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A Wealth of Ideas from NewsReaders
by Sarah E. White

Writers who want to make steady money should always be looking for new sources of salable ideas in their writing niches. Luckily, technology is always providing ways to make our lives easier by giving us more information with little effort on our part. It doesn’t take a lot of tech savvy to make the latest information-gathering tool—RSS news feeds—work for you.

You’ve probably seen the bright orange rectangles on sites all over the web saying XML or RSS and wondered what they were for. These tags indicate that the site’s updates can be delivered to your desktop by a newsreader. These feeds are an endless source of information and potential story ideas for writers, whether you write about charities or entertainment, religion or decorating.

In the first week after I set up a newsreader on my computer, I received information that led me to story ideas on super commuters, bone density and stress reduction, among others. These queries were sent to business, health and parenting magazines and I hope they will lead to several sales. Almost every day I see something that strikes me as a worthy story idea.

But what is RSS? RSS is a shorthand way to talk about several similar kinds of syndication services. Any web site that has distinguishable parts that are updated can use this service to deliver changes to their readers. It’s often used by news organizations and bloggers to get information to their loyal readers quickly. You’ll know a site offers this service when it has the XML logo, which refers to the programming language used to make these feeds available.

The benefit to you is that you don’t have to check web sites that use RSS for updates if you have the sites on your feed list. The new news or information will pop up on your newsreader throughout the day. A newsreader is a program that watches the sites you ask it to watch and displays the updates in a window on your computer’s desktop. There are numerous newsreaders (also known as aggregators) out there, including versions for Mac (NewsFire, NetNewsWire) Windows (SharpReader, FeedDemon) and Linux (Straw, AmphetaDesk). There are also readers you can set up to read on the web or to deliver you a daily e-mail including all the news you want. Do a web search for "rss readers" to find out more about them.

To get started using RSS, you need to download one of these readers to your desktop. The programs don’t take up a lot of space and if you have a fast Internet connection you won’t notice the program running as you work on other things. You will need to search for sites with RSS feeds to best target the niche you are interested in. You can search the web simply for RSS feeds if you’d like to get a general view of the kinds of feeds out there, or for something more specific like "RSS feeds health" or "RSS feeds business" to get information specific to your niche. Browse rssreader.com or feedroom.com to find an array of feeds divided by category.

To start collecting news from a site, right click on the orange rectangle (or a link if you are on a page with multiple feeds) and choose "copy shortcut." Go to your newsreader and add the link to your list of feeds using the "add feed" or "add channel" option. If your mouse only has one button, clicking on the link will open a web page that looks like a big mess. Don’t try to read it. This is actually the feed, the content that your newsreader will collect and display in a readable way on your computer. Just copy the web address from this page and add it to your reader.

Newsreaders are a great way to pick up news from many different sources, but RSS feeds are also used by many bloggers to get information to their readers even faster than if they had to visit the site several times a day. Blogs can be another source for story ideas because people who write blogs often have very specialized topics and write about things the general media isn’t covering, which you can spin off in different directions.

There is no limit to the number of feeds you can collect from. Yahoo even allows you to build your own news feed just by giving it a keyword (astronomy, manufacturing). It’s easy to see how this would allow you to follow the news in your area of expertise, letting you craft queries that include up-to-the-minute information. You might find, for instance, a story about a study that says parents need to be made more aware of the potential danger of scalding accidents (this actually came across my news reader recently). Using the study as a news peg, you might write an article for a parenting magazine about how to prevent scalds or how to teach your children kitchen safety. Given stories like this about your areas of interest each day, your mind will start to spin off and combine ideas for all sorts of potential stories.

You can also use your newsreader to keep up with general news and other web sites you frequently visit. It may take some time to get all your favorites loaded into your reader, but once you have a complete list your time spent on the Internet will become more productive because you won’t have to surf to all those sites but you will still get all the information you want. So you’ll have even more time for writing up those great story ideas and making more money from your writing.

Keep an eye out for RSS feeds on your favorite sites. They can offer you a lot of information fast, and might just give you some great story ideas.

© Copyright 2005, Sarah E. White

Sarah E. White is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Arkansas. She is the author of Doing the Write Thing: The Easy Way to Self-Edit (easywaytowrite.com/selfediting.html) and can be reached at saraheg13@hotmail.com.

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