08 October 2015

The Best Catholic Aggregator Sites

People on the Right are familiar with the DRUDGE REPORT, which aggregates news stories from all over the web, with a heavy Republican bias.  For Catholics, there are a few significant options for news aggregation.  Let's look at each of them.

Patheos Catholic
Patheos isn't an aggregator so much as a blog hosting site.  But, it's a massive blog hosting site.  The Catholic Channel there currently hosts 64 blogs, ranging from the zany stats nerd-dom of Leah Libresco to the drunken ramblings of Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry.  Patheos is very hit or miss, with a lot of "miss".  For example, there are the Mark Shea and Simcha Fisher types, who seem to have traded in their personalities for wax caricatures several years ago, and are frequently obnoxious and pointlessly inflammatory.  There are a lot of other blogs as well, occasionally with good content, but it's not a pleasant site to navigate.  But it's not a real aggregator anyway, so let's move on.

This was the first Catholic aggregator I became aware of.  I imagine I'm not alone in this.  The site hosts two major resources, which tend to be at the top of Catholicism-related Google search results: the old Catholic Encyclopedia, and the public domain English edition of St. Thomas's Summa Theologiae.  People end up on New Advent for these reference materials (and others... they also have the Schaff Nicene/Post-Nicene Fathers series) and they stay for the news aggregation and links to other Catholic resources.

All in all, NewAdvent is a good resource.  Hardly a day passes when I don't visit it at least a few times.  But as an aggregator, it is very weak, and its weakness only becomes clearer the deeper you explore the Catholic Internet.  NewAdvent is generally reliable for links to major news sites (NCRegister, CNA, CNS) for headline stories, and they will occasionally point you toward interesting pieces by Sandro Magister,  Rocco Palmo, or John Allen.  But the bread and butter of the NewAdvent blogroll is the staff of the National Catholic Register and the Patheos Catholic Channel.  One gets the sense, watching the faces of these people pop up day after day with their predictable headlines and lame catecheses, that writing for the web isn't much more than cranking a barrel organ for them, over and over and over.  And NewAdvent, for whatever reason, doesn't change its lineup.  It's NCRegister, Patheos, and CatholicAnswers over... and over... and over.

Reddit (and Similar Sites)
There is a very active Catholic sub-reddit, and there are active Catholic communities on 8chan and other community sites as well.  Like Patheos, these aren't really aggregators in the Matt Drudge fashion, but they can be used as such. Because Reddit and the rest aren't quasi-private social media sites (like Facebook), the echo-chamber factor is significantly reduced.  And because these sites don't give you an unstoppable torrent of garbage to sift through like Twitter, it's possible to use them more or less efficiently.  However, they aren't aggregators, and they're primarily for people to chew the fat about whatever, so the functionality isn't all there, and you'll end up reading a lot of chatter about whether baptizing Grandma's cat is a sin.

PewSitter is the closest thing I'm aware of to a full-blown Matt Drudge-style Catholic news aggregator.  The formatting even looks similar.  They draw on a wide range of sources, and keep a set of "top headlines" in a short list at the front of the page, so you don't have to dig for them. Unfortunately, PewSitter suffers from a bad case of ideological rabies.  I'm not sure how long this has been the case, because I've only followed the site for a bit over a year, but they are unceasingly freaking out.  And the headlines, my gosh.  The headlines are dripping with hysteria and polemic.  This wouldn't be completely terrible, except for the bias of the site.  NewAdvent is geared (like the National Catholic Register) toward bland Republican Neo-Catholics of the JPII variety, for whom the letters "CCC" are a balm to the soul, and the Catholic tradition is a nice idea that happened before Vatican II.  PewSitter is geared toward Republican Catholics as well, but PewSitter seems to split its bile between things that are upsetting to diehard Republicans and things that are upsetting to diehard Traditionalists.  How these two groups fit together, I'm not sure.  Maybe they're just both freaking out a lot lately, so that's who PewSitter caters to.

Spirit Daily
If you thought PewSitter was the limit of Catholic sensationalist weirdness, you were wrong.  Next there's SPIRIT DAILY, which is really trying to do the Drudge thing (compare).  NewAdvent is for bland Catechism thumpers, PewSitter is for hysterical Republican Trads, but Spirit Daily is for those of us with a real taste for supernatural speculation and miracle piety.  Fatima, Medjugorje, Padre Pio, etc.  I'm not saying that the piety associated with these things is bad, but Spirit Daily feels weird, and its focus is weird, and it's not very good at keeping you attuned to the broad spectrum of Catholic news and analysis either.

Catholic Marrow
You may have noticed that the options aren't that great.  There are tons of good Catholic blogs and news sites out there.  None of the sites mentioned so far do a good job of surveying, aggregating, and presenting them.  But in the past few days a new site has appeared, which I'm calling "Catholic Marrow".  The presentation isn't perfect, but this site gives you all the content.  It's like having a regularly updated blogroll of 150 news sites and blogs.  Difficult to sift through for now, but I'm sure in time the layout will be updated to make consumption easier.  And it makes it possible to keep a pulse on the Catholic internet.  I have big hopes for this project.