Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

What Public Relations Professionals Could Do With RSS: Newsmastering, Newsradars And Personal Media Aggregators

The topics of newsmastering, newsradars and of integrating personal media aggregators into instruments of personal publishing, conversation or even political discourse have yet to be fully picked up by those people who could best benefit from them, though interesting things are already starting to happen all around them.

Photo credit: Joao Estevao Andrade Freitas

So, I have finally decided to publish this interview that I gave to Sally a few months ago, as the topics and issues discussed within it are still very relevant and new to most.

RSS and its potential applications have still a long way to go, and trying to understand the what, where and how this technology can be put to best use in many different fields is what part of my work is all about. Exploration.

If you have been wondering how RSS could be of use and benefit to PR work, this good audio conversation (38' minutes) with Sally Falkow, renowned PR and branding expert, should shed some new light on these interesting issues.

Here is a full .mp3 download (7 MB) as well as a streamable audio version which you can start listening to immediately. The full text transcript follows right after.



Photo credit: Daniel Vineyard

Full text transcript of the audio interview between Robin Good and Sally Falkow.

Sally Falkow: Well, I really want to speak to you about your vision of newsmastering and how that fits in with RSS and how that can be used in a public relations and corporate communications function, what they could do with it, what it could do for them.

What is it, why should they be doing it and how do you do it and what would the end result be in terms of a public relations strategy?

I don't know if you've thought of it that way, but the minute I saw it on your site, I went "Oh my God, that is so awesome!"

Robin Good: Thank you, you are very kind and you just fired a number of huge questions, so let's see how I can tackle them in a simple and modular way. Let's see.

First of all, I guess your first question was "what is newsmastering?" and "what are newsmastering feeds?" Or, "what is the key concept behind them"

Basically, my idea about newsmastering and the creation of these focused news channels is based on the fact that RSS gives us a leveling platform for a great deal of content that is out there: stuff that is on the web, stuff that is in blogs, stuff that is on the news, stuff that is in specific directories and databases and more. Individual postings from certain people, outputs of certain calculation or engines, or tracking bots that monitor certain things that happen or not. Basically RSS is something that standardizes the output "format" that we get out of all these sources and creates a unique content format that we can do other things with.

While our individual websites, the Google News site or my friend's blog might all have a different layout and a different engine behind them, and to grab content from them it would require me to go to each site and do a number of acrobatic techie stuff.

RSS can be pictured as a filter that takes content out of any of these types of resources and puts it in a standardized format that I can then reshuffle in any number of ways, can remix, can apply a new look and feel to, can juxtapose to other stuff in a number of possible ways.

That is the idea, the basic fundamental idea behind it and, to make it have complete sense it must be said that for this to work you must create around this huge amount of content in RSS that is out there, some kind of filters or queries that will generate a walled content garden within which you're going to fish out just the type of information you are seeking.

RSS gives you the platform on which you can play this game.

And this is why the key skill in doing this is not in the technology itself but rather in the ability to create those special filters and queries, which when brought together can create absolutely uncanny precise focused news channels on any specific topic, person, product, company you want.

And the uses really range widely from PR (public relations) to competitive intelligence to marketing and sales, you name it, there are really an incredible number of uses that this can be applied to.

But let me stop for now, let me see if what I'm ranting does have any sense for you so far.

SF: Yeah, absolutely that certainly makes sense. I have a question Robin, and that is on RSS and copyright. If you're pulling content from somewhere else is there a copyright issue if you are newsmastering?

Robin Good: Well, I think there is definitely a copyright issue to be looked at because many of the organizations, the large organizations that are putting out RSS feeds claim that they do not want this content to be reused publicly, especially in a commercial situation where there may be ads running next on that page, and so on.

So, there is clearly a copyright issue.

Now, how are we going to stand or you are going to stand relative to this, it's a matter of individual choice and understanding of values that are there.

It may appear that in some cases the content owners are extremely or exceedingly protective and conservative when there is in fact some great interest for them to let this go out into the public.

