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June 28 2013

15:00

This Week in Review: The backlash against Greenwald and Snowden, and RSS’s new wave

glenn-greenwald-cc

Greenwald, journalism, and advocacy: It’s been three weeks since the last review, and a particularly eventful three weeks at that. So this review will cover more than just the last week, but it’ll be weighted toward the most recent stuff. I’ll start with the U.S. National Security Agency spying revelations, covering first the reporter who broke them (Glenn Greenwald), then his source (Edward Snowden), and finally a few brief tech-oriented pieces of the news itself.

Nearly a month since the first stories on U.S. government data-gathering, Greenwald, who runs an opinionated and meticulously reported blog for the Guardian, continues to break news of further electronic surveillance, including widespread online metadata collection by the Obama administration that continues today, despite the official line that it ended in 2011. Greenwald’s been the object of scrutiny himself, with a thorough BuzzFeed profile on his past as an attorney and questions from reporters about old lawsuits, back taxes, and student loan debt.

The rhetoric directed toward Greenwald by other journalists was particularly fierce: The New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin said on CNBC he’s “almost arrest” Greenwald (he later apologized), and most notably, NBC’s David Gregory asked Greenwald “to the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden,” why he shouldn’t be charged with a crime. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple refuted Gregory’s line of questioning point-by-point and also examined the legal case for prosecuting Greenwald (there really isn’t one).

There were several other breakdowns of Gregory’s questions as a way of defending himself as a professional journalist by excluding Greenwald as one; of these, NYU professor Jay Rosen’s was the definitive take. The Los Angeles Times’ Benjamin Mueller seconded his point, arguing that by going after Greenwald’s journalistic credentials, “from behind the veil of impartiality, Gregory and his colleagues went to bat for those in power, hiding a dangerous case for tightening the journalistic circle.”

The Freedom of the Press Foundation’s Trevor Timm argued that Gregory is endangering himself by defining journalism based on absence of opinion, and The New York Times’ David Carr called for journalists to show some solidarity on behalf of transparency. PaidContent’s Mathew Ingram used the case to argue that the “bloggers vs. journalists” tension remains important, and Greenwald himself said it indicated the incestuous relationship between Washington journalists and those in power.

A few, like Salon’s David Sirota, turned the questions on Gregory, wondering why he shouldn’t be charged with a crime, since he too has disclosed classified information. Or why he should be considered a journalist, given his track record of subservience to politicians, as New York magazine’s Frank Rich argued.

Earlier, Rosen had attempted to mediate some of the criticism of Greenwald by arguing that there are two valid ways of approaching journalism — with or without politics — that are both necessary for a strong press. Former newspaper editor John L. Robinson added a call for passion in journalism, while CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis and Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi both went further and argued that all journalism is advocacy.

edward-snowden-stencil-cc

Snowden and leaking in public: The other major figure in the aftermath of this story has been Edward Snowden, the employee of a national security contractor who leaked the NSA information to Greenwald and revealed his identity shortly after the story broke. The U.S. government charged Snowden with espionage (about which Greenwald was understandably livid), as he waited in Hong Kong, not expecting to see home again.

The first 48 hours of this week were a bit of blur: Snowden applied for asylum in Ecuador (the country that’s been harboring WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange), then reportedly left Hong Kong for Moscow. But Snowden wasn’t on a scheduled flight from Moscow to Cuba, creating confusion about where exactly he was — and whether he was ever in Moscow in the first place. He did all this with the apparent aid of WikiLeaks, whose leaders claimed that they know where Snowden is and that they could publish the rest of his NSA documents. It was a bit of a return to the spotlight for WikiLeaks, which has nonetheless remained on the FBI’s radar for the last several years, with the bureau even paying a WikiLeaks volunteer as an informant.

We got accounts from the three journalists Snowden contacted — Greenwald, The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman, and filmmaker Laura Poitras — about their interactions with him, as well as a probe by New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan into why he didn’t go to The Times. In a pair of posts, paidContent’s Mathew Ingram argued that the leak’s path showed that having a reputation as an alternative voice can be preferable to being in the mainstream when it comes to some newsgathering, and that news will flow to wherever it finds the least resistance. The Times’ David Carr similarly concluded that news stories aren’t as likely to follow established avenues of power as they used to.

As The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple described, news organizations debated whether to call Snowden a “leaker,” “source,” or “whistleblower,” Several people, including The Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta and Forbes’ Tom Watson, tried to explain why Snowden was garnering less popular support than might be expected, while The New Yorker’s John Cassidy detailed the backlash against Snowden in official circles, which, as Michael Calderone of The Huffington Post pointed out, was made largely with the aid of anonymity granted by journalists.

Numerous people, such as Kirsten Powers of The Daily Beast, also decried that backlash, with Ben Smith of BuzzFeed making a particularly salient point: Journalists have long disregarded their sources’ personal motives and backgrounds in favor of the substance of the information they provide, and now that sources have become more public, the rest of us are going to have to get used to that, too. The New York Times’ David Carr also noted that “The age of the leaker as Web-enabled public figure has arrived.”

Finally the tech angle: The Prism program that Snowden leaked relied on data from tech giants such as Google, Apple, Facebook, and Yahoo, and those companies responded first by denying their direct involvement in the program, then by competing to show off their commitment to transparency, as Time’s Sam Gustin reported. First, Google asked the U.S. government for permission to reveal all their incoming government requests for information, followed quickly by Facebook and Microsoft. Then, starting with Facebook, those companies released the total number of government requests for data they’ve received, though Google and Twitter pushed to be able to release more specific numbers. Though there were early reports of special government access to those companies’ servers, Google reported that it uses secure FTP to transfer its data to the government.

Instagram’s bet on longer (but still short) video: Facebook’s Instagram moved into video last week, announcing 15-second videos, as TechCrunch reported in its good summary of the new feature. That number drew immediate comparisons to the six-second looping videos of Twitter’s Vine. As The New York Times noted, length is the primary difference between the two video services (though TechCrunch has a pretty comprehensive comparison), and Instagram is betting that longer videos will be better.

The reason isn’t aesthetics: As Quartz’s Christopher Mims pointed out, the ad-friendly 15-second length fits perfectly with Facebook’s ongoing move into video advertising. As soon as Instagram’s video service was released, critics started asking a question that would’ve seemed absurd just a few years ago: Is 15 seconds too long? Josh Wolford of WebProNews concluded that it is indeed too much, at least for the poorly produced amateur content that will dominate the service. At CNET, Danny Sullivan tried to make peace with the TL;DR culture behind Vine and Instagram Video.

Several tech writers dismissed it on sight: John Gruber of Daring Fireball gave it a terse kiss-off, while Mathew Ingram of GigaOM explained why he won’t use it — can’t be easily scanned, and a low signal-to-noise ratio — though he said it could be useful for advertisers and kids. PandoDaily’s Nathaniel Mott argued that Instagram’s video (like Instagram itself) is more about vanity-oriented presentation than useful communication. And both John Herrman of BuzzFeed and Farhad Manjoo of Slate lamented the idea that Instagram and Facebook seem out of ideas, with Manjoo called it symptomatic of the tech world in general. “Instead of invention, many in tech have fallen into the comfortable groove of reinvention,” Manjoo wrote.

