When a journalist gets their first job, or switches role to a new area or specialism, they need to quickly work out where to find useful leads. This often involves the use of feeds, email alerts, and social networks. In this post I’m going to explain a range of search techniques for finding useful sources across a range of platforms.
Search techniques for finding news and blog sources
Let’s get the obvious things out of the way first, starting with Google.
Aside from the main search engine, remember that there’s a specific News search option. Within that, you can also specify you want to search within blogs.
But what about all those local websites and blogs that aren’t listed on Google News? Try using a normal Google search with site:blogspot.com or site:wix.com and your particular keywords to limit results to those hosted on Blogger or Wix.
If you are looking for a place which also exists elsewhere (such as Cambridge, Massachusetts or Birmigham, Alabama), use Search tools to specify you only want results from your country. This isn’t perfect: it will still include wrong results and exclude right ones, but it’s worth trying.
You can also exclude irrelevant results by using the minus operator immediately before keywords in results you want to exclude, e.g. Birmingham -Alabama or Cambridge -Massachusetts
Finding email newsletters in your field
You can search for email newsletters by using your keyword with intitle:subscribe and intitle:email or intitle:newsletter.
Use an RSS reader instead of email alerts
RSS readers are much easier to read than email alerts: these pull in a range of feeds into one place. Widely used RSS readers include Feedly, Netvibes (where you can share or publish dashboards) and Flipboard (which gives you a magazine-like interface).
If you think social media has taken over the role of RSS readers, you aren’t using RSS as much as you could. Here are some examples which you won’t find on social media…
You can get updated on new results by using Google Alerts. Use this on Chrome and you should be able to choose to receive results by email or by RSS.
WordPress has its own search engine, and results can be subscribed to using RSS so you get updated whenever a new post is published mentioning your keyword. Look for the ‘related topics’ box on the right, too: this links to tag pages on WordPress which are also useful.
Look out for other places where you can find RSS feeds or email alerts for new search results For example TheyWorkForYou’s search page and WhatDoTheyKnow provide both for what MPs are saying and FOI requests respectively.
Consultation websites also typically offer RSS feeds: Transport for London’s has separate feeds for forthcoming, open, and closed consultations, but it will also give you a feed for searches. Here’s their guide to using RSS. Most government departments and local councils use the same system: here’s Leicester’s and here’s DEFRA’s.
The Gov.uk website’s Publications section also offers both RSS feeds and email alerts for new results matching any search you conduct.
Finding events in your area
Meetup, Eventbrite and Lanyrd are all useful for finding events in a particular area.
Meetup is good for regular and more informal events. You can search by location and radius, and get a calendar of upcoming events that meet your criteria.
Joining a meetup group doesn’t mean you have to attend any – it’s more like joining a group on Facebook. The more you join, the more Meetup will suggest to you.
You can get an RSS feed of meetups you’ve signed up to, and you can add any individual meetup URL to an RSS reader to get an RSS feed of that meetup group’s updates. But you can’t get RSS feeds for areas or searches.
You can subscribe to emails on Meetup about groups you’ve joined, and to be alerted to new groups which may be of interest. New groups being set up is of course often a news story in itself, and an excuse to contact the organiser to interview them about it.
Eventbrite tends to be used for less regular events but also bigger ones. Again you can search by location and get a calendar of forthcoming events (remember to sort by date, not relevance).
Each event on Eventbrite has an organiser. Click on their profile to see more events. Sadly Eventbrite doesn’t seem to have any RSS feeds but there does appear to be a workaround using Zapier.
Lanyrd, which is owned by Eventbrite, is useful for finding conferences. You can search by keyword, and you can also try to find the URL for particular locations. This tends to begin with lanyrd.com/places/ followed by a place name, for example lanyrd.com/places/liverpool.
Usefully, places on Lanyrd do have their own RSS feed, so you can receive updates on all events in that location on an RSS reader. You can also add them directly to your calendar. Both options are in the right hand column.
The site also has a speaker directory, useful for finding experts in a particular field.
