DEAN'S DIGITAL WORLD
By Dean Tudor
Help for News Junkies
Over the past few months, RSS as a Web-Internet entity has really
taken hold. More people are aware of it, and more people are using
it. It has even made it into mainstream media (e.g., Jack Kapica's
"RSS holds promise for on-line news delivery", Globe and
Mail, April 1, 2004: NOT an April Fool's column). A Google search
shows more articles in magazines and on various Web sites. RSS stands
for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary or RDF Site Summary.
It is a way of distributing news headlines, summaries, and weblogs
on the Web. This RSS newsfeed requires a "news aggregator",
a program that can read the XML (extensible markup language) coding
of the news headline and opening paragraph or summary or deck. For
this sub-head, it all depends on how the original news source wants
to handle it. Some of the better ones will send a summary rather
than a teaser. You can buy the aggregator program (shareware) at
a reasonable cost or download freeware such as FeedReader (www.feedreader.com).
Yahoo and Google drill-through directories will find them for you
(just enter "news aggregators") and check, to see which
ones are free. Try one or more of the freeware until you feel comfortable
with the technology, and then check the sharewares for added features
that you might need. All RSS newsfeeds are usually free for private
use; most are free for non-profits. Commercial operations must pay
News junkies love it
To find any story, just click on the
headline, and a browser window will open for you to read the original
Web site. AND NO ADS!!
until you get to the originating site
Keeping up with the news, for freelancers without the assistance
of a corporate media library, has never been easier.
A good value of RSS is that it runs in the background, collecting
news headlines while you work away on the Internet. Of course, you
must be connected, and it helps to have broadband so that this collecting
and your own work do not slow down to a crawl. You can set up the
news aggregator to collect every 10 minutes through to every 10
hours. You can keep the program minimized and these headlines will
pop up as a separate window, sort of like a news alert, which is
what they are. Of course, you can turn this feature off, but then
why are you bothering to collect news so frequently if not to check
it all the time? You can specify anywhere from 5 to 50 headlines
for each collection. You can archive (keep on your computer) the
headlines anywhere from one session to over a month. Of course,
since the headlines are connected to the original URLs, then the
headlines are only as good as the site's original archives. The
Toronto Sun currently does not offer archives beyond one
day, so you are out of luck if you try an URL that is more than
a day old. Most papers are good for one or two weeks. Magazines
and broadcast sites are extremely variable. Magazines do not put
up everything, of course, and broadcasters reuse URLs constantly,
in attempts to keep up to date.
Any Web site can setup an XML RSS feed: large media concerns such
as the New York Times, CNN, CBC, right down to community
papers and your next door neighbour's Weblog. Of course, there is
too much news floating about, which means that you must get specific
for your own needs. I am assuming that readers of this column are
all journalists and writers, either employees or freelancers. I
am assuming that you also have an interest in breaking stories in
"news" and in subject specialties. For example, a news
aggregator is perfect for a freelancer specializing in the business
beat, or science, or sports. My own specialty is the wine beat,
and since I got my RSS loaded, I can barely keep up with just the
Finding XML feeds is easy: there are a dozen or so major collectors
that will gather news from thousands of news sources (newspapers,
magazines, broadcast, blogs, etc.). You can use them for breaking
or latest news, and also search - and set up - for specific topics.
If all you are interested in is a specific product, such as Gothic
Epicures food, then just enter that phrase, and whatever is published
will be available. But since you are so specific, do not expect
many hits over the course of a week. You would be better off searching
for an industry. I usually search (and encode) "wine OR winery
OR wineries OR winemaker" automatically catching all the plurals.
This satisfies me. I even have an RSS feed patched into my Web site,
so you can visit www.deantudor.com and find a link to NewsTrove's
search for wine articles.
If you find a news service with an orange rectangle button somewhere
on its page, that will be a free invitation to pick up an URL for
the XML feed. You can cut and paste this URL into your news aggregator.