Chris Gayomali of The Week, however, saw room for both Vine and Instagram to succeed. Meanwhile, Nick Statt of ReadWrite examined the way Instagram’s filters have changed the way photography is seen, even among professional photographers and photojournalists.

google-reader-mark-all-as-readThe post-Google Reader RSS rush: As Google Reader approaches its shutdown Monday, several other companies are taking the opportunity to jump into the suddenly reinvigorated RSS market. AOL launched its own Reader this week, and old favorite NetNewsWire relaunched a new reader as well.

Based on some API code, there was speculation that Facebook could be announcing its own RSS reader soon. That hasn’t happened, though The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook is working on a Flipboard-like mobile aggregation device. GigaOM’s Eliza Kern explained why she wouldn’t want a Facebook RSS feed, while Fast Company’s Chris Dannen said a Facebook RSS reader could actually help solve the “filter bubble” like-minded information problem.

Sarah Perez of TechCrunch examined the alternatives to Google Reader, concluding disappointedly that there simply isn’t a replacement out there for it. Her colleague, Darrell Etherington, chided tech companies for their reactionary stance toward RSS development. Carol Kopp of Minyanville argued, however, that much of the rush toward RSS development is being driven just as much by a desire to crack the mobile-news nut, something she believed could be accomplished. RSS pioneer Dave Winer was also optimistic about its future, urging developers to think about “What would news do?” in order to reshape it for a new generation.

Reading roundup: A few of the other stories you might have missed over the past couple of weeks:

— Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings, who had built up a reputation as a maverick through his stellar, incisive reporting on foreign affairs, was killed in a car accident last week at age 33. Several journalists — including BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman, Slate’s David Weigel, and freelancer Corey Pein — wrote warm, inspiring remembrances of a fearless journalist and friend. Time’s James Poniewozik detected among reporters in general “maybe a little shame that more of us don’t always remember who our work is meant to serve” in their responses to Hastings’ death.

— Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism issued a study based on a survey of nonprofit news organizations that provided some valuable insights into the state of nonprofit journalism. The Lab’s Justin Ellis, Poynter’s Rick Edmonds, and J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer explained the findings. Media analyst Alan Mutter urged nonprofit news orgs to put more focus on financial sustainability, while Michele McLellan of the Knight Digital Media Center called on their funders to do the same thing.

— Oxford’s Reuters Institute also issued a survey-based study whose findings focused on consumers’ willingness to pay for news. The Lab’s Sarah Darville and BBC News’ Leo Kelion summarized the findings, while paidContent’s Mathew Ingram gave an anti-paywall reading. The Press Gazette also highlighted a side point in the study — the popularity of live blogs.

— Texas state politics briefly grabbed a much broader spotlight this week with state Sen. Wendy Davis’ successful 13-hour filibuster of a controversial abortion bill. Many people noticed that coverage of the filibuster (and surrounding protest) was propelled by digital photo and video, rather than cable news. VentureBeat’s Meghan Kelly, Time’s James Poniewozik, and The Verge’s Carl Franzen offered explanations.

— Finally, a couple of reads from the folks at Digital First, one sobering and another inspiring: CEO John Paton made the case for the inadequacy of past-oriented models in sustaining newspapers, and digital editor Steve Buttry collected some fantastic advice for students on shaping the future of journalism.

Photos of Glenn Greenwald by Gage Skidmore and Edward Snowden stencil by Steve Rhodes used under a Creative Commons license. Instagram video by @bakerbk.

March 29 2013

13:30

March 25 2013

12:15

December 19 2011

07:37

Magazine editing: managing information overload

In the second of three extracts from the 3rd edition of Magazine Editing, published by Routledge, I talk about dealing with the large amount of information that magazine editors receive. 

Managing information overload

A magazine editor now has little problem finding information on a range of topics. It is likely that you will have subscribed to email newsletters, RSS feeds, Facebook groups and pages, YouTube channels and various other sources of news and information both in your field and on journalistic or management topics.

There tend to be two fears driving journalists’ information consumption: the fear that you will miss out on something because you’re not following the right sources; and the fear that you’ll miss out on something because you’re following too many sources. This leads to two broad approaches: people who follow everything of any interest (‘follow, then filter’); and people who are very strict about the number of sources of information they follow (‘filter, then follow’).

A good analogy to use here is of streams versus ponds. A pond is manageable, but predictable. A stream is different every time you step in it, but you can miss things.

As an editor you are in the business of variety: you need to be exposed to a range of different pieces of information, and cannot afford to be caught out. A good strategy for managing your information feeds then, is to follow a wide variety of sources, but to add filters to ensure you don’t miss all the best stuff.

If you are using an RSS reader one way to do this is to have specific folders for your ‘must-read’ feeds. Andrew Dubber, a music industries academic and author of the New Music Strategies blog, recommends choosing 10 subjects in your area, and choosing five ‘must-read’ feeds for each, for example.

For email newsletters and other email updates you can adopt a similar strategy: must-reads go into your Inbox; others are filtered into subfolders to be read if you have time.

To create a folder in Google Reader, add a new feed (or select an existing one) and under the heading click on Feed Settings… – then scroll to the bottom and click on New Folder… – this will also add the feed to that folder.

If you are following hundreds or thousands of people on Twitter, use Twitter lists to split them into manageable channels: ‘People I know’; ‘journalism’; ‘industry’; and so on. To add someone to a list on Twitter, visit their profile page and click on the list button, which will be around the same area as the ‘Follow’ button.

You can also use websites such as Paper.li to send you a daily email ‘newspaper’ of the most popular links shared by a particular list of friends every day, so you don’t miss out on the most interesting stories.

Social bookmarking: creating an archive and publishing at the same time

Social bookmarking tools like Delicious, Digg and Diigo can also be useful in managing web-based resources that you don’t have time to read or think might come in useful later. Bookmarking them essentially ‘files’ each webpage so you can access them quickly when you need them (you do this by giving each page a series of relevant tags, e.g. ‘dieting’, ‘research’, ‘UK’, ‘Jane Jones’).

They also include a raft of other useful features, such as RSS feeds (allowing you to automatically publish selected items to a website, blog, or Twitter or Facebook account), and the ability to see who else has bookmarked the same pages (and what else they have bookmarked, which is likely to be relevant to your interests).

Check the site’s Help or FAQ pages to find out how to use them effectively. Typically this will involve adding a button to your browser’s Links bar (under the web address box) by dragging a link (called ‘Bookmark on Delicious’ or similar) from the relevant page of the site (look for ‘bookmarklets’).

Then, whenever you come across a page you want to bookmark, click on that button. A new window will appear with the name and address of the webpage, and space for you to add comments (a typical tactic is to paste a key quote from the page here), and tags.

Useful things to add as tags include anything that will help you find this later, such as any organisations, locations or people that are mentioned, the author or publisher, and what sort of information is included, such as ‘report’, ‘statistics’, ‘research’, ‘casestudy’ and so on.

