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Newsstand in Your Pocket: See and Hear Current Events on Your iPod

by J.D. Biersdorfer, author of iPod: The Missing Manual

World events are spinning so fast lately that it's easy to get pitched over the handlebars on the 24-Hour News Cycle and land face down on the Sidewalk of Outdated Information. While working on my recent book, iPod: The Missing Manual, though, I realized that Apple's personable little digital music player was a bonafide pocket-size information machine that could keep me knowledgeable of the news, even when I was stuck on the New York City subway system, or waiting in line to see Pirates of the Caribbean again.

Some people don't care what's going on around them, but there are those of us who mainline headlines and become noticeably disoriented without regular infusions of CNN and Google News. I happen to work at a newspaper, so I can marinate in the wires and the Web all day, but I still get fidgety about possibly missing something when I'm out running around. Also, I hardly ever have time to sit at my desk and read through non-breaking stories, like commentary, trend features, or those deep-think pieces on current events.

With an iPod, you can get the news in two ways: by reading it on the screen, or by listening to it through the ear buds. The best part about all this is that it doesn't cost gobs of money, either, and you don't have to have one of the new 2003 iPods with the handy Notes feature for reading text files. All you need is a bit of shareware here and there, and an Internet connection.

Related Reading

iPod: The Missing Manual
By J.D. Biersdorfer

As part of its transformation into handheld newsstand and reading room, you'll also need to enable your iPod as a FireWire disk and have it connected to the computer. To get those special FireWire powers, connect the iPod to the computer. For Mac users, click on the iPod-shaped iPod preferences button in the bottom of the iTunes window and check "Enable FireWire disk use." For Windows users with MUSICMATCH Jukebox Plus, click on the Options button of the Portables Plus window that pops up when the iPod is connected to the PC. Click on the iPod tab in the Options box and check the box for FireWire disk use.

Web Pages on Your iPod, Courtesy of Apple

If you do happen to be the proud owner of a brand spankin' new 2003 iPod and use a Mac running OS X 10.2 (Jaguar), Apple has created a free AppleScript that can copy the text of a Web page right into your iPod's Notes folder for reading on the run. To get to this script, just download Apple's iPod Scripts collection at There's not much muss or fuss to installing them--just put the downloaded iPod scripts folder in your home directory, as in Home -> Library -> Scripts.

Apple's "Note from Webpage" AppleScript works with its own Safari browser. To copy the text from a Web page (like say a long article from or the BBC's news site) that you don't have time to read right there, click the link for a "printer-friendly" version. Most news sites have this option to see the page text unadorned by banners, Flash files, and other bells and whistles. Again, make sure your iPod is connected to the Mac and in FireWire disk mode.

To run the script, just go to the Script Menu in the Mac's toolbar (it looks like a little black scroll) to iPod -> Note from Webpage -> Printer Friendly. You'll be asked to give the file a name, and then the Web page will be copied to the iPod. If the file is too long for the iPod's Notes program to handle--about four kilobytes is the max--it'll get broken up into linked chunks. As you scroll to the end of a section and hit the NEXT PAGE line on the screen, tap the iPod's Select button to jump to the next segment of the file.

To dump old files out of your iPod's Notes folder when you're done with them, drag them to the Mac's Trash the next time you connect the iPod. You can also wipe them all out by running the Clear All Notes script that comes with the iPod Scripts collection.

Keeping Up with the News on Older iPods

If you're pressed for time or using an older iPod, you can automate your news-gathering chores with shareware. If you're also broke, in addition to being pressed for time, Pod2Go is a delightful freeware that can pull news summaries, stock quotes, weather forecasts, movie listings, driving directions, horoscopes, and other desired text files over to the iPod. Since the first- and second-generation iPods don't have the Notes feature, Pod2Go, and most of the utilities mentioned here will create files within the iPod's Contacts folder and list them by title at the top of your contacts list. I like the summaries from Wired News, BBC News, and CNET, and I also download the daily weather forecast for New York City as well as a poem from the Random Tao Teaching site each morning.

Figure 1. With Pod2Go, you can select the news sources you want to read on your iPod, along with weather forecasts for a specific area, your own stock quotes, and even text files of your choice. Once you've set up everything the way you like it, just click the large Sync button on the left to transfer the data to your connected iPod.

