Editor’s note: It should be noted that there are industry specific tools for finding breaking events; however, in an effort to add value to all readers, this article will focus on open-source breaking news collection and analysis.
In the field of intelligence, political and security analysis, gathering and managing relevant and up-to-date information is a core competency. The key word for us is breaking news. Although there are wonderful sources to find popular news, such as Digg and Reddit, and although print media is not necessarily as dead as my Myspace account, these sources are too slow. The idea is to find events faster than this, as they are breaking, so that our analysts can decide if the specific event is relevant. In other words, we need a speedy, but accurate, detection method for finding news that could potentially impact on our clients. Finding breaking news is not only important for the intelligence industry, but for any industry or individual that wishes to stay up to date with global developments. As such, this article on how to find breaking news will begin on broad terms and then narrow in focus, fitting the needs of both the casual newshound and the expert security analyst.
The Big Boys
Firstly, there are a number of big players that warrant mention. These are the news media industry leaders, and although they might not always be the first to run stories, they are generally more reliable than smaller news agencies. However, while an agency may be large, it is not always reliable (I am looking at you, Fox and Xinhua). There are also concerns that press accuracy, specifically in the US, is in decline; hopefully robots will fix this soon. A general tip to follow is that if one is unsure about a source, look for the origin of the story and find at least one more source to corroborate. A good dictum to live by here is Narayan Murthy’s adage: “In God We Trust; everyone else must bring data.” Below is a list of news sources I generally find to be more reliable.
My top picks:
Keep it local
In South Africa we have a saying: local is lekker (local is nice/good). This also applies when finding breaking news. Local and regional news agencies are often the first to run breaking news stories. Although this might sound like common sense, if one is interested in a specific area, it is important to make sure to follow the news agencies from that region. These sources are often invaluable. Even If the news is in a foreign language, just translate the whole site!
At red24, we are split into specific regions. I focus on analysis of South America; as such, below I have provided a breakdown of some of my regional/local sources for Brazil. Other regional sources can also be found here and here.
Social media is your friend
Probably the most powerful tool at your disposal for catching breaking news is Twitter and other social media (SM) channels. People tweet and post about everything, and if you can catch relevant leads before the crowd, you are area already ahead of the game. As with the above-mentioned sources, not all Tweets are equal, and one has to be careful with what one believes. However, optimising Twitter with the help of social media manger programmes and proper twitter lists can help you to weed out unreliable content and stay on top of the news. Furthermore, a quick search in Twitter itself can also provide you with alternative and updated sources.
My favourite SM Tools
- HootSuite – Manage all your SM accounts
- TweetDeck – Manage Twitter
- Trendsmap – Visually display Twitter trends
- Buffer – Optimises your Tweet Schedule
For more useful SM-management tools, please click here.
Twitter Lists I use daily
The humble keyword search
Often overlooked, but never to be underestimated, is the keyword search. Depending on your industry, there are multiple significant words that can guide your search for relevant news. You can bookmark a number of Google searches with your keywords, or you can set up alerts, so that these keywords can find you. Keyword searches with Twitter are also essential and the tools above can help you set up these permanent searches. Please note that if you are looking for news in a specific area where English is not the dominant language, by all means search in the local language and on the local version of Google. Here is an example of a common keyword search that I use for finding strikes in Brazil.
List of some the keywords that I search for daily:
What the future holds
As technology improves, more accurate and speedy event detection and analysis software is emerging. Within the field of machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) there are exciting developments that have the potential to change how we collect and analyse news events.
One tool that journalists are already using is social media analysis software that extrapolates meaningful patterns from user-generated content. This software then alerts journalists to potential breaking news automatically. A great example of this type of software is Dataminr, a New York-based company that has a strategic partnership with Twitter, which allows for analysis of the full Twitter Firehose of public tweets (basically all tweets).
Then there are emerging machine-coded automated data gathering methods that “crawl” through all open-source media and look for specific relevant events in real time. These can be used for forecasting human societal-scale behaviour,which is the long-term goal of programmes such as the Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT). Also, there are programmes such as the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), which attempts to create a full database of political violence data for developing states. Both these programmes offer real-time analysis and give a glimpse into the future of event detection.
Hopefully you’ve learned some new tricks of the trade for finding relevant breaking news as fast and accurately as possible. However, finding the news is only the first step. The next step is analysing the data, and if you are looking for more guidelines on intelligence analysis, there are some insightful books that every analyst should read.
A final tip for finding breaking news is to embrace change. There are always better, faster and more accurate tools emerging for catching breaking events. If you learn to love change and can keep up with the development of technology, you’re on your way to thinking like an intelligence analyst!
What has been your experience with finding Breaking News? Are there some tactics you’re using besides the ones mentioned here? I’d be interested to hear your experiences and what you’re up to. Please do share in the comments.