If installing a button on your browser is too complicated or impractical many of these services also allow you to bookmark a page by sending the URL to a specific email address. Alternatively, you can just copy the URL and log on to the bookmarking site to bookmark it.

Some bookmarking services double up as blogging sites: Tumblr and Stumbleupon are just two. The process is the same as described above, but these services are more intuitively connected with other services such as Twitter and Facebook, so that bookmarked pages are also automatically published on those services too. With one click your research not only forms a useful archive but also becomes an act of publishing and distribution.

Every so often you might want to have a clear out: try diverting mailings and feeds to a folder for a week without looking at them. After seven days, ask which ones, if any, you have missed. You might benefit from unsubscribing and cutting down some information clutter. In general, it may be useful to have background information, but it all occupies your time. Treat such things as you would anything sent to you on paper. If you need it, and it is likely to be difficult to find again, file it or bookmark it. If not, bin it. After a while, you’ll find it gets easier.

Do you have any other techniques for dealing with information overload?

 

September 26 2011

16:14

A network infrastructure for journalists online

For some years now, I have started every online journalism course I teach with an introduction to three key tools: RSS readers, social networks, and social bookmarking.

These are, I believe, the basis of a network infrastructure which few modern journalists – whatever their platform – can do without.

The word ‘network’ is key here – because I believe one of the fundamental changes that journalists have to adapt to in the 21st century is the move to networked modes of working.

Firstly, because the newsroom itself is becoming more networked with contributors situated outside of it (the increasingly collaborative nature of journalism).

Secondly, because sources are becoming more networked (formal organisations are increasingly complemented by ad hoc ones formed across Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and so on).

And finally, because distribution of news – which has both commercial and editorial implications – is reliant on networks outside of the journalist or their employer’s control.

When I describe the network infrastructure outlined below, I outline two levels: the tools themselves, and how they connect to each other. In an attempt to clarify that, I’ve created a diagram.

The icons in the diagram attempt to show clearly the purpose of each tool:

  • The exclamation mark representing RSS readers indicate that the tool is focused on monitoring what’s new;
  • The question mark representing social bookmarking indicate that that tool largely serves to answer questions, providing context and background
  • The facial expressions representing social networks indicate that this tool help provide access to sources who may have stories to tell (positive; negative) or who are asking important questions (confused).

Here is a further breakdown of each element, and how they connect to each other.

RSS Reader

As outlined above, this part of the structure is all about ‘What’s new?’ and is quite often the first thing a journalist checks at the start of the working day (indeed, it’s ideal for checking on a phone on the way to work). It is the modern equivalent of picking up the day’s newspapers and tuning into the first radio and TV broadcasts of the day.

The RSS Reader gathers news feeds from a range of sources. Here are just a few:

  • Formal news organisations
  • Journalistic blogs
  • Organisational blogs
  • Personal blogs of individuals in your field

In addition, an RSS reader allows you to follow customised feeds reporting any mention of key terms, organisations and individuals across a variety of platforms:

  • Google News
  • The blogosphere as a whole
  • Social bookmarking services such as Delicious
  • Forums
  • Microblogging services such as Twitter
  • Video sharing services such as YouTube
  • Photo sharing services such as Flickr
  • Audio sharing services such as Audioboo
  • Social networks such as Facebook Pages

This is how the RSS reader connects to the two other elements of the infrastructure: most social networks have RSS feeds of some kind, as do social bookmarking services (one of the reasons I prefer Delicious over other platforms is the fact that it has an RSS feed for every user, for every item bookmarked with a particular ‘tag’ (explained below), for tags by particular users and for any combination of tags.

These are explained in a bit more detail in my post on ‘Passive-Aggressive Newsgathering‘.

But if you can follow these feeds in an RSS reader, why use a social network at all?

Social networks

Why use a social network? To follow people, not just content, and because your own contributions to those networks are a key factor in gaining access to sources.

With many social networking platforms (Twitter, for example) you can of course find individual users’ RSS feeds in an RSS reader, or a feed of people you are ‘following’ – either of which you can subscribe to in an RSS reader. But there’s little point, and your RSS reader will soon become flooded with updates. Instead, you should use the RSS reader to follow subjects and add the individuals talking about those subjects to your social networks.

The social network provides an added level of serendipity to your newsgathering: increased opportunities to encounter leads, tips and stories that you would not otherwise encounter.

It is also a three-way medium: a platform for you to ask questions or invite experiences relevant to the story you are pursuing, or to follow the public conversations of others asking questions or sharing experiences.

Because of this focus on social networks as a serendipity engine, I adopt an approach of seeing Twitter as a ‘stream, not a pool’ – not worrying about following too many people but rather about following too few, but having my cake and eating it by using Lists as a filter for those I want to miss least.

The final use for social networks is often the first use that journalists think of: distribution. And it is here that social networking also connects to the other 2 parts of the network infrastructure.

If you read something interesting in your RSS reader and wish to share it across social networks, you can often do so with a single click – with a bit of preparation. Twitterfeed is a tool which will automatically tweet updates on your Twitter account – all you need to know is the RSS feed for the updates you want to share. If you’re using Google Reader, for example, that feed is on your Shared Items page.

To tweet something interesting you’ve seen in your RSS Reader all you have to do then is (in the case of Google Reader) click on the ‘Share’ button below that item.

Social bookmarking

The first two parts of the network infrastructure – an RSS reader and social networks – are about the initial stages of newsgathering; the first things you check at the start of a working day.

Social bookmarking, however, is about what you do with information from your RSS reader and social networks – and information you deal with throughout your day.

Today’s news is tomorrow’s context. And social bookmarking allows you to keep a record of that context to make it quickly accessible when needed.

That’s the bookmarking part. The social part also allows you to publish information at the same time as you store it; to discover what information other people with similar interests are bookmarking; and to discover which people are bookmarking similar things to you).

Because social bookmarking is the least immediate element of this network infrastructure, it is also the aspect which the fewest students get their heads around and actually use.

Yet it is, for me, perhaps the most useful element. It takes an upfront investment of time and the development of a habit which initially doesn’t have any obvious reward.

But when you’re up against a deadline and are able to retrieve a dozen useful reports, documents and people within minutes – then you’ll get it.

Here’s the process:

  1. You come across something of interest. It may be a useful article, blog post or official report in your RSS reader – or a document linked to by someone in your social network. You might encounter the thing of interest while working on a story. You may read it – you may not have time.
  2. You bookmark the specific webpage containing it using a service like Delicious. You add ‘tags’ to help you find it later: these might include:
    • the subjects of the webpage (e.g. ‘environment’, ‘health’),
    • its author or publisher (e.g. ‘paulbradshaw’, ‘OJB’),
    • specific organisations or individuals (‘nhs’, ‘davidcameron’),
    • the type of document (‘report’, ‘research’, ‘video’)
    • or information (‘statistics’, ‘contacts’),
    • and even tags you have made up which refer to a specific story or event (‘croatia11′)
  3. You can if you wish add ‘Notes’. Many people copy a key passage from the webpage here, such as a quote (if a passage is selected on the page it will be automatically entered, depending how you are bookmarking it) to help them remember more about the page and why it was important.
  4. You can also mark your bookmark as ‘private’. This means that no one else can see it – it becomes ‘non-social’.
  5. Once you save it, it becomes available for you to retrieve at a future date: a personal search engine of items you once encountered.

