Social media news tracking
Georg Blume of Germany and Kristin Kupfer of Austria left from Lhasa train station in the early hours of Thursday March 20th. In so doing they became 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? It’s clear that they don’t want any witnesses,” said Vincent Brossel, who heads Reporters Without Borders’ Asia desk according to the Associated Press.
Without journalists on the ground, news media rely heavily upon telephoning contacts within Lhasa, mobile phone images and video uploaded to the internet along with eyewitness accounts that appear upon blogs and microblogs like Twitter. Much of this information is difficult to substantiate. In addition, many journalists find the digital world an alien environment – a scary place they find impossible to penetrate.
However, as we touch on in the Frontline Club Blogging and Beyond training course, 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. RSS allows you to reroute the flow of water in any direction you like using keywords i.e. Tibet, Lhasa, “Georg Blume”, “Dalai Lama”. Firstly 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 is most likely to appear. 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. This saves you time spent returning to these websites to search for the latest updates. The news you want comes to you as it happens, not when you happen to come across it.
The more specific the keyword the more specific the information you receive. For example, an RSS feed on the keyword “China” is going to result in every Olympics build up story, student blog entry, Forbidden City holiday snap and videos of dancing girls in Shanghai nightclubs finding a way into your newsfeed. All of which may be distracting, but a very inefficient way of gathering news.
Be very specific. Use only the names of people, cities, townships, politicians or key phrases commonly associated with the news you want. Be sure to use speechmarks (“”) to “anchor” any phrases or names that contain more than one word. And do so across a range of sites. Here is a very short, and by no means exhaustive, list of some typical sites worth following during news events,
Flickr – For photographs. Search on a keyword and subscribe to the RSS feed.
Google Video – For video uploaded to either Google Video or YouTube.
Technorati – This is 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 scattered around the world. You can subscribe to news from particular regions or countries. Global Voices translate some blog posts into English and other languages.
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 – Like 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 microblogging tool. You can send and receive short messages from the internet, mobile phone or instant messenger. You can set Twitter to track keywords. Whenever these words are mentioned you receive a message.
The resulting mass of information can be difficult to filter. However, in my experience following the protests in Burma in September 2007 it is an invaluable skill to learn if you need to follow news events very closely and in near real time. Of course, not every tool will be used during every story. For example, during the protests in Burma, Twitter was not used at all from inside Burma. Whereas, a service called CBox, which is popular in Asia, was used to relay eyewitness accounts to the wider world.
Journalists need to know how these tools are being used to relay information and how they can reroute the internet’s plumbing to follow a story. We discuss RSS on the Frontline Club Blogging and Beyond Training Course. However, 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.
This originally appeared in this month’s Frontline Club magazine. If you’re interested in either training course, drop me a line on frontlineblogger at mac dot com.