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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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