Now that I have fallen under the spell of Google Reader, I’ve been spending some time organizing my news feeds and other reading. As a part of that process, I have set up my local news, which I used to access via My Yahoo, in a dedicated Google Reader folder. I suspect I am but one of many who are migrating our news from yesterday’s paper to today’s web site to tomorrow’s news reader. In fact, I believe with the growing use of feed readers and mobile content, the news-related web sites we visit today will eventually become primarily billboards for the various RSS feeds available there. The biggest reason this hasn’t already happened is that content producers and advertisers haven’t figured out how to sell and serve advertising in feeds. When that happens, and it is inevitable, we’ll see an accelerated migration towards RSS distribution- both paid and ad-supported.
As a part of my migration to RSS, I have looked at a lot of local news feeds. Some are good. Some are horrible. And many are somewhere in between.
Here’s the current state and status of Houston English language news feeds. As they change, so will this page. Maybe we can generate some discussion here that will be helpful to readers and content producers alike. Discussion that will hopefully lead to better feeds.
This survey is limited solely to English language news feeds offered by local news providers. If there is a feed I haven’t covered, let me know in the Comments and I’ll add it.
Let’s start with the best. The Houston Chronicle currently offers 170 RSS feeds, covering categories from news to business to sports to neighborhood sports. I subscribe to the following Chronicle feeds: Top Headlines, Houston & Texas, Business, Bellaire/West U/River Oaks (I wish they wouldn’t lump us working folks in Bellaire with the yuppies and rich people, but at least a neighborhood news feed is available), Sports and Entertainment. I also subscribe to Dwight Silverman‘s and Jeff Balke‘s Chronicle blogs, but not as a part of my news folder. Like almost all papers, the Chronicle does not use full feeds, undoubtedly because it wants to draw readers back to its site where the ads reside. It does give you enough of a summary to allow you to make a reasonably informed decision about reading more (via a click-through to the Chronicle site) or moving on. While it would be a lot better if the Chronicle provided full feeds, even with ads, the summaries are pretty good. Plus the feeds allow you to click past the Chronicle’s online front page, which leaves much to be desired.
Speaking of horrible web design, there’s the Houston Press. I used to read the Press online every week until they destroyed their web site with a redesign a few years ago. Sadly, their RSS feeds don’t really help (I had to dissect an RSS feed just to find that page, and all of those feeds are outdated). The Press web site promotes individual feeds for a lot of the collateral (at least to me) content and a default feed which seems to lump all the content into one feed, with marginally helpful summaries consisting of the first 50 or so words of the article. The combined feed contains way too much stuff I am not interested in. By reverse engineering the default feed URL I was able to decipher the feed URL for the featured stories, again with a first 50 words or so partial feed. The Press’s featured stories are generally interesting, but they are wrapped up in bad web design and served in unsatisfactory feeds. The Press should either use full feeds (the best answer) or at least specially written summaries (the least that I’d find acceptable). Until today, I didn’t subscribe to any Press feeds because I couldn’t find them. I have now subscribed to the featured news feed, but the short feeds and non-summaries are not likely to draw me to the site very often.
The Houston Business Journal has a feed that, like the Chronicle feeds, is a partial feed with short but reasonably descriptive summaries. You can also find feeds to its sister publications in other cities as well as regional feeds and industry-specific national feeds. I subscribe to the HBJ feed and to the commercial real estate industry feed. Again, I look forward to the day full feeds are the rule and not the rare exception for news-related feeds, but as things go today, the HBJ’s feeds are reasonably good. (Disclaimer: I have written articles for the HBJ and some of its sister publications in the past and will probably do so in the future).
Channel 2 (NBC) offers 11 feeds. No full feeds, of course, but the feeds do contain generally descriptive summaries. Even this one sentence summary- “A party boat slams into the Kemah Boardwalk, KPRC Local 2 reports,” is more useful that merely stuffing the first few words of an article into a partial feed. On the other hand, you have to look closely (left hand column under “Site Tools”) to find the RSS feed on Channel 2’s less than stellar web site. Unlike blogs, where the RSS feed should always be obvious and near the top of the page, many TV stations aren’t sure what they really think about feeds, so they are displayed with less gusto. I subscribe to the main Channel 2 feed, but none of the others.
Channel 11 (CBS) has a web site that makes Channel 2’s look like Earl’s page (the best blog template I’ve ever seen), but at least it has its RSS feed icon above the fold and somewhat prominently displayed. Channel 11 offers 23 feeds. Like Channel 2, there are no full feeds, but there are generally descriptive summaries. Unfortunately, some of those 23 feeds are stale. The latest post in the movies feed, for example, is from August 27, 2007. Same for the music feed. I subscribe to the Channel 11 Top Stories feed, but none of the others. Channel 13 (ABC) has its feeds link at the bottom of its web page, where you find 32 available feeds. A few of the feeds have either older content or none at all. A lot of the TV stations’ sub-feeds seem thrown together. They could all do with less quantity and more quality. Like its competitors, Channel 13 uses partial feeds with summaries. Channel 13’s summaries seem shorter than the others, but maybe that’s because they don’t have periods at the end. I subscribe to the Channel 13 Top Stories feed, but none of the others.
If Channel 26 (FOX) has RSS feeds, it’s not very proud of them. No mention of them at all on the front web page. A search for RSS leads to something called myFOXhouston news which promises, but does not seem to deliver, RSS feeds. The first rule of anything is that if you make it hard, people won’t do it. They did, and so I didn’t. I don’t subscribe to any Channel 26 feeds, in part because I couldn’t find any.
Channel 39 (CW) has no RSS feeds.
Channel 51 committed the unpardonable sin of auto-starting a video (with loud audio and no pause or mute button) when you visit its web site, so I was tempted to click away and leave it at that, but a desire for completeness led me to a brief but unsuccessful search for RSS feeds. I thought Channel 51 was a news station, but it’s not- at least not anymore.
I couldn’t find any RSS news feeds by any of the Houston radio stations. Some of them have podcasts. Here’s the rundown, though I don’t subscribe to any of these at the moment.
KIKK 650 has no RSS feeds and no local podcasts. It does have links to some CBS podcasts.
700 KSEV has no RSS feeds and no podcasts.
Thanks to the Chronicle, Houston is in pretty good shape RSS-wise. We need full feeds and better summaries for the partial feeds. The TV stations are behind the newspaper, as you would expect, and ahead of the radio stations, as you would also expect.
What do you think of the local new feeds?