I wrote last week about monitoring social media for things that matter to the PR person, and what tools might work best to do the job. In the comments that developed below that post, the issue of whether to pay for a media monitoring tool if your feeds take up "too much time" came up, and I have some thoughts on that.
To set out my point of view concisely, I'd compare the argument to traditional media monitoring. Many PR firms pay for press monitoring, but they'd be crap PR people if they didn't read a large amount of media. Looking for issues and current affairs is done through living and breathing the media. In the same vein you might pay for someone else to track web feeds for you if it's too time consuming, but the real value is lost.
I've spent far too many years working with feeds to let me see what's happening in my field, the my clients' business areas and for out-of-work stuff. It's just part of how I consume media now to be honest. "RSS hell" it ain't.
I know there are paid ways of short-circuiting the process of web feed reading and I expect the reason many PR people would prefer that option is because when RSS becomes high volume (and in my opinion for what it's worth, RSS was designed for high volume) it takes just too much time to get up to speed.
But the bigger picture is social media is not just about who says what, it's about connecting and social networking. That's what will separate the reporting monkey from the consultant. So for that networking, engagement and for the stuff you learn which you can apply as a consultant, I'd go for the long hand approach any day, and urge PR consultants to learn long hand too.