In your quest to find interesting things to blog about, you may want to consider blogging about The News. Sure, there are loads of ways to create great content — interviews, tips, opinion pieces, research and so on, but blogging about news items can be particularly useful.
Why News is Good for your blog
First, because it can be an easy way of injecting fresh content — particularly if its a unique tidbit that no one knows; second, because when done well, you can demonstrate your own thought leadership in a given category; and third, it provides the opportunity to get The Scoop — the first blog to recognize a particular bit of news, and the potential for being explosively linked to (i.e. “link bait”), bringing traffic, comments, all of those precious inbound links, and the recognition that your site has done well.
Now, Its Actually Ok *Not* To Break The News
Unless bloggers have deep connections within any particular industry, most bloggers are not in the position to report on breaking news in any fashion. This is ok. Almost all A-list bloggers do this. Blogging magazines do this. And quite frankly, mainstream news organizations do this. In fact, most “news” is simply repeated ad nauseum between different networks and across different media (think about how many stories are going to be repeated in your local television news casts). Most bloggers will therefore need to comment on existing news that other mainstream organizations, or bloggers have discovered, or actually created (such as newsworthy research) first.
The trick, therefore, is to actually find news that’s worth commenting on.
And here’s how I do it.
Become a news junkie
In your quest to find something that’s newsworthy and appropriate for your blog, you’ll probably be looking through lots of news. And as you get into the swing of things, the number of sources you’re going to pick up will increase. To perhaps hundreds of sources a day. Some will be bloggers, some will be mainstream news sources, and others in some pretty strange areas, indeed. But if you’re serious about blogging about stuff that happens that is relevant to your blog, many times you will find yourself drawn to finding more and more things to read. This is good, because you’ll start getting a feel for who the main players in any given industry are; what their positions are for popular issues; and over time, you’ll start developing a sense of context and history of events that play out. All of these things will help you write intelligently once you actually find news. But back up for a second — hundreds of sources? How is it possible to read hundreds of websites a day?
Feeds, feeds, feeds — understand them, love them, embrace them.
If you blog, you already know about RSS feeds. You almost certainly publish your own feeds so that people can pick them up and read them easily in their own newsreader. For the uninitiated (or those contemplating blogging), RSS feeds are a way of publishing information — almost any information, and this isn’t the exclusive purview of blogs. The data is in a simpler form so that special news reading programs can read them. Feeds are really the key to digesting all that news fast and efficiently, because on the reader-end of things (not the blogger-publishing side of things) they provide an easy way of aggregating news from a multitude of sites (hundreds, thousands)– and enable you to scan a huge number of websites from a single vantage point in a very easy fashion. That is, you won’t need to go to every single news site individually in your browser; rather, you will be able to “pull” information from those feeds into a single location, your news reader, so they can be read very quickly. And you’d be surprised how many sites publish their own feeds (look for the rss “symbol”, or a link to “feeds”), and these include newspapers, news sites, magazines, and even trade journals.
Get a good feed reader
Now that you know what feeds are, you’ll need to get a good feed reader. Most, if all, are now free, so its just a matter of deciding whether or not you want a software based feed reader, or a web based feed reader. Its sort of like the debate between a software email program (like Outlook Express), or a web based email program (such as Gmail). There are lots of popular feed readers, but Google has a particularly useful feed reader that has recently allowed you to view some of your own viewing statistics (which is nifty), and share your feeds very easily. Personally, I tend to favour a web based feed reader, as they allow you to read feeds wherever there is an internet connection. Moreover, I have a particular fondness for services such as Netvibes or Pageflakes. These are feed readers which are particularly useful as you can add feeds in little boxes that get displayed like an online “desktop” that fills your browser; you can view the headlines of many, many, many feeds all at once (rather than one at a time) and for someone who is visually inclined, it is a tremendously efficient way of reading your feeds.
Start subscribing and sharing your feeds
Now that you understand what feeds are and you have a feed reader to use, you need to start gathering feeds to start reading. Newspapers, blogs, magazines, or journals — start hitting them all up in your browser to find exactly if they publish RSS feeds, and secondly what their feed details are so you can put them in your feed reader. Now, you might be asking — isn’t there a faster way to do this? Well, there is, actually. A format was developed for people to back up and / or share their feeds all at once. Its called “OPML”. If you had a list of feeds that you wanted to share with me, for example, all feed readers will be able to ‘export’ your list in a format called “OPML”. Then, you could send it to me, and I could “import” your OPML list into my feed readers, and la voila! I have all of your feeds. If you have friends who have similar interests you could share each other’s OPML’s. Sometimes you can find OPML’s that are publicly shared on the web, but these are few and far between (if anyone can tell me different let me know). Sometimes people will also publish their feeds through Google’s feed reader. Share.opml.org is another great resource — but not for finding OPML lists per se. Rather, its a way for you to share your OPML files, and in turn, actually discover what other feeds people are subscribing to, and in turn, who is subscribing to which feeds. Since there is a way to see which users have similar interests you can actually lists from individuals who have a feed list like your own.