So I think wherever there is complete, transparent and clear attribution and link back to the sources that are providing the information that you syndicated, in my humble opinion, there is always a great advantage for the content owners that put out originally the content through RSS because in one way or another there is traffic, visitors and link backs that are coming back to them, so you are just having free marketing and content distribution agents working for you out there and delivering that content in much better and more effective ways that you could ever do because they approach the audience in small niches and so they probably have selected parts of your feeds or remixed part of your content in ways you never could have done for such an extreme diversity of possible target audiences that are out there.

They do it for you.

So you have all these advantages working out for you and you should then actually push for this to happen more, instigate people to syndicate further your content, because that is really as much as possible in your interest.

Now, where the situation may get out of hand and people are using this in ways that are not as transparent and not respectful of the original credit attribution and linking back to the source, I can see that some companies may be driven to be more restrictive and conservative.

In my own feelings, this is resistance that won't last very long. Once again because the advantages are so overwhelmingly powerful compared to the disadvantages and secondly because I don't think there is any way to effectively enforce restrictions.

I mean, once you put things in RSS, whether you like it or not, you're basically buying into a technology that is out there for others to reuse and syndicate in many different ways. So, I think that it is some kind of contract you are making with yourself and with technology in the world out there. If you don't want it out in the open, you don't use RSS, or if you do, you put it under password, you put it under security, you encrypt it. Otherwise, what's the deal?

SF: I'm in total agreement with you. I kind of thought if you put it out on RSS you were asking for people to syndicate it.

Robin Good: Exactly, well, but you know this is our own little small voice. So, the thing, this thing will evolve.

I do think that there is a very important aspect that is also growing and this is the fact that people and developers and organizations are thinking to incentivate those that don't want to protect, that fully understand this, by allowing them to tag their feeds in a way that adds an invisible field within the structure of the RSS content that says "this feed is under the Creative Commons license, or is in the public domain and you can reuse it fully. You can reuse it fully in commercial situations, non-commercial ones, whatever.

So that in the future we are going to have tools that are going to understand immediately both when they search and when they remix or when they publish, whether what you're using is something that you may are going to take some risks on, or if it's something which is already declared "open" and which you may prefer to spend your time on so you don't have any worries about worrying about legal issues later on.

So, the Creative Commons search support initiatives from Yahoo, Google and the Creative Commons itself in making search engines that are aware of which content is licensed for the use I think should be given more attention to.

Amazon A9 is also providing some ways for people to initiate this type of process of specifying whether the content is fully available for use or not. They have been, the first that I know of in publishing a specification that adopted these kinds of fields, and their A9 unique search engine is a very open tool that allows people to publish their content feeds and make them searchable for others. So, I think Amazon is doing some interesting things and also should be given some attention in this respect.

Photo credit: Fredrik Berglund

SF: That's great, thanks Robin. So let's take the scenario that we have somebody within a corporation who's in their Public Relations department and they would like to do something with this concept of newsmastering. So, when I did in a small way with a company that was in telecommunications and business communications, and we started some newsmastering on voice over IP when it first started, and we did it in general and then we also did one specifically for journalists, so that we were creating a news feed of what we considered to be the top news items that journalists covering that industry would be interested in, and then got the people within the company to comment, to make expert comment, on those news items.

Robin Good: Excellent, how did it go?

SF: Well it really went very well in terms of getting search visibility and building some brand value for them. But on the use of the RSS feeds specifically for journalists we actually got a lot of media relations out of it.

Robin Good: Excellent, so I am very pleased to hear this, and that's a fantastic useful application completely in line with my vision, so hats to that and to your effort. I think that is absolutely outstanding.

SF: Can you suggest any other ways that RSS and newsmastering could be used specifically for public relations professionals?

Robin Good: I don't know because this may vary depending on what you really mean with that question.

If it is meant in terms of application of the newsmastering concept, I make look at it from this point of view:
in Public Relations you want to give prominence, visibility, exposure, prestige to a certain brand, company, product, service, whatever that is, so as you have already figured out, a high quality thematic, topic-specific newsfeed that covers the niche or the industry in which that customer, that PR customer is in, can make that company become gradually an "authority", a news authority in that field.