The key thing here is to think about how you might look for this in future, and make sure you use those tags. For example, the publisher might not seem important now, but if in future you need to re-read a certain report and can recall that it appeared in the FT, that will help you access it quickly.

UPDATE: I’ve written a post explaining how this works with a particular case study.

Remember also that tags can be combined, so if I want to narrow down my search to items that I bookmarked with both ‘UGC’ and ‘BBC’, I can find those at delicious.com/paulb/UGC+BBC.

This is one of the reasons why a social bookmarking service is more effective than an RSS reader. You can, for example, search your shared or starred items in Google Reader – and you can tag them also – but as you tend to get more results it is harder to find what you are looking for. The use and combination of tags in Delicious narrows things down very effectively – but equally importantly, it allows you to bookmark pages that do not appear in your RSS reader.

That said, if you cannot find what you are looking for in Delicious, Google Reader is another option. It is also worth using a backup service which provides another way to search your bookmarks.Trunk.ly is one that does just that.

Of course, the bookmark only points to the live webpage – and it may be that in future the page is moved, changed, or deleted. If you are dealing with that type of information it is worth copying it to another webspace (I use the quote option on Tumblr) or using a (generally paid-for) social bookmarking service that saves copies of the pages you bookmark (Diigo and Pinboard are just two)

Social bookmarking: networks and cross-publishing

One of the features of social bookmarking services is that you can follow the bookmarks of other users. In Delicious this is called your network – and it’s where social bookmarking not only connects to RSS readers but also becomes a form of social network. Here’s how you build your network:

  1. Look at your bookmarks. Next to each one will be a number indicating how many users have bookmarked this. If you click on this you will see a list of who bookmarked it, and when. (Alternatively, you could also look at all users using a particular tag – if you’re a health correspondent, for example, you might want to look at people who are tagging items with ‘NHS’). Click on any name to see all their public bookmarks.
  2. If you would like to follow that person’s future bookmarks (because they are bookmarking items which relate to your interests), click on ‘Add to my network’
  3. You will now be able to see their bookmarks – and those of anyone else you have added – on your ‘Network’ page. It is, essentially, a mini RSS reader.

Which is why I use Google Reader to follow my network’s bookmarks instead. Because at the bottom of your Delicious Network page is, of course, a link to an RSS feed. Right-click on this and copy the link, then paste it into your RSS reader and you don’t need to keep checking your Delicious Network separately to all your other RSS feeds.

Of course, if you find someone interesting on Delicious, you might find them interesting on Twitter or a blog. If they’ve edited their Delicious public profile (the one you found in step 1 above) it might include a link. Alternatively, there’s a good chance they’ve used the same username on other social networks – so search for them using that.

This is another example of how social bookmarking can connect to social networking.

Here’s another: you can use a service like Twitterfeed (explained above) to auto-publish every item you bookmark – or just those with a particular tag, or a combination of tags. Because Delicious provides RSS feeds for your bookmarks as a whole, those with a particular tag, and any combination of tags.

For example, anything I tag ‘t’ is automatically tweeted by Twitterfeed on my @paulbradshaw Twitter account. Anything I tag ‘hmitwt’ is tweeted the same way – but to my @helpmeinvestig8 account. Editor Marc Reeves uses the same service to tweet all of his bookmarks with “I’m reading…”.

You can use a Facebook app like RSS Graffiti to do the same thing on a Facebook page.

One process across your network infrastructure then starts to look like this:

  1. Read interesting blog post on Google Reader
  2. Bookmark using Delicious – use a tag which is automatically tweeted
  3. Link auto-tweeted on Twitter

Conversely, if you want to automatically bookmark links that you share on Twitter, you can do so by signing up to Packrati.us. Tweeted links will be given the tag ‘packrati.us’ as well as any hashtags that you include in the same tweet (So a link tweeted with the hashtag ‘#crime’ will be tagged ‘crime’).

Another process across your network infrastructure then starts to look like this:

  1. Read interesting link tweeted on Twitter
  2. Retweet it, adding relevant hashtags
  3. Link is auto-bookmarked on Delicious

Listen, connect, publish

This has turned out to be a long post – which is why I think the diagram is needed. The initial set up is simple: sign up to social networks and a social bookmarking service, and set up an RSS reader. Subscribe to feeds, and add people to your networks.

But once you’ve done the technical part, you need to develop the habit of listening and continuing to add to those networks: check your RSS feeds and networks every day (but know when to switch off), and look for new sources. Bookmark useful resources – articles, documents, reports, research and profile pages – and tag them effectively.

Finally, contribute to those networks and connect the different parts together so it is as easy as possible to gather, store, publish and distribute useful information.

As you start to understand the possibilities that RSS feeds open up, you also start to see all sorts of possibilities beyond this. A site like If This Then That (IFTTT) not only showcases those possibilities particularly effectively, it also makes them as easy as they’ve ever been

It is a small – and regular – investment of time. But it will keep you in touch with your field, lead you to new sources and new stories, and help you work faster and deeper in reporting what’s happening.

16:14

A network infrastructure for journalists online

For some years now, I have started every online journalism course I teach with an introduction to three key tools: RSS readers, social networks, and social bookmarking.

These are, I believe, the basis of a network infrastructure which few modern journalists – whatever their platform – can do without.

The word ‘network’ is key here – because I believe one of the fundamental changes that journalists have to adapt to in the 21st century is the move to networked modes of working.

Firstly, because the newsroom itself is becoming more networked with contributors situated outside of it (the increasingly collaborative nature of journalism).

Secondly, because sources are becoming more networked (formal organisations are increasingly complemented by ad hoc ones formed across Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and so on).

And finally, because distribution of news – which has both commercial and editorial implications – is reliant on networks outside of the journalist or their employer’s control.

When I describe the network infrastructure outlined below, I outline two levels: the tools themselves, and how they connect to each other. In an attempt to clarify that, I’ve created a diagram.

The icons in the diagram attempt to show clearly the purpose of each tool:

  • The exclamation mark representing RSS readers indicate that the tool is focused on monitoring what’s new;
  • The question mark representing social bookmarking indicate that that tool largely serves to answer questions, providing context and background
  • The facial expressions representing social networks indicate that this tool help provide access to sources who may have stories to tell (positive; negative) or who are asking important questions (confused).

Here is a further breakdown of each element, and how they connect to each other.

RSS Reader

As outlined above, this part of the structure is all about ‘What’s new?’ and is quite often the first thing a journalist checks at the start of the working day (indeed, it’s ideal for checking on a phone on the way to work). It is the modern equivalent of picking up the day’s newspapers and tuning into the first radio and TV broadcasts of the day.

