How to make money by writing newsworthy anniversary articles

Each month from now on we’re going to pick one of the anniversaries from our monthly listings (see last week’s post), see how many article ideas we can come up with, and think about where we might be able to sell them.

We’ll be discussing the anniversaries 6 months in advance, so you’ll have time to carry out further research and write the articles. If you need to work further ahead, each Date-A-Base Book covers an entire year and includes considerably more anniversaries than we list on this blog.

This month’s example is taken from the January listing in The Date-A-Base Book 2016. The entry for 9th January 1816 (200 years ago), when the British chemist and inventor Sir Humphrey Davy first tested his miners’ safety lamp, caught my eye.

This entry is pretty newsworthy in itself, being a 200th anniversary. An article about it should be welcomed by national newspapers, general magazines, science magazines, news websites, science and invention websites, and so on.

Davy was Cornish, so you could write a feature on his life, inventions and legacy for a Cornish or south-west regional newspaper and the county magazine.

The newspaper(s) covering the specific part of Cornwall where he was born (Penzance) should also be interested in an article that not only chronicles his life and achievements but looks at the school he went to, the house he lived in, his early life in the town, and so on. (The current secondary school in Penzance is named in his honour.) He then went to Truro Grammar School, about 30 miles away, and that city will have its own local newspaper(s), so there’s scope for an additional (but more or less identical) article there, since the readerships of the local newspapers serving these two towns is unlikely to overlap to any great extent.

Davy tested his lamp at Hebburn Colliery, Tyne and Wear, in north-east England, so you could also write articles for a north-east regional newspaper and for the county magazine for Tyne and Wear, as well as the local newspaper(s) covering Hebburn. The readerships may overlap here, so you’ll need to write different articles, explore different angles, and so on. One article might look at the impact his lamp (and other safety lamps) had on mining, while another might chronicle his life, and a third article might look at his other discoveries, quickly mentioning the anniversary of the lamp test as a hook to get the article started.

Although many people know him only for his miners’ safety lamp, did you know that it wasn’t particularly successful? It restricted the amount of light emitted by the candle, and miners disliked how dim it was. The gauze inside the lamp that prevented methane explosions deteriorated rapidly in the wet conditions inside mines and soon stopped working, so the explosions still kept happening. I’m sure most people don’t know about this (I certainly didn’t until I read about it a moment ago), so it would be well worth writing about. You could also write about the causes of mine explosions, other developments in mine lighting and safety, rescue techniques, successful and unsuccessful rescues, well known people (or close relatives of well known people) who lost their lives in mine explosions and might have survived if they’d had better equipment, celebrities who had former careers as miners, and so on.

There are trade magazines covering the mining and chemical industries, and there are chemistry journals and science magazines which would be worth contacting to see if they’d like an article about the test, the lamp, or Davy’s life and discoveries. School/educational magazines and history magazines might be also be interested. Some mining museums might be interested in paying you to write an article for their website or newsletter.

The safety lamp is just one aspect of Davy’s life, and many people now regard his other discoveries and achievements as being far more important. These will all be worth writing about, but you can use the 200th anniversary of his safety lamp test as the hook that makes them newsworthy in January 2016.

For example, he pioneered the use of electrolysis to split compounds into their separate elements, and through this he discovered sodium and potassium. This is hugely important, and you could write about what these elements have been used for since he discovered them and what we use them for today. You could also explore the electrolysis process in more detail or look at other elements that can be separated using it – such as hydrogen and oxygen from the electrolysis of water. He was also the first person to isolate magnesium, boron and barium; he discovered that chlorine was an element – and he gave it its name; he was the first person to identify iodine; he also proved that diamond is a form of carbon. These are all important elements and discoveries and would be well worth writing about.

He became well known for demonstrating laughing gas (nitrous oxide) during his popular lectures, and his friend, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was an enthusiastic participant in his experiments. You could write about the use of this gas as an anaesthetic (and its other uses) and go on to discuss other historic and modern forms of anaesthesia. You could also write about popular lectures and famous demonstrations – particularly those involving famous people, or ones that went spectacularly or disastrously wrong.

As well as his scientific achievements, he was one of the founders of London Zoo – which will be well worth an article. He is also known as ‘the father of modern fly-fishing’ – so there’s scope for another article here, for publication in the various angling magazines around the world

Davy damaged his eyesight in a laboratory accident, so you could write about this and how it affected him. You could also explore the development of eye protection, look at everyday household chemicals which are hazardous to eyesight, and so on. You should be able to find all sorts of markets for these articles, including national newspapers and general magazines; women’s magazines; trade magazines for opticians, chemists, engineers, healthcare workers; and more – both in your own country and internationally.

All of these articles can begin by mentioning the 200th anniversary of the safety lamp test, and then continue: ‘Although Davy is remembered for his safety lamp he also…’ or: ‘You might not know that Davy also…’ and then you can go on to discuss whichever other aspect of his life or work you want to talk about.

All of this information came from the Wikipedia page about him. That page also has links to several related pages, references and a bibliography. You could also look him up in Encyclopaedia Britannica or the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, or have a quick skim through a book about his life. You can do all of these things in just a few minutes, and they will all undoubtedly lead to ideas for further articles.

Note: neither Wikipedia nor Encyclopaedia Britannica are known for being 100% reliable, so it’s important to cross-check your facts with other sources. But if both Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica give the same information then it should be safe to trust it.
In case you don’t manage to sell all of these articles (or can’t get them all commissioned before writing them), or you don’t have time to write them all, don’t throw anything away – you can use it all again in the future. Davy died in 1829, so the 200th anniversary of his death (in May 2029) isn’t that far away (14 years at the time of writing). Make a note of this date and where you’ve kept your articles and notes, as you should be able to sell everything then. If anything, the demand for articles about him will be even greater at that time, and you should also be able to resell the articles that were published the first time around. There will also undoubtedly be many TV documentaries and radio features about him then, which you could write or contribute to.

Tip: Never throw away your articles or ideas, and always keep copies of the articles you’ve had published. You never know when you might be able to sell them again! It’s a good idea to store everything in a secure place and index it all so you can find it easily.

You’ll find lots more tips on how to write and sell newsworthy anniversary articles in our free ebook Ditch Your Day Job – the Easiest Way to Make a Living as a Writer.

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