MyPod is another program that rounds up news and headlines, and also adds in downloadable movie listings, song lyrics, and directions to your iPod's repertoire. There's a free trial version available on the site, and the program only cost about $15 to buy if you decide you like it.

If you're a hard-core Entourage user, you might want to consider iPod It, which is great at culling the things you need from your PIM program, and also harvesting news and weather data from the Web to read on your iPod. The software costs about $15, and can also yank over copies of messages form Apple's Mail program, text from desktop Stickies, and theme-based subscription calendars from

Although the aforementioned programs are for Mac OS X, Windows iPodders are not without a news source. EphPod, the friendly little freeware program that many WinPodders prefer over MUSICMATCH Jukebox for song-management software, also does news and weather. Click on the Configure EphPod button on the main screen and then click on Download Options to set up your preferences for news and weather feeds to sate your information needs.

Figure 2. Click the "Configure EphPod" button to call up the program's settings box, and then click the Download Options tab to select your preferred news sources. To send the news to your iPod, click the Download News button in the EphPod toolbar.

News Can Be Music to Your Ears

If you prefer to hear the news instead of read it, you have a few options as well. Although it's a subscription service and not free, has audio editions of both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal that brings the news in that day's paper right to your iPod's playlist. You can sign up for a free month to try out the service. Once you have an Audible account, you can either buy programs as you wish, or join one of the company's inexpensive subscription plans where you can get one audio book and one audio periodical for as little as $15 a month. also has radio programs like National Public Radio's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, This American Life, and other regular shows and spoken-word versions of magazines like the Harvard Business Review and Scientific American.

The company's content works on all models of both Macintosh and Windows iPods now. Apple recently released iPod Software Update 1.3 for older Windows iPods, which finally brings them up to speed with the Mac folks and owners of 2003 WinPods. If you have a 2002 Windows iPod and haven't updated your iPod software, go here to snag a copy.

While Macintosh users can use iTunes to manage and move their Audible files, Windows users will need to get the AudibleManager program. The iPod works with Audible Formats 2, 3, and 4, which increase in file size and audio quality the higher the format number. Even though a broadband connection makes downloading audio files quite zippy, the Format 2 files can squeeze through a dial-up connection as well. For example, the smaller Format 2 version of The New York Times Audio Digest averages about three megabytes in size, which isn't too horribly painful if you start the download before you jump in the shower and collect the iPod on your way out the door to work.

If you want a more do-it-yourself approach to audio news on the iPod and yo're a Mac Jaguar user, consider iSpeak It by Michael Zapp, the same gentleman who created the iPod It program mentioned above. With iSpeak It, which has a requested shareware fee of about $10, you can turn just about any text document into a spoken-word audio file by way of the Mac's text-to-speech feature. These new spoken-word audio files can be copied to iTunes and over to the iPod, making it possible to have your iPod dutifully recite news reports, weather forecasts, email messages, and other documents to you.

iSpeak It
Figure 3. Just click the iTunes logo on the iSpeak It toolbar to start converting a text document into an audio file that you can listen to in iTunes or on your iPod.

Of course, these may mean fiddling with the Mac's Speech control panel to get a voice and pace that appeals to your sensibilities, but you can access the Speech control panel and test out sample documents right within iSpeak It. The latest version of the program also has an area called Replacement Rules where you can type in more phonetically accurate alternatives. (I really wish Apple would one day figure out how to accurately synthesize Dame Judi Dench's voice for all my text-to-speech needs, but I have a feeling I'll be waiting awhile for that one.)

Everyone has a saturation point, however, and there are times when good news is no news. When you've had your fill of the world, the iPod is still there waiting for you as a jukebox of all your favorite songs. Scroll up a playlist and turn up the volume to escape from it all -- even if it's just for a little while.

J.D. Biersdorfer is the author of iPod: The Missing Manual and The iPod Shuffle Fan Book, and is co-author of The Internet: The Missing Manual and the second edition of Google: The Missing Manual. She has been writing the weekly computer Q&A column for the Circuits section of The New York Times since 1998.

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