How do you manage News and History related topics?

Most quality journalism requires a very long term view to link seemingly unrelated events (decisions and meetings from months or even years ago) and draw connections to other historically similar events. (One journalist exposed the privatization of Egyptian companies because it was similar to Russia)

I feel like Obsidian could be quite useful in this regard. What strategies / frameworks do you use for managing the news?

I tried making a note for each article, person and institute involved. But that got messy real quick and became hard to navigate

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I am far from an expert here. I’m trying to wrap my head around some of this as well. But MOCs might help you, this is a place to start:


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I love MOC, but they don’t translate too well with the news

Noting the event and how each source covers it is important and so is covering who is related to who. but MOC doesn’t help here

[[Event]]
discussion of event and related parties [[party1]] [[party2]] [[party3]] (this bit grows surprisingly quick)

[[MOC]]
events
people

(problem is that my current MOC model doesn’t translate well to the news)

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I’m glad you asked this because it is something I have been thinking about, too. Specifically, I worry about a conflict between the emphasis on “permanent” notes and the need to collect notes on materials that may not lend themselves to permanence.

For example, I have been collecting resources related to COVID-19. I read an article today about some trends related to the pandemic and I took a few notes. I have a MOC, basically, on COVID-19 grouped into some different categories, but, the note looks really “thin” compared to the other materials. That said, I think that in the future, these items might be all the more interesting in hindsight.

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Here’s something we can experiment with. Using Hashtags

First round of information gathering gets hashtags( #Source , #PeopleMentioned , #Topics). Second round of cleaning out incorrect data gets more pages

I think this might be a bit more sufficient for more contemporary news, but I don’t think this will scale well with history

First, we need to distinguish between news consumers and journalists. I would assume that journalists get a lot of surprising insights and connections out of conversations with sources, that they then follow up on, something that tagging news articles won’t get you.

I’m not a journalist, but am old enough to remember newspapers and how people used them in the days before hyperlinks and social media. :wink:

In the olden days, people would do directed research at the library to dredge up old newspaper stories on microfiche relating to a person, place, or event of interest. This kind of activity featured prominently in amateur detective stories. Libraries, news archives, and related research software and services are probably better equipped than you are to store and tag articles based on people, event, and source, so consider whether to invest your time in digital archiving or in research skills.

In the olden days, some people would keep files of newspaper clippings relating to a topic of interest, or just random things that amused or inspired them, and add to and browse through it over the years to find some unexpected connections. Obsidian is great for this kind of thing, but you need to selective and focus on cross-cutting interests, concepts, or themes. “How is this article relevant to my concerns about crony capitalism in developing countries?” is a very different mentality than “where do I file this?”

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This is very helpful, should be mentioned a lot more often.

A MOC is not intended for that. A MOC is a hub, a kind of Table of Contents that changes over time.

So, let’s say you are interested in Covid-19, and have a note about news article about the number of infections and deaths in countries, one about vaccine developments, one about the politics. So, you could have a MOC with 3 links, one to each note.

But a MOC is more than that. You can add to it some comments about each link, or give it some context, add an image, whatever.

Over time, the note about number of infections/deaths changes, so you amend the note, not the link to it. Later on, you may not be interested in that note anymore and delete it. The MOC needs to be amended.

Or you create a note about a different aspect of Covid-19, so you need to amend your MOC.

In other words, there is no reason why you could not use MOCs for News and History related topics.

This is something I’m grappling with. My work entails writing analytical summaries of economic news and policy every week or so, which will be based on a variety of inputs: mostly policy announcements, business articles, data releases, etc.

Most of those sources are digital and online, and often brief (rather than long, academic articles, although those are useful background for most topics). I like to make a note for every source and write a few sentence summary, and maybe longer notes if particularly interesting. For years I’ve found this to be a useful way to absorb this information better, well before Obsidian. Every week or two I’ll ascertain the key themes and write a proper report on them.

What Obsidian offers is the chance of better way of connecting these trends, not just within a given week (which isn’t so hard, given proximity), but perhaps over time. The challenge is I’m collecting dozens of new articles (references/literature notes) per week, sometimes even a dozen a day. If I’m not judicious with linking and tags, they become so numerous as to be nearly meaningless. This is looking especially daunting if I make links to nouns, people, places, etc which overlap so often across the theme of references that I’m going over.

I’ve been mulling this over, so haven’t tried it fully yet, but I’m thinking my “reference” notes should only link to an idea or question note, not to each other and not to nouns/places/people. This helps cut down clutter in the note cloud/graph and focuses my attention on questions I want to answer, either in the next week or two, or perhaps that need more research long term. Perhaps another/additional point here would be to try to limit links from a reference note to only a few (e.g. 3), just to impose some discipline on linking only the most relevant points. The problem with this approach is that it starts out very hierarchical, but I hope eventually would start to be more organic as different questions link to each other and old references start to inspire new questions.