I have several subscriptions to stand alone XML feeds, from the
Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and the CBC. You
subscribe - for free - by category: each has a "national"
feed, each has a "local" feed (in my case, Toronto), and
each also has "business", "entertainment", "sports",
"world", "breaking". I also have a Toronto Blue
Jay feed; you could add your own favourite sports team. The media
companies do not seem to have specific search XML feeds.
For those specific search feeds, just go over to the major collectors.
An added bonus from the collectors is this: should you NOT want
a news aggregator, or only have occasional use for the news, then
you could just bookmark the main site of the collectors and go over
once in awhile to pick up the leading stories. They will all be
displayed on the page, ready for you to click through to the original
site. Here are some collectors (news sources include CBC, CNN, BBC,
NY Times, and thousands more):
www.newsisfree.com (or xml.newsisfree.com)
www.moreover.com (or p.moreover.com)
www.topix.net (or rss.topix.net)
just pay attention to the instructions, and you are away!!
I also have single sites such as SauteWednesday, Decanter, and
Typical subject search URLs to cut and paste will look like this:
There is a special source of RSS at Voidstar. The programmer there
has developed a Google application that takes any search you do
at news.google.com and turns it into an RSS feed. You can have as
many searches done as you wish. Here is the URL I use for wine searching:
Unfortunately, this developer has had a few "cease-and-desist"
letters from Google, and the URL may be history after Google launched
its IPO. However, in that case, Google would probably offer its
own XML feed. It already has daily E-mail news alerts with URLs,
based on your specific searches. The news alerts are pretty good.
I still have my Google wine alerts by E-mail. During the Toronto
mayoral elections in 2003, I had Google E-mail news alerts for the
three leading candidates.
And speaking of Google: news has come that after the IPO, Google
will unleash its version of free E-mail accounts. It will be fast,
employ a full-scale search mechanism, and offer ONE GIGABYTE of
free storage. At the same time, it will offer connecting URLs to
subject matter in your stored E-mails, including adverts
there will not be any adverts, but there will be URLs directing
you to the adverts. Hmmmmmm
You will see in another place in this section the beginnings of
a revitalized book review column. I just want to re-emphasize that
there is a lot of knowledge packed into such book items known as
"textbooks". These are usually referred to as Shelf-Help
books, specializing in solutions that are supposed to be readable
by college students (and hence by active journalists?). Often, they
come with study guides or discussion "study" questions.
And they always come with further readings and footnotes. There
are a few in the book review section, but here are some other textbooks
that I have been living with lately. They were sent to me by sales
people at their respective publishers, for review purpose and for
alerting my students to their existence. All of them can be supplemented
by the free web resources listed on my MegaSources site (up continuously
since 1994), www.ryerson.ca/~dtudor/megasources.htm
First up is Mass Communication in Canada (Oxford University
Press, 2004, 333 pages paper covers, ISBN 0-19-541804-2), now in
its fifth edition. The authors are academics Rowland Lorimer from
Simon Fraser and Mike Gasher from Concordia. The book was last revised
in 2000 (and first published about two decades ago; I used it at
that time in my Canadian News Media course at Ryerson University).
It was a slighter book back in the 1980s. The authors also state
this time out that their fourth edition (2000) "did not take
the Internet seriously enough". Wow - I have never seen an
admission like that in print
Anyway, this is a text meant for
Canadians, covering all things Canadian plus some communications
theory. New this time are more illustrations, readings and bibliography,
annotated Web sites, and an updated glossary. And of course, it
takes into account the huge impact that the Internet has had. Chapter
topics deal with print journalism (mostly newspapers, not much on
magazines), broadcast journalism (radio, TV, satellites, "new"
media), communication law and policy and privacy in Canada, media
ownership (hard to be current in this area!), and the media treatment
of specific recent events such as 9/11, Canadian elections, the
2003 Iraq war. There was just one small mention of NewsWatch Canada,
in a reprinted article, not an original text. Also, in reading the
communications theory chapter I found the word "implicatures"
defined parenthetically as "(implied meanings)". When
I went to the glossary, it told me that implicatures was "implied
meanings". According to the index, the word is never used anywhere
else in the book. So I am no further ahead. Minor skewering aside,
the book has value for its four major concerns: law and policy,
media ownership, profession of journalism, and news technology.
