Life Skills: Keeping Up With The News
This post is part of the “Life Skills” series by former MiddBlog editors.
In my previous post on being an active consumer of the news, I discussed how to assemble the sources one needs for a media mix that will keep you informed. In this post, I’ll provide advice for keeping up with these sources.
Make Twitter work for you
There are a lot of reasons people stay away from Twitter. People see it as being too turbo, too nerdy, too much of an obligation for their careers or too superficial. Twitter may not be for everyone, but I believe most people can find a way to make Twitter work for them. The key is to assemble a list of followers you find compelling and to think of Twitter as a tool for keeping up with your interests and for sharing. Twitter can easily become a natural extension of one’s interests and one’s desire to share.
If you’re new to Twitter, create an account and find users to follow. When looking for feeds, I recommend keeping in mind the Media Mix I suggested: you want a cross-section of news sources ranging from the hyperlocal to the international. Also, one of the great things about Twitter is that you can follow people and organizations that you’re interested in without getting information through a filter. If you want the latest on Tebow, go straight to the source.
As you choose whom to follow, it’s important that you assemble a feed you’ll find compelling going forward. Especially if you’re just starting out, be wary of accounts that are too prolific and don’t double up on accounts that essentially do the same thing. This means not following too many sources for breaking news, for example. To keep your feed organized, make lists that create new streams with a combination of accounts you chose, including accounts you don’t follow. You can also subscribe to other users’ lists.
Many users like to download applications that run Twitter on their computers and mobile devices. There are many options out there, but the applications made by Twitter itself work quite well.
Finally, Twitter is also about leaning forward and interacting with other users (more on this in my post next week). This friendly introduction to Twitter includes a glossary and will help you get started.
Take advantage of libraries:
Libraries are the way to go if you want to read a magazine in print but don’t want to fork up the subscription fee.
If you’re still at Middlebury, become acquainted with the library’s periodicals section. It’s on the bottom floor of the library and it receives most every mainstream magazine you could want across a few languages. The periodicals section also has a good assortment of newspapers.
If you’re out in the big bad world, don’t forget that most public libraries also have a fabulous collection of periodicals and also a good selection of books on current affairs .
Use RSS feeds and do so with care:
In the old days of the Internet, if you wanted to keep up with a website, you would go visit it. RSS reverses this and brings the content of a website to you. RSS stand for Real Simple Syndication and, as the name suggests, it functions by having you subscribe to content from frequently updated sources like blogs and news headlines.
In order to use RSS, you’ll need an RSS reader — a website or application that compiles a feed of your subscriptions. Highly regarded web-based RSS readers include Google Reader, NetNewsWire and Bloglines. Reeder is a good RSS application, and most browsers have built in rudimentary RSS readers.
I recommend starting with Google Reader: it’s intuitive, visually well-designed and since it’s online it can be accessed from anywhere. Once you’ve set up a Google reader account, copy the URL of the website and paste it into Google Reader’s “add subscription” form. Google Reader will automatically find the correct feed to follow if you provide a website’s URl but other RSS readers may need a specific RSS feed. If you’re interested in learning more about setting up RSS feeds, I recommend this website.
As with managing your Twitter feeds, it’s important that you use RSS feeds with care. Make sure to create a mix of feeds you’ll actually want to read. Be wary of subscribing to sites that will flood your feed with posts and sites that doesn’t actually interest you.
I recommend using folders within your RSS reader to keep your feeds compelling. Keep in mind that one subscription can be in any number of folders. This means that you can create one folder for all the sites that are most important to you so that you can read that folder if you’re in a hurry.
Take advantage of social networks:
In one of its latest moves to force out a competitor (in this case Google+), Facebook now allows you to “subscribe” to prominent users and receive status updates and links from them even if you aren’t friends. This and the ability to “like” pages enables you to add newsworthy items to your Facebook news feed.
On the subject of Google+, this social network is a ghost town among users — due to Google’s broad reach, a lot of people have signed up but no one is… doing anything on it. Nevertheless, a lot of journalists and public figures post regularly to Google+ and interact with their followers on the site so it can be worthwhile to check it out.
Use Email Notifcations
If you’re like most millennials, you check your email a lot. Probably too much. This can be a problem, but it can also make your inbox a great place to receive the news. Many news organizations offer regular email newsletters and breaking news updates. One of the best is Ezra Klein’s Wonkbook, which will provide you with excellent analysis of economic and political news every morning.
If you’re heavily caffeinated, Google Alerts
Google alerts allow you to sign up for email notifications every time a given word or phrase is used on the Internet. If you’re closely following a specific topic, Google Alerts can be a great way to keep up with it. For example, if one were planning a Liebowitz day (does that date me?) one would create a “Ron Liebowitz” Google alert. People also like to create a Google alert for their name in order to keep up on their online identities.
Check back next week for my final post on being a good news consumer, in which I switch things up and describe how to lean forward and be a news producer as well.