Use free public-domain content to boost your Web site
Published: November 13, 2007
|If you maintain a Web site or blog, free public-domain content is at your fingertips. Even if you enjoy writing most of the content yourself, adding outside content will not only save you time, it will also broaden your subject matter. Expertise and commentary abound on the Web; you just have to know how to look for it.|
Updating and expanding content is a plus whether you have a site devoted to a single topic or whether you have an author site designed to introduce your books and freelance skills.
If you have a hobby- or passion-driven site covering a topic like politics, animal welfare causes, parenting or celebrity gossip, content is widely available. And even if you've narrowed your niche or you cover another topic, you're still in luck.
The federal government is a great place to look for free content for topics like politics, criminal justice, health care, national security, and just about any other subject. Agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Homeland Security--indeed, all major agencies at the federal and state levels--have press releases and/or media rooms offering free information. These sites often have photos available, as well. These areas will always be clearly marked, with terms such as Press Room, Media Room, News Releases or News Room as a link on the front page.
With the presidential primaries approaching, political bloggers can have a field day by visiting each presidential candidate's site, as well as not-for-profit sites that act as consumer watchdogs. These sites also clearly mark press-room and/or media-room content.
All major corporations have Web sites, and they offer the same press package as government and not-for-profits. They clearly mark content as Press Releases or Press Room.
To locate content for your site, simply enter terms like "press room + (insert agency, corporation or not-for-profit name) and you will find many links. If you're looking for a corporate site, add the word "corporate" or "investor" to your search string. That way you won't get sent to the consumer site for the company.
For free video content, Google and YouTube offer videos complete with embed links. You just copy and paste the link onto your site and you get a visual of the video. Your reader can watch it right there on your site and hang around to read your other content.
While you're indulging in freebies, bear a few things in mind.
Be sure to stick with material clearly noted for public use--Press Room, Press Releases and the other terms noted throughout this column.
It's a good idea to always credit the source of your information, even if it's in the public domain. Always date your material; that is a plus to any student or other writer who wants to cite you as an information source. It's a good idea to tweak any release, so that your readers can find what they're interested in without too much effort. I did a story about officiating in a Southeastern Conference college football game. Since the story didn't involve a team from Florida (where I live), I hooked it to my readership with a headline focusing on the SEC officials because top Florida teams like the University of Florida Gators belong to the SEC. I found quite a few pieces of information at the SEC Web site. I was rewarded for my diligence. More than 400 unique visitors came to read over a period of several hours.
If you're doing commentary rather than straight news, include a subtitle so your reader knows she's getting your opinion rather than unbiased information. I use "Commentary" or "Opinion" in all caps to make sure the reader knows I'm trying to persuade rather than simply inform.
There's never been better time to be a writer or an author. Even if you have a simple author or freelance site, you can always expand your reader's experience by providing outside information relevant to your field of expertise or interest. Maintaining your own site keeps you in touch with readers and editors. You'll be surprised who comes to read your blog or site, and you'll be surprised at the e-mail you get when you touch a nerve.
Sometimes I get e-mails that have great original content. I ask permission of the sender to share it with my readers. You should always ask for written permission if you plan to use an e-mail publicly.
Free, public-domain content can be found for any subject floating in cyberspace. You just have to look carefully and use your content wisely.
Follow the links to find content
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture
Press Room link is on front page. Also links to food recalls, because the Food Safety and Inspection Service is part of the USDA. You may register for free e-mail updates. I've scooped national media when a topic was hot simply by dogging the site to catch the release the minute it's posted.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Press Room link is on front page. Register for free e-mail updates. News releases pertain to different regions in the U.S. Always a good story here.
Humane Society of the U.S.
Broadcast-quality video footage, as well as standard press releases. Not-for-profit society working on behalf of animals. Really good content here.
Web sites for three major U.S. political parties; tons of free content, as you might expect. Accessible from front page by links to Press Releases, Press and/or Media Room.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Images and written content; NASA even blogs each space-shuttle launch. Tons of topics here, with a great multimedia section.
--Nov. 13, 2007
My next Web Savvy focuses on hooking your hometown news to a national topic. How do you get invited to celebrity events? How do you tweak a local issue so that it speaks to the national interest?