For nouns/people/places, perhaps tags are the best approach - something I was opposed to initially since tags don’t graph. But I’m finding the graph becomes very unmanageable quickly if one is tagging to liberally (i.e. if I have a reference note that is only 200 words, but has 10 tags in it to all the nouns etc that are relevant to my work).

I’ll be experimenting with this more in the next few weeks and will report back any progress.

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I have a zettelkasten with mostly “atomic”-sized notes that I link generously, and I use tags based on abstract concepts like “perception”, “happiness”, ……

I have a fixed list of these that I want to keep limited in number, right now 130. I have those tags listed in spreadsheet, with next to each a number of synonyms. So, if I want to add a new tag I 1st check to see if there isn’t an existing one that could be used if it is a synonym. If there is not and I really want to have that new tag I’ll add it.

I also check from time to time the number of notes with each tag: if it is below 5 I’ll delete that tag.

Perhaps I misunderstand you, but aren’t you contradicting yourself? If tags don’t graph, how can they make the graph unmanageable?

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Sorry - the second sentence should say “linking too liberally.”

OK, that makes sense.

I still don’t quite know what to make of the graph, i.e. how it can really help. Yes, it shows which notes are interlinked, but so what? What can we do with that info, how does that help us make new discoveries?

You don’t necessarily need to answer that because it is a bit off the OP’s track.

I like your idea of pruning tags. It’s giving me some ideas for how to adjust my link mania.

You mentioned your tags are mostly to abstract concepts. What about your links? Could you give a specific example, contrasting with “perception” or “happiness” tags?

I’m trying to think how this could apply to the history and news OP.

One thing I have in mind is links (to notes, or empty links) should be a question I want to answer, or later a question I think I’ve mostly answered. The link should resemble text I could type into Google or to a source that is readily interpretable. E.g. to use a recent event:

  • How big was the explosion in Beruit, absolutely and comparatively?
  • What is the impact of the Beirut port explosion on the local economy?
  • Is it normal to store explosive materials in a port?

A link to this “idea or question” note would be empty to start, but I’d gradually add transcluded links for reference notes and maybe my own text there. As I answer a question note to my satisfaction, I may adjust the title from a question to a statement. Reference notes can be inputs into multiple idea notes, and small idea notes (e.g. those above) can be inputs into varying large idea notes that are closer to proper reports, e.g.:

  • How does the port of Beruit explosion compare with the one in Tianjin China, in both circumstances and impact?

Whereas the tags would be far vaguer - probably not much use on their own, but they help me find obscure notes in the future. E.g.

  • Beruit
  • Hazardous materials shipping
  • Man made disasters

I’ll keep experimenting and see what works - this discussion is very useful for my thinking.

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The “perception” and “happiness” links are in my zettelkasten, where I deal with subjects like “Uncertainty”, “Leadership”, “Creativity”, etc. These 3 are what I call “story rivers” (a term I borrowed from TiddlyWiki, although there it means something different). In my case a story river knits together a number of atomic notes into a story. The “knitting” is done with transclusions.

Each atomic note has 1 or more links to other notes in my zettelkasten, and I assign a number of concept #tags, such as “perception” and “happiness”, that I think describe the content of the note.

When I create a new note and have finished linking and assigning tags to it, I do a filter search for each tag to see if there are additional notes I can link to. It also allows me to assess whether all the #tags assigned to the new note still make sense or if I should delete/add 1 or 2 more.

That is how I build my network between what have come to regarded as evergreen notes.

I also have another collection of notes, which is more similar to your: I call it my Geopolitical notes, which also includes a number of economics notes because economics is often affected by politics.

I started building that collection before my zettelkasten, so they are not atomic at all: they are long to very long. I use different kinds of #tags that are separate from the zk ones.

I just started transferring them to Obsidian, and hope to be able to use transclusions for them too. I love transclusions; for me it’s one of the defining features of Obs.

The Geopolitical notes are in a vault that is separate from the zk vault.

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Hey Klaas,

Very nice to see your comments here…

It seems we share the same love for Zettelkasten and PKM in general :wink:

I used TiddlyWiki for a while…
It’s great but the learning curve is steep and rather long (even for a technical guy as me).

Now I am using Obsidian (just started but such a fan that after a few minutes I decided to become a VIP member), Zettlr (some time already), Joplin (longer) and Sublime Text (longest) to keep my MarkDown Zettels up to date.

Zettlr and Joplin don’t do a good job with large number of files.
I have Vaults with 30k+ (some 80k+) Zettels (Started as a “test”, biut used daily now).
Sublime Text with RegEx works great even on large numbers of files.
Obsidian works great with these numbers too.

