Online tools help journalists get the scoop

15 Feb

In today’s connected world, finding story leads is easier than ever before. Journalists and armature writers alike have the ability to access a wealth of information. The downside to all of this access though, is sorting through it all.

Journalists use different tools such as real simple syndication feeds and news alerts to stay informed on particular topics. Writers can monitor anything from city politics to international cuisine. All that is needed is a few carefully chosen key words and time to check on the results. Still, sorting through the numerous links can be a serious task. The tools have ways to narrow down the results. Users can specify if they want stories from a particular type of site or the quality of the search result. While this helps writers, it can keep them from a good lead on occasion as well.

In 2007, Gary Fineout, a writer for the Miami Herald found out the advantages of keeping an eye on the less traditional news sources.  Fineout was able to scoop the rest of the area papers on a story about a group trying to posthumously pardon the rock star Jim Morrison.  Fineout, like many other journalists in the area had a Google alert set for Charlie Crist, the then governor of Florida. However, Fineout set his alerts to send him news and web updates. This small difference in the type of alert he received was his advantage. He was updated about the fan group’s efforts to ask Crist to pardon the former Florida resident. Crist promised to look into the case. Morrison was convicted of exposing himself at a concert in Miami and his fans wanted him pardoned.  The story was interesting and certainly, the sort of thing other papers wish they would have caught.

Journalists are still learning how to balance between the never-ending surge of information and the hunt for a truly unique story. The tools available are better than anything journalists have ever had before. But, the key is truly knowing how to use those tools to their best advantage. Writers need to have alerts set for the proper key words or they may miss something that others catch. Learning how big of a net to cast in your search criteria is also critical. Letting some less relevant stories slip by can be acceptable, as long as writers catch the big news that they need for their best work.

My Google Alerts:

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