offered in the online products produced by major news organizations.
It's hard to round up all of the religion news in the dead-tree-pulp edition of a major newspaper, or in the various programs produced by a news network, but the rise of the online world allows editors to combine the links from various sources and make it easier to find the work of various reporters, columnists and wire services in one place online. See, for example, this or especially this.
So, with hope in my heart, I began exploring the new online version of The Sun. I looked in all of the logical places to find religion news, like the site map, the table of contents at the bottom of the main page and the various pulldown menus that readers use to navigate the main news secitons.
There's no sign of religion. Zippo.
There are, of course, easy-to-click links to many other subjects that are of great importance to Sun readers. Here are a few:
Nation World Business Real Estate Technology Health & Science Obituaries Weather Elections Opinion Columnists Blogs Special Reports Traffic Politics Crime Police Blotter Education Bay & Environment Ideas Entertainment News Modern Life UniSun Travel Arts & Theater Books & Magazines Movies Music Restaurants & Food TV & Media Columnists Lottery Sudoku Pets
There are, of course, many readers who are interested in all of these subjects. Then again, there are also readers interested in religion news. Editors can check the local Yellow Pages to confirm this.
Anyway, I decided to write the design team to let them know how I feel.
Baltimore Sun team:
I am glad to see the new design, which is trim and concise and a great improvement. I am a journalism professor and a syndicated columnist, so I tend to care about these things. I especially like the navigation section at the bottom, which provides scores of easy links to different kinds of content in the newspaper.
However, something is missing. Many of the major issues in the world today are linked to religion. Where is the link, in your new design, to your stories and columns about religion news?
Terry Mattingly www.getreligion.org
In response, I received this short note.
As baltimoresun.com is a general interest website for news, sports, business, entertainment and other information, with a special focus on local news, we are not able to maintain special areas of the site for every category of news coverage. I will pass along your feedback to the site editors, however, so that they can see your feedback on the issue.
Anne C. Burger Marketing & Product Manager, Interactive
I wrote back to note the wide variety of links that the newspaper already provides to content within its site -- including direct links to subjects much more obscure than, well, religion.
This led to a number of email exchanges and, eventually, I learned that there is a handy link that helps a great deal: www.baltimoresun.com/religion
The problem, however, is that this link does not exist -- at least not yet -- in any of the standard indexes or menus on the Sun website. You have to know it exists in order to use it and bookmark it.
Well, that isn't quite true. You can find it this way. Once you are at the Sun site, you only need to figure out that you are supposed to click the Maryland link underneath the News link. At this point you will see this list:
Baltimore City Anne Arundel Baltimore Co. Carroll Harford Howard Crime Traffic Politics Education Bay & Environment Ideas
Ignore this list! The reader interested in religion news is supposed to guess that he or she needs to scroll down and down this Maryland page, past the various ads and mortgage-service links and -- there! -- down on the right you will find a small box labeled "Religion in the news."
This link only provides access to local religion news. When I asked about this, I was informed that Sun readers prefer to seek the rest of the newspaper's coverage of religion by roaming around in the various other news pages within the site -- or words to that effect.