5 ways I track news on my iPhone

I spoke last week to more than 300 high school journalism students about how I use my iPhone as a reporting tool. In the past few days, I’ve thought about how I use the same phone to consume news. Specifically, how do I use iPhone alerts me about news when I am out and about. I use Twitter and RSS ((I check RSS multiple times a day. I like RSS so much because it allows me to have a completist view of the news. While everything doesn’t get tweeted, it does appear on the RSS feed.)) to consumer most of my news. Those require scrolling through lists of hundreds to thousands of entries. When I am not in the office or dedicated to following news, I want to be notified when something happens that is major or specific to stories I follow.((One of my personal tech goals it to figure out ways I can have my phone tell me when I should know something, so I can spend my nights and weekends without being tied to my phone but be there if and when news breaks.))

Here are different ways I’ve set up my iPhone to alert me when news happens and how I  stay on top of things when I am on the road or away from my desk.

1. Official Twitter app’s notifications for specific users

Twitter has become the live stream of news and information on the Internet. Reporters break stories there, newsmakers make announcements and express opinions. It is something all journalists monitor. But I can’t scroll through my feed all day long, even at work. When I write, have an interview, or on at lunch, I may not check the feed for hours. On the weekends, that could be days.

The settings in a user’s profile in the official Twitter app.

But the official Twitter app has a really nice built-in feature to receive notifications whenever a specific user tweets.((Hat tip to my colleague Jonathan Oosting for recommending this — I wanted nothing to do with the official Twitter app until he showed me this feature)) You could have all these users on a list, but I have found I still don’t look at the lists because I am not checking my phone.

The official Twitter app (link, free) is the one of the only ones I know that offers this feature for iOS.((Also, it is nice to see what Twitter is doing with their app.))

To enable these notifications, go to the user’s page, select the settings button and turn on notifications. The only constraint is that you have to follow the user.

I receive notifications from 22 accounts, including politicians I cover, news organizations,((For Michigan politics, it’s Gongwer and MIRS)) and certain app developers.

I use Tweetbot as my main Twitter client and get all my personal notifications through it. On the Twitter app, I turn off all notifications for retweets, new followers, etc and only get an alert when someone on my list tweets. It is nice to have the different icons appear on the screen for separate purposes. When I see the blue Twitter icon, I know exactly what it is. I also turn off the alert sounds and vibration for the app so the notification just appears and does disturb me. I check my phone enough to catch anything major happening.

Three images from Breaking News: 1) The notifications on the lock screen 2) Asking permission to add a new topic to your watch list 3) Trending news items

2. Breaking News

At first, I didn’t know why I would download the Breaking News app (link, free) — I didn’t know how breaking news” could be delivered on my iPhone.

A few weeks later I tried it and was amazed: It’s a Twitter feed, specifically with news that is curated by professional editors.

Breaking News is a project from NBC News Digital that is a website and apps for iOS, Android and Windows. The apps have the same information but for your phone. It is really nice to open it up and see what is happening without being sucked into the various GIFs and opinions of the people you follow Twitter. Sometimes at work, I set up an extra monitor to display the website.

I really fell in love with the app when I realized you could follow different topics and get notifications.

These notifications are tweet-sized updates. When you subscribe to a topic, it tells you if there have been a lot of updates recently and about how many per hour. You can have push notifications for up to 10 topics.((it was recently 5.)) I have found this limit is helpful to keep a focused list and not become overwhelmed by notifications.

I have alerts set up for various topics I cover and that I am interested in, including:

  • Michigan
  • Apple
  • Ukrainian Political Crisis
  • Iraq violence
  • Water Toxin Warning in Toledo, Ohio

The weekend the political crisis broke out in Ukraine, I was moving to a new apartment. I turned on the notifications and was soon getting updates every 5 minutes. I kept my mom and friend up to date as we moved. When news broke this week that Robin Williams had died, this was the first place I saw with the news.

I never thought there could be a better experience for breaking news than live TV. Breaking News brings it. The team has also made some great updates recently, including alerting you of major news based on your location.

