Turning RSS into a personal news wire: A how do I guide for journalists


Sunderland University were nice enough to invite me along to speak to a group of their second-year journalism students this week (I’m assuming they’d done something wrong so needed to be punished).

One of the things I touched on during the session was the way the internet, and social media tools in particular, have revolutionised the process of news gathering.

And nothing encapsulates the way web tools enable journalists to see so much more than RSS (Really Simple Syndication). In a nutshell, it creates your own personal newswire.

Anyone who has ever worked on a newsdesk will know just how painfully dull the daily ritual of emptying out the post in tray can be – of say 100 press releases, perhaps only 10 will be of local interest and maybe of those 10, four might warrant further investigation.

At the same time, there’s so much information which might be of interest to the newsdesk, if only they had the time to go and check those sites.

And that’s the sales pitch I use for RSS, which I’m going to pompously declare here to be: the reporter’s best friend.

At the moment, I’d always go for Google Reader ahead of any other. It’s simple and effective, and easy to sort.

It seems a no-brainer to then have the reader open as a tab on the screen all day, using it as your only personal news wire for what’s happening on your patch.

So, if you’re a reporter and new to RSS, here are five you should follow to ensure that you’re among the first to know about information in your area which is of interest.

For the purpose of this post, I’m using the idea of being beat reporter for Sutton Coldfield – although it could equally apply for a subject-based specialism.

1. Google News

Rather than wait for the email alert every now and again, pull in the Google News RSS search which then updates during the course of the day.

Go into Google News, type in your search term of choice – in this case “Sutton Coldfield” written inside speech marks to reduce search noise – and press “search”.  When the results come up,  select “search by date” on the left-hand side, and then select how far back you want the searches to go.

At the bottom of the page you’ll see the orange RSS logo – click on that.  Assuming you are using Google Reader, select Google from the drop down menu – and the results will appear in your reader from then on.

2. They Work For You

Two feeds for the price of one here from the website which makes parliamentary information, discussion and debate easily accessible.

Log on to www.theyworkforyou.com and type in your search query – in this case “Sutton Coldfield”. Ensure your results are set to “most recent results first” and then press the “get an RSS feed”.

Once you’ve added this feed to your reader, return to the result page. If you’ve entered a geographical location, you should see name of local MPs whose constituency has that geographical location in its title. In the case of Sutton Coldfield, it’s Andrew Mitchell.

Click on the name and scroll down the next page to the section marked “recent appearances.” There should be an RSS link there. Click and add to the reader.

3. What Do They Know

The Freedom of Information site is an obvious place to monitor activity on issues which interest you.

As you will probably want to know about information related to your area, go to http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/search/status:successful and type in the area next to the phrase. In the case of Sutton Coldfield, this then returns the following result: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/search/status:successful%20%22sutton%20coldfield%22

Again, ensure the results are set to most recent first and then pick up the RSS feed.

If it’s a particular body you are interested in – say a hospital – go to http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/search/requested_from: and add in the name of the body you’re searching for. For this, you need to make sure you know the exact name of the body involved and use a _ instead of a space between each word, eg: birmingham_city_council.

Again, when it returns the results, click the RSS button

4. Flickr

I’ve lost count of the number of times stories have been spotted by journalists who were smart enough to keep one eye on Flickr. While most newsrooms with Flickr groups will keep one eye what is coming into their group, it’d be foolish not to have a permanent RSS feed of a picture search term coming into your reader.

The problem is that, despite Flickr being superb in so many ways, pulling a search-based RSS out of it can be a real pain.

Which is why http://www.degraeve.com/flickr-rss/ is so handy. Simply add in your search term, but make sure you select “date-taken-asc” from the drop down menu below to ensure recent pictures come up first.  Then, as with all other feeds, add to your Google reader.

5. Omgili.com

As discussed in the post about five alternative search engines to Google, Omgili is a superb search engine which searches messageboards, forums and so on to help you find things people are discussing which might be of interest to you.

Type in you search term, but make sure to set it for “most recent first.” Omgili’s slight flaw is that it only returns entries with two or more comments on it – but in one sense, as least you’re only seeing things which are generating discussion.

The RSS button is on the top right – it doesn’t seem to work on date first, but on relevance. However, hopefully it’s presence in your feed can acts as a prompt to return to the site.

6. Icerocket/Twingly

Icrocket and Twingly are my two favourite blog search engines and Icerocket especially seems to have got a lot of the spam removed recently.

On Icerocket, make sure you search within the blog search and set your results timeline depending on how quickly it will become cluttered. The RSS link is hidden down on the left-hand side.

On Twingly, the RSS link is more obvious on the right hand side.

* * *

I haven’t included Twitter in this list for one basic reason: It could result in your feed becoming too cluttered, and too noisy. However, Twitter Search is probably the best way to pull in RSS results – although the  ‘-‘ function in search (using the minus sign followed by a word to ensure tweets with that result aren’t pulled into your feed) is probably a very good idea, given the amount of spam on Twitter.

If there are any others I’ve missed (which there will be), please let me know!


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