This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Social media for journalists

This blog post is the 3rd in a series, Social Media for Journalists.

As a journalist, you depend on timely access to the lastest news…including the online murmurings that aren’t news yet, but could be the source of your next great story. You need a way to keep the most important information in your line of sight all day, without getting lost in the details.

That’s where a social media dashboard comes in handy. Use a service like iGoogle,  PageFlakes or NetVibes to track RSS feeds from a range of key sources, and make that dashboard your browser’s default webpage.

Here’s a quick snapshot of what my dashboard looks like:

You’ll see that my main dashboard page contains four sections:

  1. General news: A collection of news widgets from American, Canadian and local news organizations. It helps me keep track of the mainstream news of the day, which is easy to lose sight of when you get into search-driven news tracking.
  2. Ego searches: I have searches for my name set up on Google News, Google Blog Search and Twitter, along with variants and misspellings. This lets me track and respond to comments and related posts.
  3. Delicious & LinkedIn: I use Delicious and LinkedIn subscriptions to track big-picture developments in my field (social media).
  4. Topical searches: I have elaborate search strings set up to bring me more obscure blog posts and news stories related to the specific topics I like to blog about.

I use additional tabs to set up searches for different topics I want to track in my personal or professional life — everything from a tab focused on my university, to a tab focused on fun stuff in Vancouver that might inspire our next date night.

Look closer, and you’ll see what a dashboard offers that’s a little different from the  in-depth reading you can do in an RSS reader like Google Reader. It exists to give me a quick, high-volume scan of the latest news and posts that emerge throughout the day. Each item that appears is a hyperlink; if I want to read more than the headline or title, I click that link to go to the original source material.

Here’s what needs to be in every journalist’s dashboard:

  1. General news headlines: You can grab these as widgets on the iGoogle website (just click “add stuff”), or subscribe to the RSS feeds of specific news outlets.
  2. Headlines for the outlets you contribute to: If you’re on the staff of a publication or broadcaster, subscribe to its main feed plus the feeds for your section. If you freelance, subscribe to the feeds of all the outlets you contribute to (or want to contribute to) so you can see what they’re covering.
  3. Blog, twitter and news searches on your name: Keep track of the responses to your coverage so that you can build relationships with influential commentators. Opinion writers, fellow journalists and bloggers with significant audiences can all extend the reach of your work; commenting on their responses to your work will encourage them to keep engaging with your work and spreading the word. Be sure to search on variants or misspellings of your name, too.
  4. Searches on your latest (major) stories: People may well blog or tweet about your stories without referring to you by name. If your news outlet tweets your stories when they go live, subscribe to a Twitter search on the keywords in your latest story so that you can see who is retweeting or responding to it.
  5. Delicious tags: In most fields, there are more web resources, news reports and blog posts than you can keep up with. But on delicious, a popular social bookmarking service, other people are already keeping up with the latest in your field. Subscribe to the RSS feed for a delicious tag (or tags) that are commonly used by people who bookmark the top resources in your field; if there is a lot of content that is being tagged, consider subscribing to just the most popular bookmarks. For example, you can see just the most popular bookmarks tagged finance. This is a great way to stay on top of the top resources in your area.
  6. LinkedIn Answers: LinkedIn Answers let people pose questions and invite experts (some self-appointed, some well-credentialed) to answer. If you cover a particular beat, then subscribing to LinkedIn Answers in that subfield can be a great way to continually build knowledge and identify emergent experts. You may also want to subscribe to the Writing and Editing category.
  7. Ongoing blog & news searches in your field: Setting up keyword searches in your field for both Google News and Google Blog search is a good way to find emergent stories; you can do the same thing with Twitter search, though it is a bit tougher to construct a useful search when so many tweets get shortened or condensed.
  8. Searches on your curent story: If you’re researching a story, subscribe to anything and everything that will help you find additional sources or information; you may want to create a dedicated iGoogle tab just for that story. For example, if you’re writing about a particular industry, subscribe to the tweets of CEOs or companies in that field; set up searches that will track breaking news in the industry or its major companies.
  9. Inspiration: Your social media dashboard needs to include at least one subscription, at the very top of the page, that inspires you. It could be the blog of a favorite writer; it could be a gadget that gives you inspiring quotes; it could be pictures of kittens. But there needs to be something that you look forward to seeing, because that will keep you coming back and ensure your dashboard continues to serve you.

Those 9 feeds give you a place to start, or for those who already have a dashboard set up, some new ideas about how to make your dashboard more useful. I’d love to hear what’s in your dashboard so I can add to mine.

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