The RSS Reader gathers news feeds from a range of sources. Here are just a few:

  • Formal news organisations
  • Journalistic blogs
  • Organisational blogs
  • Personal blogs of individuals in your field

In addition, an RSS reader allows you to follow customised feeds reporting any mention of key terms, organisations and individuals across a variety of platforms:

  • Google News
  • The blogosphere as a whole
  • Social bookmarking services such as Delicious
  • Forums
  • Microblogging services such as Twitter
  • Video sharing services such as YouTube
  • Photo sharing services such as Flickr
  • Audio sharing services such as Audioboo
  • Social networks such as Facebook Pages

This is how the RSS reader connects to the two other elements of the infrastructure: most social networks have RSS feeds of some kind, as do social bookmarking services (one of the reasons I prefer Delicious over other platforms is the fact that it has an RSS feed for every user, for every item bookmarked with a particular ‘tag’ (explained below), for tags by particular users and for any combination of tags.

These are explained in a bit more detail in my post on ‘Passive-Aggressive Newsgathering‘.

But if you can follow these feeds in an RSS reader, why use a social network at all?

Social networks

Why use a social network? To follow people, not just content, and because your own contributions to those networks are a key factor in gaining access to sources.

With many social networking platforms (Twitter, for example) you can of course find individual users’ RSS feeds in an RSS reader, or a feed of people you are ‘following’ – either of which you can subscribe to in an RSS reader. But there’s little point, and your RSS reader will soon become flooded with updates. Instead, you should use the RSS reader to follow subjects and add the individuals talking about those subjects to your social networks.

The social network provides an added level of serendipity to your newsgathering: increased opportunities to encounter leads, tips and stories that you would not otherwise encounter.

It is also a three-way medium: a platform for you to ask questions or invite experiences relevant to the story you are pursuing, or to follow the public conversations of others asking questions or sharing experiences.

Because of this focus on social networks as a serendipity engine, I adopt an approach of seeing Twitter as a ‘stream, not a pool’ – not worrying about following too many people but rather about following too few, but having my cake and eating it by using Lists as a filter for those I want to miss least.

The final use for social networks is often the first use that journalists think of: distribution. And it is here that social networking also connects to the other 2 parts of the network infrastructure.

If you read something interesting in your RSS reader and wish to share it across social networks, you can often do so with a single click – with a bit of preparation. Twitterfeed is a tool which will automatically tweet updates on your Twitter account – all you need to know is the RSS feed for the updates you want to share. If you’re using Google Reader, for example, that feed is on your Shared Items page.

To tweet something interesting you’ve seen in your RSS Reader all you have to do then is (in the case of Google Reader) click on the ‘Share’ button below that item.

Social bookmarking

The first two parts of the network infrastructure – an RSS reader and social networks – are about the initial stages of newsgathering; the first things you check at the start of a working day.

Social bookmarking, however, is about what you do with information from your RSS reader and social networks – and information you deal with throughout your day.

Today’s news is tomorrow’s context. And social bookmarking allows you to keep a record of that context to make it quickly accessible when needed.

That’s the bookmarking part. The social part also allows you to publish information at the same time as you store it; to discover what information other people with similar interests are bookmarking; and to discover which people are bookmarking similar things to you).

Because social bookmarking is the least immediate element of this network infrastructure, it is also the aspect which the fewest students get their heads around and actually use.

Yet it is, for me, perhaps the most useful element. It takes an upfront investment of time and the development of a habit which initially doesn’t have any obvious reward.

But when you’re up against a deadline and are able to retrieve a dozen useful reports, documents and people within minutes – then you’ll get it.

Here’s the process:

  1. You come across something of interest. It may be a useful article, blog post or official report in your RSS reader – or a document linked to by someone in your social network. You might encounter the thing of interest while working on a story. You may read it – you may not have time.
  2. You bookmark the specific webpage containing it using a service like Delicious. You add ‘tags’ to help you find it later: these might include:
    • the subjects of the webpage (e.g. ‘environment’, ‘health’),
    • its author or publisher (e.g. ‘paulbradshaw’, ‘OJB’),
    • specific organisations or individuals (‘nhs’, ‘davidcameron’),
    • the type of document (‘report’, ‘research’, ‘video’)
    • or information (‘statistics’, ‘contacts’),
    • and even tags you have made up which refer to a specific story or event (‘croatia11′)
  3. You can if you wish add ‘Notes’. Many people copy a key passage from the webpage here, such as a quote (if a passage is selected on the page it will be automatically entered, depending how you are bookmarking it) to help them remember more about the page and why it was important.
  4. You can also mark your bookmark as ‘private’. This means that no one else can see it – it becomes ‘non-social’.
  5. Once you save it, it becomes available for you to retrieve at a future date: a personal search engine of items you once encountered.

The key thing here is to think about how you might look for this in future, and make sure you use those tags. For example, the publisher might not seem important now, but if in future you need to re-read a certain report and can recall that it appeared in the FT, that will help you access it quickly.

UPDATE: I’ve written a post explaining how this works with a particular case study.

Remember also that tags can be combined, so if I want to narrow down my search to items that I bookmarked with both ‘UGC’ and ‘BBC’, I can find those at delicious.com/paulb/UGC+BBC.

This is one of the reasons why a social bookmarking service is more effective than an RSS reader. You can, for example, search your shared or starred items in Google Reader – and you can tag them also – but as you tend to get more results it is harder to find what you are looking for. The use and combination of tags in Delicious narrows things down very effectively – but equally importantly, it allows you to bookmark pages that do not appear in your RSS reader.

That said, if you cannot find what you are looking for in Delicious, Google Reader is another option. It is also worth using a backup service which provides another way to search your bookmarks.Trunk.ly is one that does just that.

Of course, the bookmark only points to the live webpage – and it may be that in future the page is moved, changed, or deleted. If you are dealing with that type of information it is worth copying it to another webspace (I use the quote option on Tumblr) or using a (generally paid-for) social bookmarking service that saves copies of the pages you bookmark (Diigo and Pinboard are just two)

Social bookmarking: networks and cross-publishing

One of the features of social bookmarking services is that you can follow the bookmarks of other users. In Delicious this is called your network – and it’s where social bookmarking not only connects to RSS readers but also becomes a form of social network. Here’s how you build your network:

  1. Look at your bookmarks. Next to each one will be a number indicating how many users have bookmarked this. If you click on this you will see a list of who bookmarked it, and when. (Alternatively, you could also look at all users using a particular tag – if you’re a health correspondent, for example, you might want to look at people who are tagging items with ‘NHS’). Click on any name to see all their public bookmarks.
  2. If you would like to follow that person’s future bookmarks (because they are bookmarking items which relate to your interests), click on ‘Add to my network’
  3. You will now be able to see their bookmarks – and those of anyone else you have added – on your ‘Network’ page. It is, essentially, a mini RSS reader.

Which is why I use Google Reader to follow my network’s bookmarks instead. Because at the bottom of your Delicious Network page is, of course, a link to an RSS feed. Right-click on this and copy the link, then paste it into your RSS reader and you don’t need to keep checking your Delicious Network separately to all your other RSS feeds.

Of course, if you find someone interesting on Delicious, you might find them interesting on Twitter or a blog. If they’ve edited their Delicious public profile (the one you found in step 1 above) it might include a link. Alternatively, there’s a good chance they’ve used the same username on other social networks – so search for them using that.

This is another example of how social bookmarking can connect to social networking.

