How to: use RSS and social media for newsgathering
Setting up alerts and joining networks online can be a great way for journalists to get the news to come to them rather than having to chase leads all the time - here are some suggestions about how to do this
The combined use of RSS feeds and other social media tools can help bring your way sources and information you might otherwise have overlooked - making it easier to spot leads or put new meat on an article.
It takes a little time to set yourself up the necessary accounts and alerts and then tailor them to your specific needs - but once you are there then the news will come flooding your way.
I call it "Passive-Aggressive Newsgathering". But if that sounds too Woody Allen for you, you could call it "Aggregating-Networking Newsgathering".
Here are a few tools and tricks that might improve your hunt for stories.
Blog and site feeds/Social RSS readers
This is a basic requirement for any journalist: know the sources in your area and subscribe to their RSS feeds using any one of the many RSS readers out there.
The result will be a one-stop page that you check everyday that gathers together any new stories since you last checked.
Some RSS readers do more than just allow you to subscribe to feeds - they have social elements. Say, for instance, you have found a blog by a local ambulance driver or a feed from the NHS. Google Reader will save you searching for others by suggesting similar feeds (in a panel on the right of the screen) that others also reading these sites use. This is a great way to find new sources of news and information.
Technorati feeds, fans and tags
A good place to find blogs is Technorati. You'll see the orange RSS icon throughout Technorati - among other things you can subscribe to results from a particular search or a specific tag.
A motoring correspondent, for instance, might subscribe to search results for "Longbridge plant" or the tag 'Ford'. You can even subscribe to blog reactions to a particular site.
Equally impressive are the social features on the site. Search results are presented with recommended tags you might also want to click on (a search for 'Ford' also suggests Toyota, GM, Nissan, cars, etc.); blogs and posts are ranked by 'authority' (numbers of reactions); and you can also see which Technorati members have declared themselves a 'fan' of a blog - then browse through the other blogs they have 'faved'.
Twitter and twitter tools
Microblogging service Twitter is a particularly up-to-the-minute source of news, with RSS feeds at the bottom of every page.
Twitter is by nature social, you choose to follow someone's updates (these are called 'tweets') and people can similarly choose to follow you. You can also see who else someone is following and who is following you.
Tools like Twubble and Twits Like Me are useful for reporters as they recommend twitterers based on their friends or interests.
Twitterlocal and Tweetscan are also handy as they allow you to subscribe to feeds based on location or keywords. So if you know an event is coming up that is likely to spark protest (e.g. the running of the Olympic torch) then you can set up this feed in advance and watch the news roll in to you.
Bookmarking site feeds, networks and tags
Bookmarking sites like Delicious are a goldmine of information and leads. As well as being searchable, most offer RSS feeds of individual tags and contributors.
At the very least, a journalist should be subscribing to feeds of keywords in their area (e.g. this is the feed for the tag 'Slough') so that every time some tags a story you might be interested in, you get an alert.
If possible you should also subscribe to prolific bookmarkers interested in the same topics (here is the feed for my bookmarks) or networks of bookmarkers (here's mine).
Imagine a report is released on global warming - looking at the first person to bookmark it we might also find other useful sources of information on the same issue. You can see their comments and all the various and related tags they use. You can see what else they're bookmarking. You can also add them to your network so you're kept up to date on what they're bookmarking generally.
All of these generate more useful contacts (the bookmarkers), more sources of news, and more understanding of your area.
Social network feeds
Journalism is all about contacts. Social networks are a fantastic way of finding and managing them. You may however want to join more than one social network to cover all bases as each of different characteristics. Facebook is a good catchall, but there may be specific 'beat' networks you can join - such as one for doctors. Alternatively, you can create your own using Ning.
One great feature of Facebook is its feeds, which include Friends Status Updates and Friends Posted Items (both in the lower right corner). Again, subscribe to get updates sent to you rather than you having to trawl around to know what's new.
Google Alerts/'similar pages'
Google's whole success is built on networks. Every result from a search, for example, will include a link to 'similar pages'.
This is a great way of refining a search. The advanced search feature includes the ability to search for pages that link to a particular website (also read about advanced search techniques on the web).
Any search done through Google News, Google Blog Search or Google Groups will give you the option to sign up to email alerts for a particular search term or, for the first two, an RSS feed for a particular search term.
If you're covering, say, Bolton, you'll want to create alerts for new results with 'Bolton' in them, or, say, 'Bolton + event').
YouTube feeds/related videos
YouTube is a social beast. Click on any video and you'll be presented with related videos; click on any user's page and you can see which other users, services and channels they subscribe to.
You can rank results by how users have rated the video or how many times it's been viewed. It's also possible to click on a video's tags to browse through content that way.
The site also hosts a number of groups under the Community tab. In addition the site offers numerous feeds - a list of the main ones, plus instructions on how to create feeds for individual users or tags, can be found here. Again, subscribe to keywords in your area and have the site alert you when the latest content that's relevant to your reporting area is uploaded.
Sites without feeds
Of course not every site has an RSS feed, so to monitor these use Page2rss.com or Dapper.net to create feeds for you. Dapper will also alert you of changes by email.
However you do it, if you want the breaking news in your area to come to you, you can't afford to ignore RSS and social media.
Paul Bradshaw is a Senior Lecturer in Online Journalism and Magazines at Birmingham City University (UK) School of Media.
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