Reading Your RSS Feeds with NewsFlash

19 March, 2024

No matter what some people say, RSS isn’t dead. RSS is alive and kicking. There are some days, though, when I want to kick RSS’s naysayers upside the head. Especially the ones who shout that RSS is irrelevant because Facebook or whatever doesn’t support it.

For something that’s supposed to be dead, I get a good chunk of my information from various RSS feeds — including professional online publications and personal blogs. For the longest time, I’ve done that with a command line RSS reader called Newsboat.

That said, I have tried various web-based, desktop, and mobile feed readers over the years. I’ve only really liked one. Another, named Communique, showed promise but a few annoyances I couldn’t get past turned me away from it.

In late 2023, came across a desktop feed reader named NewsFlash that piqued my interest. While it’s designed to work with web-based RSS aggregators, you can also use NewsFlash as standalone desktop reader. Let’s take a look at it.

This post looks at using NewsFlash as without interacting with an online RSS feed aggregators, mainly because I don’t use one.

Getting NewsFlash

The easiest way to install it is to use your Linux distribution’s software centre. You can also install it using Flatpak and as a snap.

The choice is yours. Make it the one that’s best for you.

Running NewsFlash

When you first start NewsFlash, this window displays:

NewsFlash when you first start it

You can select an online account with which to sync. I clicked Local RSS and this screen displayed:

NewsFlash waiting for some RSS feeds

The interface is quite compact. NewsFlash has three panes — the left one list your feeds, the middle lists the articles or posts in a feed, and the right pane displays the article or post that you select in middle pane. Here’s an example:

Reading an article in NewsFlash

But I’m getting ahead of myself. How do you get RSS feeds into NewsFlash? Let’s say you have an OPML file (the file format used to describe RSS feeds) that you’ve saved from another feed reader. You can import it into NewsFlash. To do that, click the stacker menu and then select Import OPML. Find the file and then click Open. Depending on how many feed the OPML file contains, the import process can take 30 seconds or more.

I did that with one exported from Newsboat and NewFlash didn’t always recognize the categories that I use to group my feeds. I needed to create the categories (by clicking the + icon and then selecting Category). From there, I had to edit the feed’s description to move it into the correct category. That was done individually — there’s no bulk edit.

If you’re new to RSS, you can can click + in header bar of the left pane and select Feed. In the dialog box that opens, paste the URL of the feed and click Parse, as shown below:

The first part of adding a feed in NewsFlash

After few seconds, if all goes well, second dialog box opens. You can edit name of feed and put it into a category to better organize feeds, as shown below:

The second part of adding a feed in NewsFlash

As I mentioned earlier in this post, you can also connect NewsFlash to one of these third-party readers: Miniflux, fever, FreshRSS, and Newsblur.

Discovering Feeds

If you’re looking for something new, then select the Discover Feeds option under the hamburger menu. When you do that, NewsFlash searches Feedly’s RSS library for feeds that might interest you based on a keyword or hashtag that you enter. Here’s an example:

Discovering feeds using the hashtag RSS

I don’t use this option at the moment — I have more than enough to wade through with feeds to which I currently subscribe.

Reading Feeds

Once you have feeds and their articles loaded, reading them is just a matter of selecting an article in the middle frame. It can take a second or two for the article to load. If you’re impatient and don’t want to wait for NewsFlash to check for new feeds, you can click the Refresh Content button in the header bar of the middle pane to force a check, as shown below:

The Refresh Content button in NewsFlash

Some feeds only show first few lines or first couple of paragraphs of article, like this one:

A truncated article in NewsFlash

That has nothing to do with NewsFlash and everything to do with the feed itself. But there is a way to try to get around that: click Try to Show Full Content button (highlighted in the image above). NewsFlash tries to scrape the web page on the other end of the feed and pull in all of the text on that page. That works most of the time. Here’s the article above after clicking the Try to Show Full Content button:

A scraped article in NewsFlash

Making NewsFlash Your Own

As you might expect, NewsFlash has several configuration options. Maybe not enough for those who like very fine control over their software, but those options are more than good enough for most of us.

What’s below isn’t a complete list, mainly because there are many options that I don’t use.

To change the options, click the stacker menu and then select Preferences. This screen displays:

Changing preferences in NewsFlash

You can change:

One Bit of Strangeness

That comes when starting up NewsFlash, which I’ve got set up to refresh my feeds when it starts up. Sometimes, the application displays a message stating it can’t sync:

NewsFlash can’t sync error

When I click the details button on the message, I’m told the sync failed because I’m not online. Here’s an example:

NewsFlash telling me I’m not online

The problem is that I am online. I’m not sure why that error occurs. But I find that when it does, I need to restart NewsFlash once or twice for it to do its thing. This doesn't happen when I turn off the function to sync at startup and manually refresh my feeds.

Final Thoughts

NewsFlash is still being developed, so it’s (obviously) not as mature as some other desktop RSS readers or their web-based counterparts. It still has a few wrinkles that need to be ironed out. But NewsFlash shows more than a little promise. It’s fast, easy to use, and doesn’t look all that bad either.

NewsFlash probably isn’t going to appeal to crowd who believe they need every feature — including syncing with whatever their favourite tools are — that a developer can pack into a RSS feed reader. But if your needs are simple, or you’re just getting started using RSS, then NewsFlash is a good choice.

While I like NewsFlash, I’m not entirely sure that I’m going to ditch Newsboat for it. That said, I will be using both in parallel for the foreseeable future.

Scott Nesbitt