Here’s another: you can use a service like Twitterfeed (explained above) to auto-publish every item you bookmark – or just those with a particular tag, or a combination of tags. Because Delicious provides RSS feeds for your bookmarks as a whole, those with a particular tag, and any combination of tags.

For example, anything I tag ‘t’ is automatically tweeted by Twitterfeed on my @paulbradshaw Twitter account. Anything I tag ‘hmitwt’ is tweeted the same way – but to my @helpmeinvestig8 account. Editor Marc Reeves uses the same service to tweet all of his bookmarks with “I’m reading…”.

You can use a Facebook app like RSS Graffiti to do the same thing on a Facebook page.

One process across your network infrastructure then starts to look like this:

  1. Read interesting blog post on Google Reader
  2. Bookmark using Delicious – use a tag which is automatically tweeted
  3. Link auto-tweeted on Twitter

Conversely, if you want to automatically bookmark links that you share on Twitter, you can do so by signing up to Packrati.us. Tweeted links will be given the tag ‘packrati.us’ as well as any hashtags that you include in the same tweet (So a link tweeted with the hashtag ‘#crime’ will be tagged ‘crime’).

Another process across your network infrastructure then starts to look like this:

  1. Read interesting link tweeted on Twitter
  2. Retweet it, adding relevant hashtags
  3. Link is auto-bookmarked on Delicious

Listen, connect, publish

This has turned out to be a long post – which is why I think the diagram is needed. The initial set up is simple: sign up to social networks and a social bookmarking service, and set up an RSS reader. Subscribe to feeds, and add people to your networks.

But once you’ve done the technical part, you need to develop the habit of listening and continuing to add to those networks: check your RSS feeds and networks every day (but know when to switch off), and look for new sources. Bookmark useful resources – articles, documents, reports, research and profile pages – and tag them effectively.

Finally, contribute to those networks and connect the different parts together so it is as easy as possible to gather, store, publish and distribute useful information.

As you start to understand the possibilities that RSS feeds open up, you also start to see all sorts of possibilities beyond this. A site like If This Then That (IFTTT) not only showcases those possibilities particularly effectively, it also makes them as easy as they’ve ever been

It is a small – and regular – investment of time. But it will keep you in touch with your field, lead you to new sources and new stories, and help you work faster and deeper in reporting what’s happening.

July 21 2011

14:25

In a few years: "once a great playground" - Google shuttering Google labs

Mashable :: Google announced Wednesday that it plans to shutter its Labs department in an effort to focus more on its products. For years, Google Labs has been, to quote the company, “a playground where our more adventurous users can play around with prototypes of some of our wild and crazy ideas and offer feedback directly to the engineers who developed them.” That playground has birthed the likes of the Google Reader and Google Goggles — to name a very few.

That's a loss, really.

Continue to read Brenna Ehrlich, mashable.com

December 16 2010

22:21

Leaving Delicious – which replacement service will you use? (Comment call)

Leaving Delicious - other services already being bookmarked on my network

Delicious, it appears, is going to be closed down. I am hugely sad about this – Delicious is possibly the most useful tool I use as a journalist, academic and writer. Not just because of the way it makes it possible for me to share, store and retrieve information very easily – but because of the network of other users doing just the same whose overlapping fields of information I can share.

I follow over 100 people in my Delicious network, and my biggest requirement of any service that I might switch to is that as many of those people move there too.

So I’d like to ask: if Delicious does shut down, where will you move to? Publish2? Pinboard.in? Diigo? Google Reader (sorry, not functional enough for me)?  Or something else? (Here are some ideas) Please post your comments.

March 30 2010

13:42

“Follow, Then Filter”: from information stream to delta

A year or two ago, as Twitter and FriendFeed in turn made headlines, much was made of how we were increasingly consuming information as a stream. Last January I blogged along those lines on why and how I followed 2,500 people on Twitter – why? I dip in and out rather than expecting to read everything. How? I used filters and groups for the bits I didn’t want to miss.

That behaviour now looks like a precursor to a broader change in my information consumption facilitated by new features in Twitter and Google Reader. And I wonder what that says about wider information consumption now and in the future.

From a stream to a delta

The features in question are Twitter lists and Google Reader bundles.

Now that lists are integrated by Twitter clients such as Tweetdeck and Echofon, it’s easy to switch your default view of Twitter from ‘all friends’ to ‘List X’ – and from ‘List X’ to ‘List Y’ and ‘List Z’ and so on.

I have lists for my MA Online Journalism students, for my undergraduate online journalism students, for data geeks, for people I’ve met in person, for formal news feeds – and I’m switching between them like TV channels.

Likewise, as I start to gather my Google Reader subscriptions into some sort of order, I’m moving from a default behaviour of dipping into ‘all items’, to switching between particular bundles of feeds along the same lines: data blogs, technology news, my students’ blogs, and so on.

To continue the ’stream’ metaphor, I’m breaking that torrent into a number of smaller rivers – a delta, if you like. (Geographers: feel free to put me right on the technical inadequacy of the analogy)

Follow, Then Filter

Just as the order of things in a networked world has changed from ‘filter, then publish’ to ‘publish, then filter’, it strikes me that I’m adopting the same behaviour in the newsgathering process itself: following first, and filtering later

Why? Because it’s more efficient and – perhaps key – the primary filter is search. And you have to follow first to make something searchable.

In fact, Google itself is a prime example of ‘Follow, Then Filter’, following links across the web to add to its index which users can filter with a search. (another good example is Delicious – bookmarking articles you’ve not read in full because you may want to access them later).

When bandwidth ceases to become an issue – when storage ceases to become an issue – then we can follow as much as we like on the premise that, later, we can filter that information to suit our particular needs at that moment, for the one thing that does have a limit – our attention.

March 22 2010

20:41

Sharing your Google Reader subscriptions with bundles

Google Reader’s ‘Bundles’ feature – which allows you to share a selected collection of your subscriptions in a range of ways – has been around for 10 months now, but as I’m asking my students this week to use it, I thought I’d blog a quick how-to and why-to.

Traditionally, to share your Google Reader subscriptions you’ve had to know how to export and import an OPML file. To share a specific selection of those subscriptions you had to know how to edit an OPML file (clue: use a text editor).

OPML also has the disadvantage of not making it easy to see at a glance what subscriptions it contains.

Bundles, on the other hand, make it pretty easy to do all of the above. It will also:

  • Create a specific page showing the latest headlines from the selected feeds
  • Allow others to easily add those feeds to their own Google Reader
  • Embed those feeds on a widget on another website (javascript support required, i.e. not Wordpress.com)
  • Allow you to email it
  • Create an, er, OPML file

For my own purposes, it’s especially useful because I normally ask students to submit a screenshot of their RSS reader subscriptions for their Online Journalism assignments as evidence of their newsgathering (along with their Delicious URL and a logbook of sources). This saves them that process – and a bit of printing.

Frustratingly, it’s not the easiest feature to find and use. So here’s how you do it:

Step 1: go to ‘Browse for stuff’

You’ll find it under ‘Your stuff’ (see image, left).

