Newswise — The beauty of using news media's RSS feeds is that once you subscribe, the feeds deliver the latest stories to your virtual doorstep, saving you from having to tediously click around to individual websites. But what RSS does not do, according to a study released today from the University of Maryland, is give you the news you want and need. RSS does not provide its subscribers with the same comprehensive information that is found on the media's websites.

"RSS feeds work best for breaking-news headlines— President Bush's veto of the Iraq spending bill or the death of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin," said researcher Susan D. Moeller, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland and the director of the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda which conducted the study. "RSS doesn't work well for people who want in-depth news on specific subjects."

The new ICMPA study looked at 19 of the world's top news sites to see which news outlets use RSS well—which outlets give users the range of information on their RSS Feed Readers that most closely approximates what can be found on the home website.

Who were among the best? The LA Times, BBC World Service and Fox News.

Who were among the worst? Al Jazeera, The Guardian and The New York Times.

Over a period of three months, the Maryland research team coded the results of the feeds covering international news from 19 online outlets: ABC News, Al Jazeera (English), BBC World Service, CBS News, The Christian Science Monitor, CNN, The Daily Telegraph, The Financial Times, Fox News, The Guardian, The International Herald Tribune, ITN, The Los Angeles Times, NBC/MSNBC, The New York Times, Newsweek, Time magazine, USA Today, The Washington Post. The quantitative coding and later qualitative analysis led the researchers to conclude that rather than RSS, many casual news consumers users should just stick with Google's Top Stories. RSS feeds work very poorly for anyone who uses news for more than infotainment.

One problem, according to the study's findings, is that many news outlets don't want to share all the news that's on their site—especially stories that are not staff-written or produced. "If one surfs to the New York Times website in the middle of the day and conducts a search on 'Iraq,' for example," noted Moeller, "the first ten or fifteen articles that will come up will likely be from the AP and Reuters wire services. Well into the search results will finally be the New York Times stories, way down in the chronological list because they were written the previous day. But if one subscribes to the New York Times RSS feeds, one does not get any of that AP and Reuters content—all that comes through the feeds is the New York Times-written articles."

For sophisticated news consumers, what is lost by the Times not sending the wire service articles are valuable updates on stories—and a breadth of stories that the Times can't hope to duplicate with its own staff, which is, after all, presumably why the Times editors make the stories accessible on their website in the first place.

The study also documented that it was difficult to get even all of the staff-generated stories from "today" via RSS feeds. The study looked at 24 RSS feeds from NBC/MSNBC, for example, and even after selecting so many feeds the researchers only counted about half the number of "today's" international news stories coming through the RSS feeds as were accessible from a search on the MSNBC website.

What made it worse was that there was no apparent trend to what did not get sent through the feed. All RSS news feeds are different, the study found. There is no standard. Just because two news outlets both have feeds labeled "International" doesn't mean that they have decided to send the same type or quantity of news through their feeds. RSS users never know exactly what stories are NOT being sent via their RSS feeds without going back to the home websites.

An additional conclusion that emerged from the study was how little information most news outlets gave out in feeds to their news stories. Almost all sent a headline and summary, but very few sent the date and time of the story, who reported it, and from where. "News outlets are missing an opportunity to better cater to their readers," observed Moeller. "RSS subscribers use their Feed Readers to save time, but the news outlets want their subscribers to click on the headlines they've sent and read the full stories on their home websites. Including the who, where, when of stories would help users decide if a piece is worth reading."

The study is the most recent report released by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda (ICMPA), a center of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism and the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The study is available online at

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