I mean, if a company is able to produce news feeds that are the best resources, no matter which technology, tool or process they use to achieve this, I think that not only they achieve the above goals including an extra natural visibility in the search engines, and probably a higher linkup rate from outside sources as well as lot's of references and contacts, but they also become gradually an information authority. Because if this PR organization works around creating complementary services and content areas around this newsmastering feed by generating grassroots commentary, opinion, forums, live events or conferences that builds on top of the content created by this newsmastering feed, then there is all the opportunity to naturally become the authority, the point of reference for others to go.
(Corante started this very thing last December with its own news hubs.)

And that is because in each and every one niche, people are seeking what is happening, what is the best, what is the new. That is why people don't enjoy very much having to follow three, four, five, ten, fifteen blogs.

As bloggers and news reporters and those who are on the cutting-edge may enjoy experimenting with all the news aggregators that are around and ways to bring it all together, the average person does not.

The average person wants to go to a very few selected set of resources that provide him/her with pre-filtered high-quality content on the stuff they're interested into, just like a newspaper does for them supposedly. (I don't think in true honesty that it is really what is happening with newspaper industry media, but we're getting the idea.)

It is a filtering down of content so that you're provided with the essence of what is relevant to you.

So by building newsmaster feeds, topic-specific thematic feeds, we are going to be able to place any one company gradually in the position of an authority in the niche field where it decides to operate.

Am I answering somehow your question?

SF: Yeah, you're answering it perfectly. One question that I have on it is that I've seen this done automatically with feeds. But for me in many cases the quality of the content you get is not of the level that I would want to read because sometimes you're getting the same articles brought up all the time. Do you think that it can be done effectively completely automated or do you think there has to be some human editing element to achieve this level of authority?

Robin Good: I think the answer is "both."

I think that on the one end the automated newsmastering feeds do have some limitations which you have pretty much summarized very well. I also think that we have just not seen yet the tools that would allow us to do that better. I in fact invite you for example to check out BlogBridge, which is a cross-platform, open-source, RSS aggregator which has an integrated ability to create newsmaster feeds that are called Smartfeeds, and I think it does an extremely valuable job of that. You should really check it out. It has some unique resources available for you and the results are pretty impressive. So, we are going to see more and more tools like this and better ones that are going to produce effective results.

You are very right to say that as of now, most of these pseudo-newsmastering tools, are not ready for prime-time.

On the other hand I do think in absolute terms that the presence of a human live editorial direction, coordination and final selection can without any doubt, deliver an order of magnitude of better results than any of the automated ones could ever do.

The human newsmaster has always an extra set of resources and channels that she can tap into, including e-mails, tips coming through an instant messenger exchange, stuff read on a print magazine that she can leverage. Those information items would never make it into an automated newsradar as I call it, or newsmastering syndication tool of any kind.

Only the contribution of the human end which can say "oh, this is a duplicate of the same news," or "this is something extra that I need to bring in and remix", can give the content its premium value.

So, the answer is both, and it depends what your final use it.

There are newsmaster feeds used by some virtual teams to scope bids for jobs they could participate in or submit proposals to. So, for them, to get some duplicates or extra stuff it doesn't matter as long as they get what they want. While, if you're instead publicly republishing it does matter not to have duplicates and to a super fine selection of news items going out in the open, I agree with you.

SF: Excellent, and Robin I do think that another way that RSS feeds and newsmastering can be used very effectively for public relations is as you said earlier for "intelligence".

One of the functions of PR is to monitor your environment and to make sure that you are ahead of the curve and you know what's coming or what is being said. And, per definition, one of the key PR functions is to be able to advise top management on what's going on in their environment and their industry.

That is why I think that newsmastering utilized as an "intelligence" tool could help PR tremendously.

Robin Good: I couldn't be more in agreement with the fact that competitive intelligence is certainly one great application area for newsmastering in the enterprise and in the large organizations. No doubt about it.

