I have made it no secret at The New Leaf Journal that I am a fan of using RSS and ATOM feeds to gather interesting content from around the web without an intermediary. In various articles, I have introduced feeds and touted them as an alternative to Facebook and Twitter. Moreover, I regularly encourage New Leaf Journal readers to subscribe to us via RSS, ATOM, or JSON feed and note that even our newsletter produces an RSS feed (just like the Substack newsletters). The best case for feeds is that they empower people to curate their own media sources and gather them in one place without needing to rely on big tech, algorithms, or the like. A good feed collection is the centerpiece of finding good content from around the web without distractions.
However, while it is my position that feeds empower people to control their own information environment, a good feed collection must be a well-managed one. An excess of feeds, especially from news sources and blogs which post many articles throughout the day, can overwhelm the reader and make sifting through the contents of a feed a chore. There are ways to sift through high-content material, but for the purposes of this post, I will focus on finding alternatives to a site’s main (or fire hose) feed to add to your feed reader.
Many newspapers and high content sites offer more than one feed. For example, I have noted that The New Leaf Journal outputs feeds for authors, categories, and tags, not to mention for custom post types. While we do not publish enough content to overwhelm one’s feed reader, it is possible to fine-tune your New Leaf Journal feed reader experience. Moreover, WordPress sites behave like The New Leaf Journal does by default, meaning that many blogs and writing sites you come across also produce granular feeds in addition to their main all content feeds.
I will use a couple of newspaper examples to highlight how using narrow feeds can ensure that your feed reader pulls the content you are interested in without overwhelming you with content that you are not interested in.
One of my favorite national newspapers is the Washington Times. It has original reporting on issues of interest to me, and it is one of the best papers on matters of immigration law and border security. However, I had trouble with its main world and U.S. news feeds. While the Washington Times has good original reporting, it, like many other newspapers, relies heavily on Associated Press wire pieces. As I noted once in a Leaflet, these have a tendency to annoy me. Moreover, the problem with including Associated Press articles in a feed is that it will create redundancy in your feed reader if you subscribe to another paper or outlet that relies on the same Associated Press stories (the reliance on the AP, and the AFP for international papers, makes news subscriptions a bit tricky). The Washington Times’ U.S. section also understandably has a focus on Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. This is all well and good, but since I do not live in any of the three, the stories are often too local for my purposes.
I had dropped Washington Times feeds for a time, but then I had an epiphany. Perhaps individual Washington Times reporters and columnists have feeds. I navigated to a reporter page and consulted my handy Firefox feed plugin, List Feeds. I discovered that every reporter has an RSS feed. Eureka! I took about twenty minutes to look through the recent posts of various reporters and selected six or seven who were regularly covering issues of interest to me. I then added their feeds to my feed reader. Now I receive nearly all of the original Washington Times content that I am interested in without being flooded by AP wire reports and local stories that I am not interested in.
I encountered a similar issue with the New York Post, which has some good local New York City news combined with a good amount of nonsense. For the Post, a more brute force method of feed curation worked. I am interested in the New York Post’s Metro section and little else. Thus, I added a specific feed for its Metro section and also for Opinions (its opinion section includes some worthwhile New York City stories that could fit just as well in Metro), and I excluded the rest.
This selected feeds approach will work on many other news sites too. For example, The New York Times not only produces section, sub-section, and columnist feeds, but also lists them in a neat way on a designated RSS page.
Many of my subscriptions to other sites are to individual authors or narrow subject-matter sections. I only chose the Washington Times and New York Post as examples because looking for narrow subscription options is perhaps most useful for news sites and some other high-volume sites that cover current events.
However, this approach does have limitations. For example, as much as I would like a very granular Daily Mail feed, it is the firehose or nothing in that case (I go with nothing). Some sites do not produce feeds at all. I complained about Tablet in my previous article, and Reuters dropped all of its feed support several years ago.
Actually finding feeds is a bit beyond the scope of the instant article, especially since one’s feed discovery needs will depend on what he or she is using to find feeds. Some feed readers and feed reading services can discover feeds from regular URLs, making discovery relatively painless (note, however, that they may not always pull out a specific feed – e.g., depending on what you are using, giving a feed reader a specific category URL may still result in the feed reader giving you the site’s main URL, even if the specific category has a feed – mileage may vary). In my case, my feed readers do not find feeds in non-feed URLs. While I know how to find feeds by checking a web page’s source (or guessing, in the case of WordPress sites), doing so is troublesome. Thus, as I noted earlier, I use the free, open source, and minimalist List Feeds extension for Firefox to quickly discover feeds. If you go the extension route, look for a good open source extension with user reviews and a developer with a good track record (there are many examples for Firefox and Chromium-based browsers).
Finally, when starting your feed collection – I recommend starting small. Begin with sites that you know you like, and gradually add sites as you discover new sources of good writing, watching, and listening from your collection of starter feeds and other sources.