5 Ways to Monitor Your News Competition Online

Being a sharp online editor often means keeping a close watch on your competitors.Being a sharp online editor means keeping a close watch on your competitors. [Photo by Pkabz]

Do you want to explain to your editor why you didn’t know about the huge news that’s been on your competition’s site for more than an hour now? Using these five methods, you won’t have to dream up excuses; you’ll already have been on top of any big news reported in your area:

1) Subscribe to competitors’ e-mail and SMS text alerts
Have you checked to see if the local newspapers and TV stations have breaking news alerts? Getting a heads up via e-mail or SMS alert is one of the best ways to ensure you don’t miss breaking news, especially since most newsroom workers keep their e-mail clients and cell phones on throughout the day.

PLUS: You can also get other kinds of alerts, such as severe weather text alerts from the National Weather Service or earthquake alerts from U.S. Geological Survey.

2) Set up Google Alerts and Twitter Alerts for keywords on your beat

Google Alerts is a powerful way of letting Google do online digging for you. Are you a reporter covering county government? Set up an alert to watch for the name of the county mayor. Do you cover local business? Set up Google Alerts for the major companies in your city.

Google Alerts will shoot you an e-mail whenever Google finds a new item on the Internet containing the keywords you designate. You could even set up an alert for a competing reporter’s byline to find out when he or she has a new story up.

Lastly, you can also monitor Twitter for keywords using TweetBeep.com, which sends e-mail alerts (yes, that’s how those marketers find you and reply to you the nanosecond you tweet something nasty about their products).

3) Cultivate a Twitter community
The newsroom in which I work has been tipped off to various breaking news stories thanks to some producer or reporter hearing about the news through Twitter. The larger your personal community grows on Twitter, the better this method works.

While Twitter isn’t great for depth, it sure is fast. When word leaked that Tim Russert died in June, the news spread first via Wikipedia and Twitter. Our newsroom in Orlando was able to prepare content and get good positioning in search engines before any announcement came out from NBC.

Additionally, many news organizations are getting on Twitter, so you can watch competitors there too.

4) Use an RSS reader to aggregate local news and save time
Old school online editors hop around local web sites to see if there’s anything new. Save yourself the grief and start reading your news competitors’ top headlines via RSS using a feed reader such as Google Reader or Bloglines (though I much prefer Bloglines Beta).

When you subscribe to a site’s feed, your RSS reader will indicate when there’s a new item. RSS readers also let you read a group of Web sites with just one click. You can even subscribe to wire service feeds (Breitbart.com has a huge assortment). No more burning cycles hopping around from site to site checking for updates.

5) Keep TVs in your peripheral vision and learn how to not let them drive you insane
This one took me a while, but I eventually became quite good at it. Many local TV sites are still faster to get news on air than they are at getting it online. Keeping an eye and/or ear on the tube can help you spot big breaking news in the event you’re playing Minesweeper instead of watching your e-mail and feeds.

The trick with this is to learn to go about your tasks and not actively listen but still be able to hone in on the tone and key phrases broadcasters use when something particularly big happens. The cue might be a sudden interruption in the flow of the newscast as the anchor diverts to breaking news. Anchors also speak  differently when they go off the teleprompter. Or, the cue might be the use of a certain graphic (usually a gaudy, brightly-colored one) that you’ll learn to notice.

A couple of years ago, I used to set the volume low and keep an ear on a TV that was perched behind me. I seldom failed to hear a big news story when it broke once I learned the “breaking news sounds.” Nowadays, we have a jumbo monitor that sits in my peripheral vision just at the edge of my computer monitor. Though I found the audio method was more effective and less distracting for me personally, keeping the tube at the edge of my sight also helps me catch big news during the day.

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What are your favorite methods for monitoring breaking news or your beat? What works best for you and your team?

About Danny Sanchez

Danny Sanchez is the Audience Development Manager at Tribune's Sun-Sentinel.com and OrlandoSentinel.com. Danny has been with Tribune since 2005 in a variety of editorial, digital and product development roles in Hartford, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. He has also previously worked in the newsrooms of the Tampa Bay Times and The Miami Herald.
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