Then again, there is a great deal of many other possibilities which include community building in certain areas, the ability for learners to track specific research areas, same for the development field or the one of assistance in emergency situations. This ability for scanning particular information indicators coming from different sources, and which can make up a virtual dashboard of vital signals is indeed very powerful.

An RSS-based newsmaster feed can be effectively equivalent of a dashboard inside a car giving you pretty much the status of a situation: oil, temperature, water, speed and so on. So, it's both mind boggling and a tremendous opportunity for those who want to pick up the ball and run in search for defining, inventing, dreaming up these extra applications because that is what we really need next.

SF: Forrester Research recently did some papers on RSS, and one of the things that was said in them was that at the very least you should be putting your press releases and your news items into RSS.

I was pleased to see that because I really feel that the public relations industry has been a little slow to come to technology, but this was, you know, coming from "Forrester Research," which is a very good push just to say "you guys at the very least should be pushing your news out on RSS".

Robin Good: Again, couldn't agree more. I was most fascinated by one of your opening statements, when we opened today our private conversation, about the idea of using press releases more like news items and becoming completely aware of their relevance within search engines. I think that this is absolutely critical and I am very happy to hear that there are some people out there like you working on this because I don't see much of it arriving in my inbox and through my other readers and aggregators, but certainly when that happens I do notice and appreciate the value of that.

SF: You should read Greg's news blog because he talks a lot about the shift in media and where people are going in terms of news search and how important the news search is becoming.

If you look at this article we have up here now about how the news engines have been covering Hurricane Katrina and that a lot of the news has been available more in the news engines than anywhere else. It was one of the top, what's the word, presentations; it was one of the top presentations at Search Engine Strategies, the growth of news search.

Robin Good: Fascinating stuff, very interesting; thank you for pointing me to this.

Photo credit: Fredrik Daniel V.

SF: So Robin, I just really you know, do you think we've covered everything in terms of public relations?

Because, there's always things written about RSS and marketing. I haven't really seen anything where it's directed specifically at public relations, and seeing that public relations is like the basic communication function, and it is more about putting out of information, to me it seems really the perfect place for RSS to be used.

So, can you think of any other applications in the public relations area? Or, any other thoughts that you have, or encouragement for PR people to really just jump in and get their feet wet and get going with RSS feeds?

Robin Good: I think that on the one hand PR could benefit from the use of RSS by utilizing RSS to distribute timely information to other media.

Maybe I would like to go back just one second on that key issue relating to the PR and news and newsmaster feeds to create specific newsradars and thematic channels.

I think that in terms of online communications and provision of news newsradars/newsmastering feeds provide exposure, visibility and prestige.

This is a road that has tremendous opportunities that bridge over into marketing definitely but that in their own roots are not really a marketing proposition because you're providing a service that places under a "good light" your ability to stay on top of the news while sharing your and providing this investigative possibility to others.

I think this is really more part of PR and exposing yourself to the media in an effective way, while providing a truly useful service than doing marketing as we normally do.

This approach can be employed quite effectively in a number of ways by extending the coverage not on just one topic but on multiple ones, and then allowing, as I said before, to leverage this unique content to integrate other components as well as marketing or specific promotion items through it.

So, the application of newsradars and newsmastering feeds to PR is really a long continuum that starts with institutional communication and self-positioning as a news authority on a specific field and then extending that to bridge over into marketing and even sales by opening its uses up into further expanded discourses, interactions, events and more.

I wouldn't be looking into more unless we already conquer more of this, which nonetheless has here been discussed a tiny bit, is nowhere to be found out there.

One other item that I think fits very well into the use of RSS for PR is the understanding of the value of what I've been calling personal media aggregators.

In my very personal view personal media aggregators are branded, software tools, light and working across all types of computers, which would allow a certain company, service, pop star, soccer team, to create an instant community of interest around their "theme" or focus topic. This little software tool or web service, would simply open up a unique window into a number of channels that this company puts out. And, if there's a company putting out music because this is a pop star, then we will have RSS feeds about concerts and tours. We will have RSS feeds about offers for tickets; we will have RSS feeds for recording of tracks in the future. And, within the same tool we can then spin off extra communications channels that can enhance and bond together more of the audience that swirls around it.