Go beyond subscribing
Google Alerts / Technorati / Blogpulse / TailRank
So, you’ve got your feeds that you’re scanning every day for news. Isn’t there a better way to do this that might find information from sources you don’t even know about? Sure there is. There are a few services that will actively monitor and scour the web for certain tags or key phrases, and return news results on them. The exercise here, however, is picking those key words; however, if you’ve got a sincere interest in a particular domain of news, you’ll likely be better off in generating a larger list of newsworthy items and paring them down over time. You might choose staple news items in your domain, but also people, places, and organizations you want to keep track of. You might even add your own blog to see if people are writing about you; or, your competitor’s blogs, to see what people are writing about them. Google Alerts is a great example, where you essentially tell Google Alerts to monitor different “key words”. Every day (or less frequently, depending on your preference), Google Alerts will send you an email with the results. As it monitors blogs AND mainstream news outlets, you’ll get some surprising results, sometimes from some interesting, unique, and local sources (I know i have). A couple other monitoring services which tend to monitor only blogs are also tremendously useful in finding blogging sources you might not already know of. Technorati allows you to punch in a keyword, and grab the RSS feed of the result — allowing you to monitor the results on an hourly basis (and also based on a blogger’s authority). Similar services which allow you to monitor the blogosphere for keywords of choice include Tailrank, BlogPulse, and Google’s own Blog Search. All of them will allow you to “subscribe” to a feed of the result, allowing you to monitor those results over time in your own feed reader.
Find the hidden, unique and cool with social bookmarks
Digg / Reddit / Netscape / Del.icio.us / Furl
If you’re seaching for news that is more off the beaten path, perhaps in a search for finding something “first”, why not mobilize an army of people who are looking for stuff in the first place? Of course, I’m talking about social bookmarking sites such as Digg. What’s social bookmarking? Its merely a service which allows individuals to share sites that they’ve bookmarked. Similar to services like Google Alerts, the key here is the keyword list you generate, as the right list will generate the right kind of news and sites that people are tagging and bookmarking. While many social bookmarking sites double as “news” sites, given how they popularize and list the top sites that have been bookmarked, just like Technorati, you can search for keywords, and follow the result in your feed reader. Unlike Technorati, however, it tracks more than blogs. And unlike Google Alerts, however, it tracks more than just the news. People will bookmark anything. Pictures, video, articles, corporate websites, frequently asked questions, and much more besides. Using a social bookmarking tool to help you discover “stuff” really broadens your search, but you’ll also be able to find a great many hidden gems, particularly if use your keywords intelligently. Many social bookmarking service are also highly dependent on the commmunities which power them, and as such, may vary greatly in the kinds of stuff that are bookmarked. For example, Digg has a great deal of young tech males, and as such, you will find an abundance of news on Windows, Apple, technology, science, and gaming. Reddit often has a political focus. While there are many social bookmarking sites outside of the very popular ones, they are probably not worth your time as they don’t have the critical mass of users to make it worth your while.
Keep on top of big issues with news aggregators
Google News / Techmeme / Megite / Newsvine / Topix
To get a birds eye view of news in a particular category (or many categories), such as the category that your blog occupies, you might wish to start frequenting news sites which use a mix of computer algorithms and human involvement to produce a list of the news. Google News is a great example of this. Many of them are updated every few minutes, and will balance and re-order the news based on how popular and worthy some news content is. The best part is that many of them will list their “sources”, whether they be mainstream news or bloggers. Using news aggregators is a great way of keeping on top of the big topics, and they are particularly useful if you’ve decided that its important for you to follow it for your blog (because your goal is to be a leader in your corner of the blogosphere with respect to that topic). Since sources are listed, you’ll also get an idea of who the major “players” are, when it comes to blogging news, and as a result, a list of who your potential competitors are — or, potential allies. News aggregators therefore, are useful not just to keep track of the major topics in a given area, but also who the major opinion makers are — and who you should be keeping track of. Once you know who they are, you’ll be able to follow their opinions, leave comments, leave trackbacks, and really get yourself involved in a part of the blogosphere that you might not have been aware of.
Well, this is only the way that I use the tools available to scan, read, digest, and ultimately find news to comment on and blog about. What do you find useful? If you have anything to add, or comment let me know and let’s get the discussion going!
* Tony Hung is the guest blogger for the week, and blogs at DeepJiveInterests.com