The main page for the Hourly News app, and selecting the sources on the right.

3. Hourly News

I think I really got hooked on the ritual of news consumption from listening to NPR in the kitchen as a kid. My mom always had the local NPR station((WMUK 102.1 FM)) on. I became accustomed to the frequent rundown of the news and it was as important in the morning as a bowl of cereal.

So I was really excited when I heard about Hourly News, a customizable iOS (link, 99 Cents) and Mac app (link, $4.99)((I bought the Mac app that sits in the tool bar, but I found I use it mostly on-the-go with my phone.)) that plays hourly radio news reports from several U.S. and international news stations.

Each report is between three to five minutes — just enough to get a feel of what is happening.

The app has a simple interface of a giant play” and pause” button in the center. It comes with several top news feeds preprogrammed and you can add you own with a 99-cent in app purchase. You can configure the order of the streams.

I subscribe to several news reports, including NPR, BBC, CBC, ABC, CBS, WSJ, Deutsche Welle and ESPN.

I listen to Hourly News multiple times a day. It’s perfect for casually catch up with the latest news but need to rest your eyes and mind from reading. The app brings a staple of radio to a smartphone. And it is really nice hear a human read the news.

4. News publications with push notifications

A screen grab from my lock screen after the same-sex marriage ban was struck down in Michigan on March 21.

There are several news organizations that have apps which send out push notifications. While I really don’t read articles in these native apps ((I usually read on the web, in RSS reader or on Instapaper)), I have a slew installed just to get push notifications.

  • NYTimes (link, free, paywall for content)
  • WSJ (link, free, paywall for content)
  • Circa (link, free)
  • USA Today (link, free)
  • MLive (link, free)
  • Detroit News (link, free)
  • Detroit Free Press (link, free)

Even if the publication is behind a paywall, you can likely still get the notifications.

Why so many apps? I have found different news organizations send out notifications for different stories, and it’s interesting to see what ones they choose. And when all the apps send you something, it’s an important story.

Circa is the only another mobile app I read news on because of how they write stories for the format. It’s also nice how you can follow story topics, but I have found their notifications to be a lot slower than other apps (by 20-30 minutes of other apps). While not the best for major news, it’s nice to follow a story thread over several months, including smaller topics.

5. IFTTT (If This Than That)

If you haven’t tried out the service IFTTT (If This Than That), you are missing out on some serious power. It is an amazing tool that allows you to create recipes” for different channels” you use, such as Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox and Evernote.

I have rules set up for various clerical purposes, such as whenever I highlight something in Instapaper, it adds that text to a new note in Evernote (thanks to MacStories).

How can IFTTT notify me of news? Well, the New York Times has a channel, so does Buzz Feed. But I use it primarily with RSS, e-mail. Here’s an example to get a phone call or text message when an article on a certain story breaks:

Sometimes, if there’s a certain story I want to be notified about no matter where I am, I do this: Set up a Google Alert for a specific news alert you are waiting for. Craft it as specifically as possible, but broad enough to get the alert when something is published. I had one set up for Mike Rogers, U.S. Senate, announce” when there was speculation the Congressman would run for Senate.

After creating the Google Alert, you can get an RSS feed link for it. That’s your trigger in IFTTT. Then for the response, have it call your cell phone. You can also have it text you or send a push notification through the IFTTT app (link, free) or Launch Center Pro.

A screenshot of my IFTTT recipe to get a phone call when a big story breaks.

You really need to test this out before you walk away from it. But if you are good at setting up Google Alerts

Another way I use it is by setting up certain e-mail alerts from the Associated Press when it moves a high level story in Michigan. I have an e-mail go to a special e-mail address and IFTTT calls and texts me.

These are nice things to have in case I am in a meeting, at the dentist or not looking at notifications. However, I use it sparingly: only four of these are set up. But there really is no limit to what you can come up with on IFTTT.

These are five ways I use my smartphone to keep track of news. I’m sure there are more that I am neglecting, but I will post them as they come to mind.

Review Apps

August 12, 2014