RSS and the Media: Lessons for Libraries

A recent study by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda focused on International News and Problems with the News Media’s RSS Feeds. While this study examined 19 major international news services, ranging from ABC News to The Guardian to Al Jazeera’s English service, it draws some lessons that are applicable to libraries as well.

In detailed conclusions, the study noted several problems with RSS as implemented by the news organizations included in the study:

  • RSS is not well used for tracking specific news topics throughout the day — but it is well suited for a daily recap: “[I]f a user wants specific news on any subject from any of the 19 news outlets the research team looked at, he or she must still track the news down website by website.”
  • News services often only include their own content in feeds, not content drawn from traditional news syndicators like AP or Reuters. Relying on the New York Times’ feed, for example, would lead one to believe that nothing of note happens throughout the day, between the press time of one day’s issue and the next. USA Today, in contrast, includes other new services’ content in its feeds, providing a more frequently updated service. “[W]hat is lost by the Times not sending the wire service articles are valuable updates on stories—and a breadth of stories that the Times can’t hope to duplicate with its own staff … which is, after all, presumably why they make the stories accessible on their website in the first place.”
  • RSS feed items often do not provide sufficient attribution to identify where that partiuclar [sic] item came from. “All the RSS feeds from the news outlets previewed their stories with a headline and a line or two of description, but very few of the outlets gave additional important information: the date the story was from, the story’s byline (author) and dateline (where the story originated), and the time the story was posted.” Since RSS feeds exist to be widely distributed, not including this basic information in a feed item can mean that the reader of it may not recognize it as valuable or coming from a trusted source.

Libraries should take these — and the other conclusions in the full report — into consideration. RSS provides a wealth of benefits to libraries that use it: ease of replicating content across a site, getting the word out, sharing news and information with community groups. Yet that value can be diminished if a few common-sense actions are ignored. When you build your feed, make sure that the serendipitous recipient of a given item can easily discern who wrote it, when it was written, and who published it. Give your reader the opportunity to recognize your organization’s good name and reputation — and your feed the opportunity to build trust and confidence in you.