Within the personal media aggregator, we can also have text chat areas or forums where people can meet and discuss specific things relating to the product, relating to customer support or relating to an experience they have had if we are talking about concerts again or music.

And then we can have areas where people can meet in real-time and text chat or video conference. Also live meetings, events and fun parties can happen in there.

So I would think it quite possible to be able to add a number of additional features within this personal media aggregator (that would again be branded by the company who is serving it) and this tool would be a unique vehicle to not only further distribute your content, your updates, your news information, whether institutional or not, but also to create an interactive community of people that can finally participate and talk back.

You could even integrate in the personal media aggregator aP2P channel in which people share files, documents, submit stuff back to you like providing customer-generated ideas for improving products.

And last but not least, you should consider making this tool in a way that it can be re-distributed by your audience to others; by your own stakeholders to new ones. Whoever picks this personal media aggregator thing up, should in turn be able to further customize it, brand it, remix it, and add personal value to it. Not that everyone would need or want to do this, but the key thing here is to provide a door to participate for those among us that will want to do that, to leverage their know-how, to sell their personal services, or simply to share their discoveries and research work.

I think this could be an extra killer application of RSS and other technologies for PR.

SF: That's awesome, now by brain is going about 50 million miles an hour here, Robin.

Photo credit: Mike Gieson

Robin Good: Okay, I apologize for that. Should I rewind it all :) ?

SF: No, that's good because you've made me start thinking like "oh, we can do this," and "oh, we can do that," and "oh, what about that?"

Robin Good: Yes, I think this is untapped ground.

You've heard probably that there have been some newspapers in the United States maybe one or two in Europe, that they've started something in this direction. They've created their own personal RSS aggregator which is the first step in this direction. So, it's a branded, easy to download software within which is only the information they provide and whatever else they want, you know. It's a walled garden your own paradise for your audience.

My particular interest stems from the fact that I think there is an enormous potential in the viral aspect of redistributing, which I don't think I made very clear in the previous statements.

As I said, this is all about creating a personal media aggregator that users can themselves re-brand and customize further to their niche, passion interest or so, you have a tremendously useful tool, but people will use it only if you let them own and author something of their own. People want to feel ownership.

See, if you let people truly participate and ride the opportunity to create more value out of the content and information you put out for them, you need to do nothing else to motivate them to contribute and participate. They will do spontaneously, as you are creating an information ecosystem for them in which they can showcase their talent, be good to others and even create commercial interactions by providing premium content or services that complement your focus. In the end, they add more value to your communication proposition while becoming your free agents of marketing and distribution.

Because while they edit, add and customize to your basic content, they can do so through your personal media aggregator platform. So, let's say you are a newspaper or magazine or a publisher and you have out there some ten feeds and some three forums.

First, you could allow people to re-brand on top of your basic look and feel, making it possible for them to create their own version of your personal media aggregator that they can further re-distribute, with their names on it, to their network of contacts.

They can promote themselves but they moment they do, they are promoting also you and your content too.

That's what I would like to see.

SF: Robin, that is absolutely awesome. What an excellent idea. And I'm definitely going to see how I can work further on things like this. This is I think this is very good in terms of PR. It's some way... it's just like taking it to another level that I really don't think has been thought about. That is awesome, thank you for that.

Robin Good: You're very welcome. So I think we've contributed a couple of good punches to newsmastering and good use of RSS for the future of PR, what else could we do good?

Photo credit: ben ullman

SF: Well, I don't know if you are aware of the little tool that we've made called PressFeed?

Robin Good: Is that you and....?

SF: I actually had the idea to do it for our clients, who didn't have the ability to do RSS feeds or to put content on their sites. And so, I made it with the developer.

Robin Good: Oh, I see now. I have not been aware of it. I am going to pull up that page to see if you can tell me a bit more about it.