Step 2: click on ‘Create a bundle’

The main area should now change to ‘Discover and search for feeds’, with the ‘Browse’ tab selected. Look to the right of the suggested bundles to find the button that says ‘Create a bundle’ (normally on the right hand side).

Step 3: drag and drop the feeds or folders you want to share into the dotted box

Your feeds should be visible in the ‘Subscriptions’ box in the left hand column of the screen (under ‘Browse for stuff’, ‘People you follow’ and ‘Explore’. If it is hard to see your feeds under all of that, collapse those sections by clicking on the ‘-’ box next to them).

If you are dragging a folder of feeds, the title will be automatically filled in for you. Or you can choose your own, and add a description.

Click Save, and the main area will change again to give you some options to share your new bundle.

Step 4: Share your new bundle however you like

Having written this post I discovered another that would have saved me the time (and includes a nifty way to share folders by simply clicking on the drop-down menu to the right of a folder and selecting ‘Create a bundle‘ . Check it out to see more images while I bang my head on the desk…

February 05 2010

15:00

This Week in Review: Google’s new features, what to do with the iPad, and Facebook’s rise as a news reader

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

A gaggle of Google news items: Unlike the past several weeks with their paywall and iPad revelations, this week wasn’t dominated by one giant future-of-media story. But there were quite a few incremental happenings that proved to be interesting, and several of them involved Google. We’ll start with those.

— The Google story that could prove to be the biggest over the long term actually happened last week, in the midst of our iPad euphoria: Google unveiled a beta form of Social Search, which allows you to search your “social circle” in addition to the standard results served up for you by Google’s magic algorithm. (CNN has some more details.) I’m a bit surprised at how little chatter this rollout is getting (then again, given the timing, probably not), but tech pioneer Dave Winer loves the idea — not so much for its sociality but because it “puts all social services on the same open playing field”; you decide how important your contacts from Twitter or Facebook are, not Google’s algorithm.

— Also late last week, several media folks got some extended time with Google execs at Davos. Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger posted his summary, focusing largely on Google’s faceoff with China. “What Would Google Do?” author Jeff Jarvis posted his summary, with lots of Google minutiae. (Jeff Sonderman also further summarized Jarvis’ summary.) Among the notable points from Jarvis: Google is “working on making news as compelling as possible” and CEO Eric Schmidt gets in a slam on the iPad in passing.

— Another Google feature was launched this week: Starring on Google News stories. The stars let you highlight stories (that’s story clusters, not individual articles) to save and return to them later. Two major tech blogs, ReadWriteWeb and TechCrunch, gave the feature their seal of approval, with ReadWriteWeb pointing to this development as the first of many ways Google can personalize its algorithm when it comes to news. It’s an intriguing concept, though woefully lacking in functionality at this point, as TechCrunch notes: I can’t even star individual stories to highlight or organize coverage of a particular issue. I sure hope at least that feature is coming.

Also in the Google-and-news department: Google economist Hal Varian expressed skepticism about news paywalls, arguing that reading news for many is a worktime distraction. And two Google folks, including Google News creator Krishna Bharat, give bunches of interesting details about Google News in a MediaShift interview, including some conciliatory words for publishers.

— Meanwhile billionaire tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban officially jumped on the Google-News-is-evil train, calling Google a “vampire” and urging news organizations not to index their content there. Not surprisingly, this wasn’t well-received in media-futurist circles: GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, a former newspaperman himself, said Cuban and his anti-Google comrade, Rupert Murdoch, ignore the growing search traffic at news sites. Several other bloggers noted that Cuban has expressed a desire in the past to invest in other news aggregators and currently invests in Mahalo, which does some Google News-esque “sucking” of its own.

— Finally, after not carrying AP stories since December, Google struck some sort of quasi-deal that allows it to host AP content — but it’s still choosing not to do so. Search engine guru Danny Sullivan wonders what it might mean, given the AP and Google’s icy relations. Oh yeah, and Google demoed some ideas of what a Chrome OS tablet — read: iPad competitor — might look like.

What the iPad will do (and what to do with it): Commentary continued to trickle out this week about Apple’s newly announced iPad, with much of talk shifting from the device’s particulars to its implications on technology and how news organizations should develop for it.

Three most essential pieces all make similar points: Former McClatchy exec Howard Weaver likens the iPad to the newspaper in its physical simplicity and thinks it “will enrich human beings by removing technological barriers.” In incredibly thoughtful posts, software developers Steven Frank and Fraser Speirs take a programming-oriented tack, arguing that the iPad simplifies computing, bringing it home for normal (non-geek) people.

Frank compares it to an automatic transmission vs. the traditional manual one, and Speirs says it frees people from tedious tasks like “formatting the margins, installing the printer driver, uploading the document, finishing the PowerPoint slides, running the software update or reinstalling the OS” to do the real work of living life. In another interesting debate, interaction designer Sarah G. Mitchell argues that without multitasking or a camera (maybe?), the iPad is an antisocial device, and developer Edd Dumbill counters that it’s “real-life social” — made for passing around with friends and family.

Plenty of folks have ideas about what news organizations should do with the iPad: Poynter’s Bill Mitchell and news designer Joe Zeff both propose that newspapers and magazines could partially or totally subsidize iPads with subscriptions. Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt says that wouldn’t work, and Zeff gives a rebuttal. Publish2’s Ryan Sholin has an idea for a newsstand app for the iPad, and Frederic Filloux at The Monday Note has a great picture of what the iPad experience could look like by next year if news orgs act quickly.

And of course, Robert Niles of The Online Journalism Review and BusinessWeek’s Rich Jaroslovsky remind us what several others said (rightly, I think) last week: The iPad is what content producers make of it.

Facebook as a news reader: Last Friday, Facebook encouraged its users to make their own personalized news channel by creating a list of all the news outlets of which they’ve become a fan. The tech blog ReadWriteWeb — which has been remarkably perceptive on the implications of Facebook’s statements lately — noted that while a Facebook news feed couldn’t hold up to a news junkie’s RSS feed, it has the potential to become a “world-changing subscription platform” for mainstream users because of its ubiquity, sociality and accessibility. (He makes a pretty compelling case.)

Then came the numbers from Hitwise to back ReadWriteWeb up: Facebook was the No. 4 source of visits to news sites last week, behind only Google, Yahoo and MSN. It also accounts for more than double the amount of news media traffic as Google News and more than 300 times that of the web’s largest RSS program, Google Reader. ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick responded with a note that most news-site traffic still comes through search, and offered a challenge to Facebook to “encourage its giant nation of users to add subscriptions to diverse news sources to their news feeds of updates from friends and family.”

This week in (somewhat) depressing journalism statistics: Starting with the most cringe-inducing: Rick Edmonds of Poynter calculates that newspaper classified revenue is down 70 percent in the last decade. He does see one bright spot, though: Revenue from paid obituaries remains strong. Yup, people are still dying, and their families are still using the newspaper to tell people about it. In the magazine world, Advertising Age found that publishers are still reporting further declines in newsstand sales, though not as steep as last year.

In the world of web statistics, a Pew study found that blogging is steady among adults and significantly down among teens. In other words, “Blogging is for old people.” Of course, social media use was way up for both teens and adults.