The Graph is realy great, alltough for 80k Zettles this will not be very usefull I believe.

My normal Vaults contain 1000 Zettles or less which works great for the Graphs.

Hope to help the community with some insights like you do in the future.

Greetz,
Rik

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@RikD: hey there, pleased to meet you. No wonder I have not seen your name, you’re new. A reply to some of the points you make.

TiddlyWiki: I was and still am impressed by it. But like you, it was too much for me. After leaving it I always felt a bit, well, silly for not sticking with it longer. Your reaction to it as a tech guy makes me feel more at ease about my decision.

I too tried Zettlr and Joplin, as well as many other note-taking apps, but somehow they did not fulfil my not always well-defined wishes.

I eventually settled on Typora and VNote, both of which I used for a couple of years. After moving away from TW (used it in parallel with the other 2) I discovered Obsidian, and even though it is still in beta, I had this feeling of “yes, this is it”. The rapid development and lively community convinced me quickly to pay up.

I love the customisability with CSS sheets, I love transclusions, as well as the other features.

Re the graph: its usefulness became a bit clearer from comments here - Alexis has made some great observations.

And now there is also the local graph, in addition to the global one.

As for your number of notes, wow, that’s impressive, must represent quite a few years of gathering!

OK, that’s it for now.
I look forward to exchange with you again.

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Interesting to hear you have so many notes Rik (well done, that’s tenacity). Most people, myself including, seem to be just starting this habit rather than so far along.

What is the primary subject of your notes? Do you find your note taking different for news and historical factoids?

@Klaas, @icebear

Indeed the big vaults go back until 2002 when I started keeping things in simple text files.
Gradually changed to MarkDown along the way.

@Klaas
Thx for the additional info on Graphs: certainly useful.

@icebear
The primary usage of the big vaults is indeed to keep up with historical facts and news in the Financial Industry which is the ecosystem were I work in for the moment.
The smaller vaults are for “personal” use and have a Zettelkasten approach for linking and backlinking.

I also use Feedly to keep up with numerous RSS-feeds which are important for my job and my personal interests. The personal vaults receive the interesting RSS-feeds with some own notes and links so I can keep up with the flood of info there (2000+ messages a day).
Note: This is my job as an Innovation Lead. I do get to spend 100% of my time doing this.
Seems normal you can gather much more information then.

The big challenge until now (THX @obsidian) was to keep it all in good shape. Seems this is indeed “the thing”. That’s the reason why I directly sponsored this community. I love investing in things that I daily use and believe in!

Grtz,
Rik

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Very interesting, and highly relevant to this threads discussion.

When taking notes on factoids, you make a distinction in reference/literature notes versus permanent notes, as often advocated in Zettelkasten? Are they all literature notes? Do you group notes by source, or by end topic?

Or, more generally, could you describe your average workflow from finding something of interest, e.g. via an RSS article on a historical factoid, to something close to it’s final form as a note in your vault?

These processes are very insightful, but rarely discussed for actual work applications. Appreciate whatever you can share!

Hmm,

That’s not an easy one, and indeed workflows are not often described as they tend to differ from one person to another.

I started a few years ago with the notion of #tags which I do not use anymore and removed them from every Zettle I have in my vaults. MarkDown files are fully text searchable so I don’t see any use of Tags (personal opinion).

Links and Backlinks is another story:
When an interesting topic in an RSS feed passes by I start creating a Zettle with the pure text of the article and all necessary info for finding it back later. Pure copy because unfortunately sites and articles sometimes tend to disappear after a while which leave you with nothing over the years ;-).

Then I start searching other Zettels in all my vaults on keywords I find useful to link to. This purely for enabling me to write comprehensive summaries for our Executive Team and the Board. Sometimes this workflow triggers new Zettels with additional info and thoughts, which is totally OK.

After a while you can see some ‘gravitational’ forces in your graphs going to one direction (or more) depending on the topics you are working on. Sometimes you gravitate away from topics but sometimes they are ‘re-ignited’ years after with the great side-effect you already have great links and backlinks in the .md files.

As said. This works for me. I really don’t have the knowledge of the perfect system and I do a lot of research trying to keep up with PKM. As said it’s my job so I have the time to really focus on this.

Coming from an ICT technical background and having Six Sigma Black Belt and Design Thinking also as additional frameworks I don’t believe in a “one system fits all”-solution.
I really believe great working methods evolve out of using the best of every system you personally belief can be of interest to do the job. That’s what I am trying for almost 30 years now in my career.

I certainly am interested in assembling a framework approach like Zettelkasten meeting the needs of many on the PKM-front. Still 10 years of professional career and hopefully much time after that to achieve this Life goal :wink:

Regards,
Rik

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