Reporting on the forbidden

When Georg Blume of Germany and Kristin Kupfer of Austria left from Lhasa train station in the early hours of Thursday March 20 they were the last two foreign journalists to leave Tibet after being forced out by the Chinese authorities.

“If they don’t have anything to hide, then why are they making foreign journalists leave?” said Vincent Brossel, who heads Reporters Without Borders’ Asia desk.

Without journalists on the ground, news media rely heavily on telephoning contacts in Lhasa, mobile phone images and video uploaded to the internet as well as eyewitness accounts on blogs and microblogs like Twitter.

Many journalists find the digital world an alien and scary environment. But with the intelligent use of a number of free tools tracking this information is relatively easy.

RSS, or really simple syndication, is the key. Think of RSS as the plumbing and the internet as the water running through the pipes.

First you need an RSS newsreader like the online Google Reader or a downloadable application like NetNewsWire or Newsgator.

To track blogs, photos, video and news items relating to any of these keywords you need to visit the websites where the information appears. Then you run a number of searches using keywords and subscribe to the RSS feed of the search results.

This means that whenever your keywords appear on any of the news, blog, photo or video sites you have searched on, the result will appear in your RSS newsreader.

The more specific the keyword the more specific the information you receive. For example, an RSS feed on the keyword “China” is going to show every Olympics build-up story, student blog entry, Forbidden City holiday snap and videos of dancing girls in Shanghai nightclubs.

Be specific. Use only the names of people, cities, townships, politicians or key phrases associated with the news you want. Here is a very short list of some typical sites worth following during news events:
Flickr – Search on a keyword and subscribe to the RSS feed to receive photographs.
Google Video – To receive video uploaded to either Google Video or YouTube.
Technorati – A blog search engine. Follow people writing on blogs using keyword search terms.
Global Voices Online – This is a blog aggregator edited by a group of editors around the world.
Delicious – This is a social bookmarking system. Subscribing to a keyword within Delicious allows you to effectively tap into the collective online research of thousands of people.

Google News – This aggregates news from all the main news outlets around the world and you can subscribe to the RSS feed of keyword searches you are interested in.

Social networks – For example, Facebook and Bebo. It can be worth searching social networks for groups involved with a news story or talking about it.

Twitter – This is a micro-blogging tool. You can send and receive short messages from the internet, mobile phone or instant messenger. You can also set Twitter to track keywords.

The resulting mass of information can be difficult to filter. However it is an invaluable skill to learn if you need to follow news events very closely and in near real time.

Journalists need to know how these tools are being used and how to tap into them. We discuss RSS on the Frontline Club Blogging and Beyond Training Course. And I am creating a new course for the club, which we will announce soon, to help train journalists how to more efficiently use the internet and RSS to gather news.