Let news from around the planet find you

Georg Blume and Kristin Kupfer left from Lhasa train station in Tibet in the early hours of 20 March. 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 on blogs and microblogs like Twitter. While much of this information is difficult to substantiate for many journalists, it’s the digital world itself which proves impossible to navigate.

This wasn’t a problem for Robin Hamman, a former BBC journalist who now works for the social-media consultancy Headshift. When a series of bomb blasts struck Jaipur, India, in May, he used a tool called Tweetscan – www.tweetscan.com – to search thousands of users of the microblogging service Twitter to find an eyewitness on the ground.

‘Within a couple of minutes of the first of several bomb explosions in Jaipur, Tweetscan helped me find an eyewitness who was ‘Tweeting’as he searched for his mother, and dodged bombs exploding as close as 20ft away”.

Users can subscribe to the search results on Tweetscan as an RSS feed. This means you only search once and receive a notification whenever anything new happens, as it happens. The exact same ‘search and subscribe’process can be used across blogs, photo, and video sharing websites, as well as mainstream media aggregators.

The more specific the keyword, the more relevant 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 and holiday snap finding its way into your newsfeed. Whereas a search on the name of the swimmer ‘Wu Peng’will reduce the noise-to-signal ratio needed to make efficient use of this method of newsgathering.

This is one of the key methods I teach on the Frontline Club Blogging & Beyond training course. Be sure to use speech marks (‘”) to ‘anchor’any phrases or names that contain more than one word. Here is a short list of some sites worth using when news breaks and you need to follow events closely.

Flickr – subscribe to the RSS feed of ‘tags’used to describe pictures.

Silobreaker – aggregates ‘approximately 10,000 news, blog, research and multimedia sources”.

Google Video – search and subscribe here and receive results from Google Video or YouTube.

Technorati, Icerocket and Google Blogsearch – these are blog search engines and you can subscribe to an RSS feed of search results.

Delicious – This is a social bookmarking system. Subscribing to a keyword tag within Delicious allows you to effectively tap into the collective online research of thousands of people.

Google News – Aggregates 4,500+ sources.

Of course, not every tool is useful for every story. For example, during the protests in Burma in September 2007, Twitter was not used at all from inside the country. Whereas a service called CBox, which is popular in Asia, was used to relay eyewitness accounts to the wider world. However, a search through all these services should help you keep ahead of the pack if, as is increasingly the case, the news breaks somewhere online first.

Graham Holliday works for the Frontline Club website: www.frontlineclub.com

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