It is well-worth reading.
On a more mundane but extremely useful level are computer workbooks.
Most manuals supplied by software manufacturers are unreadable or
bloated; the computerized versions are hampered by silly wizards.
You will have to turn to computer workbook specialists for the real
goods. I like WORD 2003; basic functions (Logitell
Publishing, 2003, 344 pages, $29.95, ISBN 2-89580-146-0 paper covers,
with CD-ROM ISBN 2-89580-147-9) as put together by Stella Gardonio.
There is also an advanced book, as well as help for other Microsoft
and WordPerfect products, all at usually just $29.95. The spiral-bound
book lies flat for readability while engaged with a computer. The
CD-ROM has seven folders of files for the 206 (!) exercises. These
you can transfer to a hard drive or diskettes, and then play around
with them. Exercises are sorely lacking in regular computer manuals:
how else to learn save by experience? The major topics here include
how to use the Help package that comes with Word, managing files,
creating a document, modifying a document, printing, formatting,
moving and copying text, revising and proofreading. It gets tricky
when you move on to creating and formatting tables. This is an excellent
guide. It is useful, clear, logical, and inexpensive.
At the other extreme, but only on the price spectrum, is Internet
& World Wide Web; how to program, 3rd ed. (Prentice Hall,
2004, 1535 pages paper covers, ISBN 0-13-145091-3, $118.95, with
an accompanying CD-ROM) by the team of H.M. Deitel, P.J. Deitel
and A.B. Goldberg. They have written other texts on Java, C++, .NET.
They are international corporate trainers, so they can make it all
seem so easy. This book is meant for students with little or no
programming experience, for Web-based applications and object technologies.
Absolutely essential if you are to forge ahead with your own Web
site. The authors cover the fundamentals of markup languages (HTML,
CGI, Python, and others), Web servers (IIS, Apache), and relational
databases (SQL). Other fundamentals are given for Web page authoring,
ActiveX, security, multimedia speech synthesis, and cascading style
sheets (CSS). Case studies illustrate such topics as how to build
an online message board or how to build a video game. They give
hundreds of examples, most with screen shots. There are extensive
exercises, some with answers, in this self-guided tour. Scattered
throughout are hundreds of tips on performance, portability, error-prevention,
and programming errors. The CD-ROM has plug-ins (e.g. Adobe acrobat)
plus 30-day trial versions of Macromedia stuff, Microsoft Agent,
and the like. Each chapter concludes with a listing of Web resources
for further reading. There are plenty of appendices with character
sets, number systems, codes and columns. Since the second edition,
the authors have added new material on ColdFusion, Dreamweaver,
and Flash. There is also extra information at www.deitel.com and
www.prenhall.com/deitel along with free newsletters, Web sites for
their other books, and (pay for) training courses via E-mail. There
is something here for any journalist involved with the Internet.
And for the minimalist, there is the basic The Basics; a
rhetoric and handbook (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 2004, spiral bound,
ISBN 0-07-249198-1, $2 at Amazon.ca) by Santi V. Buscemi. It is
touted as a clear non-technical discussion of grammar, along with
other aspects of the writing process (including research). It too
has exercises which have been integrated with the topics, one of
the few brief handbooks with exercises for self-teaching (shelf-help).
Useful for upper high school students and college attendees as well,
and an inexpensive refresher for working journalists and editors.
Dean Tudor, Wine Writer and Professor Emeritus of Journalism,
Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada www.ryerson.ca/~dtudor
Sources, 489 College
Street, Suite 201, Toronto, ON M6G 1L9.
Phone: (416) 964-7799 FAX: (416) 964-8763
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