Your own specialist or local search engine
For example: you might make a list of local public body websites such as those for all local hospitals, the police and fire services, and local authority.
Chances are that Reddit has a number of forums related to the area you’re interested in. For example there are two Birmingham subreddits (r/brum and r/Birmingham) but also subreddits for local football teams and universities. All will have RSS feeds that can be added to an RSS reader.
Using Facebook lists to create multiple newsfeed channels
Most people know about Twitter lists, but fewer people know you can create lists in Facebook.
Like Twitter lists, these can be useful for following a specific group of people (for example those in a particular industry, organisation or area) and ensuring you can check those updates regularly: remember that most updates from your connections are never shown in your news feed, so this is a way of taking control.
Remember to bookmark your friends list once you’ve created it, as otherwise you’ll still have to access it through the Friends menu in Facebook.
Finding people on Facebook based on location or employer
Now, how do you find those people to add to your Facebook lists? If you go to Facebook’s friend requests page you will see a series of search boxes on the right hand side. These allow you to search for people by various criteria, but the most useful are where they live now and their current employer. Look for people who live and work in relevant areas.
Finding useful pages and groups for journalists on Facebook: Graph Search
How do you find relevant pages and groups on Facebook? Facebook’s Graph Search allows you to identify groups and pages liked or joined by people who live in a particular area, or who have liked or joined other pages or groups.
That sounds complicated as a sentence, so here’s a picture which should be a lot clearer:
To do this you need to conduct a search in Facebook using a particular sentence structure.
If you type pages liked by people who live in and then start typing a location, Facebook should start to suggest locations that it recognises. Choose the one you mean and Facebook should show your pages that match.
By default results are shown across all types of results (people, groups, pages). So make sure that you switch to the Pages tab to see all the results.
Another phrase is pages liked by people who like followed by the name of a page. Again, start typing that name and then select one that Facebook suggests.
To find groups use the phrase Groups joined by people who joined, followed by the name of a relevant group. You can also use Groups joined by people who liked, followed by the name of a relevant page, or Groups joined by people who live in followed by a location.
LinkedIn for journalists
LinkedIn has a number of useful features for journalists. One of these is the ability to search specifically for companies. First, make sure you select Companies from the drop-down menu to the left of the search box, then press enter (don’t type any criteria):
You’ll get some initial search results for all companies on LinkedIn. You can now filter those results further by using the Location option on the left. Click + Add and start typing your location until the right one appears to select.
It is generally not good practice to send contact requests to individuals on LinkedIn unless you know them. However, as you do build your personal contacts it is useful to add them on LinkedIn because you can choose to receive updates when your contacts are mentioned online:
It’s easy to underestimate Instagram, but many people find it easier or more natural to use than text-based social networks. It may be the first place that someone shares a newsworthy image or experience.
Obviously the primary way of navigating Instagram is through hashtags. These can be searched on the app, but you can also browse them online by adding your tag to the end of the URL instagram.com/explore/tags/ e.g. instagram.com/explore/tags/manchester
A second way of finding useful accounts, however, is geotagging. A much higher proportion of instagram updates are geotagged compared to posts on other social media platforms. Worldcam allows you to find updates – and therefore users – by location.
Snapchat is another social platform which is being used by an increasingly broader range of people, including politicians and celebrities. I’ve written previously about 5 techniques for finding people on Snapchat here.
I’ve probably written more about finding people on Twitter, and managing Twitter feeds, than any other social platform. Here are a selection of previous posts covering that:
- How do you find useful Twitter accounts? 5 tips for journalists
- How to: find local Twitter reaction to a national event
- Finding Common Terms around a Twitter Hashtag (Tony Hirst)
- 10 ways to find people on Twitter
- How do you ‘follow’ 2500 people on Twitter?
- “Follow, Then Filter”: from information stream to delta (why and how to use Twitter lists)
That should be more than enough to get started following people, groups and organisations for potential leads in a specific field or place. But have I missed anything? Do you have your own techiques? Let me know in the comments or @paulbradshaw