How to handle a lot of news feeds

I work as a journalist for Swiss national radio (Schweizer Radio DRS). I cover technical topics, the blogosphere, IT security, digital distribution, DRM, High Definition TV, and computer and video games.

I read a lot of news feeds every day, approx. 50 feeds amounting to around 500 news items per day. This is how I manage to not only read everything, but also keep the stuff that I might need later to do a report.

1. Read feeds in Safari

I work on OS X and I like the way Safari handles news feeds.

  • You can aggregate feeds: put them all into one folder, and read through all news items from these feeds on one page, sorted by date.
  • You can put  these folders in your bookmarks bar. This shows new items at a glance, sorted by general topic. This is how it looks just now:

     

    Tolle_thesen_testen_-_hier
  • You can control how often they update. I have them update every 30 minutes, but updating less often would probably be healthier.
  • The grey square indicates that these folders are set to automatically open all contained feeds, instead of showing them in a drop down menu. The feature is called "autoclick".
  • I go through each folder, and browse through all new items. Only titles and the first few lines are shown. If I find something interesting, I cmd-click it to open the post/article in a new tab.
  • After going through all the feed folders, I am left with around 30-40 open tabs. I quickly go through them. Some stuff I’ll just read/watch and close. Other stuff, especially longer articles or posts on topics I’d like to keep go into the database – more on that below. Important here: do not start to read properly, give it just a quick glance. I ask myself: will I need this later? Will I want to reference it? Does it contain information I would want to find later on? If yes, it goes into the database. If no, it’s discarded.

2. Use DEVONthink Pro to store information

DEVONthink is a information storage application. You can put all kinds of data in there, PDFs, emails, regular text, copy/paste from web pages, even video and audio. The text-based files are indexed and searchable, also via spotlight plug-in. You can cross reference stuff, you can search for similar articles etc.

This makes it perfect for me: it’s the database where all the information goes that I need for my job. Emails I get and want to keep, reports I do, stuff I read, substantial press releases I get – it’s all in there.

DEVONthink hooks into the Services menu of OS X. This makes it accessible from other applications like Safari or Mail.

  • So, if I come across an article or email I want to keep, I mark the text and use the Services command "New RTF-Memo" – naturally with a key command – "cmd-)" on my system.
  • This puts the content into the default folder in DEVONthink for new items. I call it "tmp". It may look like this:
    Themen_fachredaktion_it_ne
  • Why not just put a link in there? It may not be around forever. Some sites show content only a couple of days, after that you’d have to subscribe to read archives. Other sites just disappear. And I like to keep my inbox clean.
  • Why not just copy the whole page? This would store a lot of ads in the database, or site navigation – stuff I neither need nor want. I think it’s worth the extra effort to weed it out.
  • After all the copying, I do another round of quick glancing. Stuff that I can read quickly gets read and moved to a folder. Some people may prefer tagging, but I’m kinda old school that way.
  • Stuff that takes more time to read: I move it to a folder called "Read later".
  • After all this copying, moving and quick reading, the "tmp" folder should be empty again.

3. Keep a strict regiment to stay on top

Yes, it’s not all just the magic of software. It also takes discipline.

  • Read feeds and sort/empty tmp: daily, 1 – 1.5 hours per day. In one focused run for maximum efficiency! Or maybe one early morning, one in the afternoon (when our American friends wake up and start to post).
  • Read stuff in "Read later": at least weekly, 2 – 3 hours. I try to keep the folder below 100 items, and have it down to 10 by the end of the week.
  • After holidays, more time is needed and should be planned for accordingly.
  • If the "Read later" folder fills up, I make a conscious decision to tackle it, reserve time for it, and plough through it; preferably in a distraction free environment. Long train rides work for me 😉
  • The payoff for all this work? Someone mentions a topic, and one quick look-up gives me all the information I need to address the issue.

That’s about it. What works for you? Is this applicable to other news feed needs?

 

 

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