SF: Yeah, there it is. But the point of it is to be able to take news content, to add it to your site, and then to instantly put it out into an RSS feed. And it does have an aggregator; we've put an aggregator in there. So we could actually expand this now, and go in this direction of helping people to create something similar to what you've talked about.

Robin Good: The natural evolution following my concept would be to put the user, or better yet some skilled media journalists in the position of being able to easily aggregate press feeds on specific topics or things.

So whether they do it with a fancy, cutting-edge personal media aggregator or if they do it online on a webpage with a custom semi-manual service you have integrated there, I think that in both cases this is something very useful.

If I am a press journalist following sports, maybe cars and motorcycles and I don't know much about all of the news sources out there covering that field I would be greatly benefit if there was one place where all of these news, if not the best ones would automatically converge. Better yet, it would put me in a very prestigious position to be the one that is the first or among the few who collects and puts together a basic newsmastering feed on that very topic. First of all this is useful for myself as a journalist, as I then can publish and do a great number of things with it in terms of PR or in terms of marketing or even in making extra money for myself in you know, putting it next to some appropriate contextual ads that could bring in some revenue. Secondly it is good for my audience or content customer as I am a "compiler", a newsmaster, a specialized news curator, who can bring together all of the relevant news in a specific field.

Without having used any special technology a great number of bloggers could be said to have been doing just that. is a great example of this. is another. And that is why some of them have become so valuable to readers.

SF: Yeah, excellent, what we've been doing with it is we actually place the newsradar or newsmastering feed, as you may prefer to call it, on the client's web site. This allows them to have a little content management system that they can publish content with on their site and obviously integrate it in a feed too. But we definitely are looking for news ways of doing it and this is indeed a great, fantastic direction you have given us.

Robin Good: Great, I don't know how large your inventory of content is, but you may want to look for example into the possibility of becoming a content provider to BlogBridge. BlogBridge, the RSS aggregator which creates newsmaster feeds with an integrated feature which can tap into several major content resources out there.

I don't know if this is your case, but if Pressfeed was a large resource of content on press releases, then it could become a content provider to a tool like BlogBridge and that would immediately provide you with extra exposure and visibility. Most naturally somebody will then start to create "smartfeeds" out of your content and do exactly what we were envisioning.

So that looks like a natural evolutionary road that doesn't require any special investment, and which could allow you to taste and see what could come out of it while giving you extra exposure and visibility and a partnership with a cutting edge tool that everybody's paying some attention to.

SF: Well, Robin, I think this has been a really fascinating look at what public relations professionals can do, and what they should be doing with RSS, so I'd really like to thank you for giving us your time and giving us these insights and all the fantastic data that you have about newsmastering.

It's something that, having spoken at a lot of PR conferences, I've actually never even heard it even mentioned at PR conferences.

In the next two weeks, this Friday in New York and the following Friday in San Francisco, I am definitely going to be talking about newsmastering to the PR industry.

Robin Good: All right, thank you for that. I think we need people like you to go out and say a few of these things out in public, otherwise they remain hidden in my archives. I guess I should be promoting them a little more, and be a little less shy in evangelizing my ideas further. So thank you for pushing me in this direction, thank you for your patience, listening and if you truly enjoyed it I couldn't be happier. So thanks to y-o-u, Sally.

Nonetheless this interview was first recorded on September 6th 2005. Permission to publish it was granted only in January 2006. You are the first to read/listen to it.

Sally Falkow

Robin Good - Interview with Sally Falkow -
Readers' Comments    
2006-03-06 02:23:36

Oleg Branin

Newsmastering at this moment is undoubtedly one of the hottest areas of Web 2.0. However, based on our experience, and we are in newsmastering over a year running eight newsradars, the RSS newsmastering remains more art than science. We at ITDynamo ( published a White Paper dedicated to measuring quality of newsradars ( Based on the statistical analysis of RSS tags generated using TagCloud service and Excel spreadsheets, we came to some conclusions, which may help with evaluating depth and breadth of the newsradars.

posted by Robin Good on Wednesday, February 15 2006, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.




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