A paywall step, and some suggestions: Steven Brill’s new Journalism Online paid-content service has its first newspaper, The Intelligencer Journal-Lancaster New Era in Pennsylvania. In reporting the news, The New York Times noted that the folks behind both groups were trying to lower expectations for the service. The news business expert Alan Mutter didn’t interpret the news well, concluding that “newspapers lost their last chance to hang together when it became clear yesterday that the wheels seemingly have come off Journalism Online.”

In a comically profane post, Silicon Valley veteran Dave McClure makes the strangely persuasive argument that the fundamental business model of the web is about to switch from cost-per-click ads to subscriptions and transactions, and that because people have trouble remembering passwords, they’ll login and pay through Gmail, iTunes or Facebook. (Mathew Ingram says McClure’s got a point.) Crowdfunding advocate David Cohn proposes a crowdfunded twist on micropayments at news sites.

Reading roundup: Two interesting discussions, and then three quick thought-provoking pieces. First, here at the Lab, future Minnesota j-prof Seth Lewis asks for input about what the journalism school of the future should look like, adding that he believes its core value should be adaptability. Citizen journalism pioneer Dan Gillmor gave a remarkably thorough, well-thought-out picture of his ideal j-school. His piece and Steve Buttry’s proposal in November are must-reads if you’re thinking about media education or involved in j-school.

Second, the discussion about objectivity in journalism continues to smolder several weeks after it was triggered by journalists’ behavior in Haiti. This week, two broadsides against objectivity — one by Publish2’s Paul Korr calling it pathological, and another by former foreign correspondent Chris Hedges saying it “killed the news.” Both arguments are certainly strident ones, but thoughtful and worth considering.

Finally, two interesting concepts: At the Huffington Post, MTV’s Maya Baratz calls for newspapers to think of themselves as apps, commanding them to “Be fruitful and multiply. Elsewhere.” And at the National Sports Journalism Center, former Wall Street Journal journalist Jason Fry has a sharp piece on long-form journalism, including a dirty little secret (“most of it doesn’t work in any medium”) and giving some tips to make it work anyway.

January 14 2010

09:00

December 02 2009

02:11

Journalists use RSS to track rivals, news, tweets & other info

This post sponsored by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

RSS is an incredibly useful way for journalists to keep track of beats by watching what is being published online, whether on news sites, blogs, Twitter, saved Google search terms, etc.

I spoke to three journalists about how they use RSS for research and reporting. They also each gave one really good tip for diving into RSS.

For those unfamiliar with RSS, Wikipedia has this to say about RSS:

RSS (most commonly expanded as “Really Simple Syndication” but sometimes “Rich Site Summary”) is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works—such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video—in a standardized format. Web feeds benefit publishers by letting them syndicate content automatically. They benefit readers who want to subscribe to timely updates from favored websites or to aggregate feeds from many sites into one place. RSS feeds can be read using software called an “RSS reader”, “feed reader”, or “aggregator”, which can be web-based, desktop-based, or mobile-device-based.

Eric Berger

Eric Berger has been a reporter at the Houston Chronicle for 10 years and has been covering science for the last eight years. He has been blogging about science since 2005, creating a community to discuss science at SciGuy.

“When I first started blogging I found science blogs and used RSS as a means to keep track of the flow of information,” Berger said. “It’s too difficult and time-consuming to visit 100 blogs a day.”

Berger uses Bloglines, a popular RSS feed reader, to follow around 80 Web sites and blogs. He estimates seeing 300 new items a day.

“Back in the dark ages (five -six years ago), if I was working on a story I might be solely focused on that and not seeing what else what happening in science,” Berger said. “Now it’s impossible to escape that.”

He follows scientists of various disciplines, so he can keep track of various scientific communities. He also collects news releases via RSS, which sometimes turn into blog entries.

“If that strikes a chord in the community, then you can spin it into a story for the newspaper,” he said.

One Tip:

“Just experiment with it [RSS] and put new feeds in and don’t be afraid to add or delete feeds. Your feed reader shouldn’t be static, your list of feeds should fluctuate with what you’re working on.”

David Brauer

David Brauer covers media and occasionally politics for MinnPost.com.

Using RSS became a critical part of Brauer’s job in March of 2008, when he started writing a aggregated morning briefing for MinnPost.com.

“You have to make sure to pay attention to local news sources,” Brauer said. “The only way to do it is with RSS. RSS makes it very efficient to know what’s going on in the area I cover.”

Brauer no longer does the morning briefing, but RSS has remained vital in more general work. He is subscribed to 138 feeds in Google Reader, primarily local media feeds such as public radio, tv stations, alt weeklies and of course, the local newspapers.

“It’s one of the tools I use most as a reporter. RSS and Twitter,” he said. “RSS is good for checking things I already know to check; Twitter is good for finding things I wouldn’t have known to follow.”

His feeds are organized with 24 tags, categorizing feeds into sections such as sports, tech, big, little and suburban, public radio, local aggregators, local blogs, local papers, college journalists, national and politics.

“I see over 1,000 new items a day, but experienced users know you can just mark all items as read and move on,” Brauer said. “Be somewhat aware of balance so you don’t spend all day in RSS.”

One Tip:

Brauer suggests that journalists look into the sync features offered by many RSS readers, and to make sure that your RSS reader of choice is available for multiple platforms. (Google Reader has Web and mobile versions that sync.)

Sean Blanda

Sean Blanda is an editor at Vital Business Media and a co-founder of Technically Philly.

Blanda started using RSS around 2005, with Bloglines.

“It was coolest thing in the world that I didn’t have to put up with email and could still get content sent to me,” he said. “When I figured out you could get feeds of Google Alerts (and now Twitter mentions) it really spiraled out of control.”

Most of his ideas for stories at Vital come from media news feeds he gathers. He also runs Technically Philly part time and uses RSS to gather information quickly and get a large cross-section of sources.

“Our readership is very active on social media and blogging, so I have alerts for people’s names, companies, locations in Philadelphia, etc.”

Blanda uses Google Reader instead of Bloglines now, attracted by the social tools Google has been adding recently. Users can follow friends, share stories and comment on content together.

“I can see what my friends think is important too,” he said. “Most of my college newsroom was using Google Reader and it became a better way to stay in touch and shoot story ideas back and forth.”

He keeps 377 subscriptions organized by purpose, so for Vital he has folders by industry and for Technically Philly he sorts by beat and general news.

“I check all of the feeds related to my job everyday, every story,” Blanda said. “The other stuff, I get to it when I can, if not, no big deal. And sometimes I declare bankruptcy and mark all as read.”

Blanda can’t estimate how many news items he gets in a day: “It [Google Reader] always says 1000+ (unread items). I’d say I check around 500-600 a day.”

One Tip

“My one tip would either be to get other people on your beat to share on Google Reader or to not forget Yahoo Pipes as a way to filter info…something I haven’t taken enough advantage of. With enough work you could always be sure to get relevant information.”

Do you use RSS to research and report? How do you organize your feeds and fight information overload? What creative uses do you put RSS to? Can you offer other tips?

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