How to navigate the internet ocean?

How to navigate the internet ocean?

Every moment, millions of people worldwide use Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and other social media to report on events affecting their communities. Text, photographs and video clips which citizens upload this way are often the first news of events later covered in the media. The role of citizens as journalists is the most important during large news events. At times of civil unrest and armed conflict, sometimes in countries where media access is limited, citizens often become journalists using the internet. Sometimes, during large natural disasters, such as the recent earthquake in Japan, media workers travel with difficulty because of devastated infrastructure, so the information spread by citizens using social media often becomes the basis of published news items. As well, while some reporters go out in the field and get first-hand information, their colleagues follow the event on the internet in their newsrooms.

But how can one find the most newsworthy text, photo or video clip in a sea of information?
In about 15 minutes, it is possible to filter countless internet sources and establish a free system which enables the user to view the summary of the latest news, photos and video clips from many social media websites, news agencies and other sites, all in one place.

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a simple way of automatic newsgathering on a certain topic without searching through websites and blogs.

While reading news online each day, like when doing research for a particular story, we will open a dozen websites and look for the topic that interests us. It is possible that we will visit some of those sites several times in one day, awaiting news updates.

But what happens if the situation we are reporting on is changing by the minute while our job requires us to follow the event almost as it happens? Using the usual method of reading the news on the internet as if we are leafing through a newspaper, we waste time. Sometimes, we waste more time opening websites than reading them.

RSS enables users to follow several websites using just one program. An RSS reader shows the user each update on topics of interest uploaded to selected websites or blogs.

Instead of reading an e-mail newsletter, users read all news on a personalized RSS reader. You can subscribe to updates about anything you want when you see the orange RSS logo on a website you are reading.

Readers such as the  Google Reader, also “memorize” which texts you have already read, so that on each new visit, they show you only the unread updates.

The following is a guide for using Google Reader, which is free for users with a Gmail address. This time, I am searching for more informatin about the recent earthquake in Japan.

The tab “add a subscription” is located in the top left-hand corner. I type “earthquake Japan news” and the reader lists dozens of websites. I choose the ones which interest me and click “subscribe”. I then type the names of certain news websites and the words “Japan earthquake” and again click “subscribe”. This means that all news about the earthquake in Japan published on these pages will be shown on my reader only seconds after they are uploaded.

Twitter, the constant virtual chatter, is an excellent tool for accessing first-hand information, published directly by citizens, before the same news makes its way to the media. Let’s say that today is three days since the earthquake in Japan and I want to know what the citizens of Sendai are saying about the conditions around them.

For a specific search, I go to This search method enables users to search for information using particular terms, phrases or people’s names, as well as receive information coming from particular places – for example, information published in the city of Sendai and within a 20-kilometre radius.  Also, it is possible to search for information published only in certain languages, as well as published at a certain time – for example, you can limit the news to that published in the last three days.

After I’ve typed the search terms I am interested in, I click the orange RSS icon in the top right-hand corner. This way, the news from Twitter will reach my RSS reader directly and I won’t have to constantly check Twitter.

While Facebook is like Twitter in the sense that it is used by ordinary citizens to publish information which later becomes news, we can’t access the private pages of each Facebook user. However, we can access Facebook groups - that is, public pages on certain topics, and follow what the users are publishing on these pages and related discussion forums.
After finding useful Facebook pages, I click on the orange RSS icon again, which is located on each of these pages, or in the top right-hand corner of my internet browser. The Facebook feed will go directly into my RSS reader.

Flickr is a photo-sharing website. Every time someone uploads a photo on Flickr, they must tag it. Like most websites of its kind, Flickr enables various ways of searching. One of the more useful is searching for words contained within a tag. I type the words “Sendai earthquake”  and click on “tags only”. At the bottom of the page, I click the RSS icon, so I can follow the new pictures on this topic via my RSS reader.

PicFog shows photos uploaded on Twitter in real time. PicFog users do not need to have a Twitter account to search photos. The search can be filtered by using topics, locations or the names of Twitter account users.

YouTube, the video-sharing website, offers several RSS services for different video categories, such as the latest and the most watched. After typing in a desired search term, YouTube also enables an RSS feed if I click on the orange RSS icon.

Public property or not?

Most media organizations have written or unwritten rules about the use of photos depicting people, which were first made public on social media. The person who publishes a photo this way is probably not thinking that it may appear again in that night's news bulletin or the next day's newspaper. So anyone wanting to republish such a photo should send a message to its author using the social media website where they found it.

If you are an old-school reporter, a field veteran who does not believe in any newsgathering beyond a face-to-face conversation, the search methods detailed above probably sound all Greek to you.

Needless to say, nothing can compare to a first-hand interview/photograph/video footage. But in situations when this is not possible – or when only a few news gatherers are sent to the field – it is useful to know how to navigate the increasingly deep ocean that is the internet.