Have you lost yours yet? Maybe you just used it as a coaster for your morning coffee or to wipe your windows on a writing-procrastination cleaning binge (we’ve all been there.) Whether you bemoaned the pages full of adverts or enjoyed the old school approach to romance in the classifieds, research from the Press Gazette found 40 local print newspapers closed in the UK in 2017. The local newspaper for my home town – a clipping of me holding a certificate was cut from this paper and remains to this day on my mother’s fridge – has just announced its end.
Although I’m not asking you to start a handwritten photocopied zine devoted to the awful consequences of the death of print (it’s probably much easier to make a website anyway – just kidding!) the loss of a local newspaper does create a hole in communities that digital doesn’t quite fill. Yes, earlier closing of newsrooms due to budget cuts meant local papers were often behind on news and yes, there were a lot of pages devoted to double glazing deals. But when the source of news becomes exclusively via websites there is a danger that news reporting creeps further towards the reporters themselves existing only online.
Print local newspapers might have had their day, but the physical presence of a journalist at community events like council meetings, football games, and school ceremonies is a gift. Here are five reasons why we need our local news reporters, freelance writers, and anyone craving a good story to be there in the flesh and at the center of the action.
1. Regurgitated press releases are fascinating
How readers love to look at thrilling quotes from CEOs like “We are very excited about this next stage in our business venture,” and a 5% off for a limited period sale presented as a story. That’s sarcasm, by the way. Nobody likes this. OK, some press releases contain vibrant quotes and are about genuinely interesting topics but that means it’s essential to find out more in person. You can put together a standard piece from the press release, or you can go down there and develop the story. Ask questions of colorful characters that elicit interesting quotes, film some video footage (video is apparently the future, after all) and take some bright photographs.
2. Performers want people to care
We can’t all win Oscars or make millions off a blockbuster movie, but we do want to be entertained at an affordable price. Amateur dramatics, open mic nights, and public performances are a service that survives through the toughest economic crises. A journalist attending a performance to write a review adds a touch of glamour and showbiz – the excited whispers from performers of “The critics are in tonight!” and anticipation to see if they were name-dropped in the finished article is a great motivation. Instead of just listing the shows at the local theatre, ask if you can review them and to speak to the performers after. Think of all the likes and shares you’ll get from friends and family members if you write a positive review. And, of course, the angry comments and hate-shares if you decide to write a scathing one.
3. Sudden news is caught as it happens
The idea of attending your local council meeting might appeal only to desperate insomniacs and those interested in increasing their daydreaming skills so it’s tempting to just scan the minutes for a story. However, the journalist who chooses to do this misses out on witnessing the big punch-up that happens in the lobby afterward, or the furious councilor who decides to share a tip with you because he’s annoyed at the opposition. These are the stories people want to read. The dullest event can kick off without warning – don’t you want to be able to say you were there? Local people who attend to ask questions can add the human element to your finished piece, and humanizing your content increases engagement.
4. Power to the people
It’s common for people to only interact with their neighbors when they’re reluctantly knocking on their door to ask if they accepted the delivery of a parcel. A sense of a local community is vital for reducing the loneliness epidemic and for making real change in how things are run. If a journalist turns up to a community protest or strike it empowers those involved who then feel listened to and politically active. Writers have a superpower of making ordinary people newsworthy and spreading important messages to a wider audience. What looked from social media like it would be an inconsequential protest might become the story of the moment which gets picked up by the nationals. Becoming the media spokesperson for causes you care about can help you to find your creative voice.
5. Become a J[ourna]-list celebrity
A writer who interacts with their community will become known as the one to tell whenever anything goes down. People will bow when they see you, drinks will be on the house, and utmost respected is guaranteed wherever you go. OK, maybe not, but a public presence is key for building your reputation as the go-to writer for tip-offs and story ideas. You create opportunities for people to trust you when whistleblowing, ask you to edit the novel they want to self-publish, write their memoir, or interview their famous cousin. Contact forms on news websites can be off-putting to people who believe their idea is boring or that the submissions never get read. Having a real person who your audience knows takes the time to share in their lives will keep those stories rolling in, and nurturing these relationships helps you to identify what your audience wants to read.
Despite the constant threat of the inevitable evil robot-takeover, there is always a place for human interaction in sourcing the best, most relevant stories. Becoming an active member of your local community can boost a writer’s confidence so contact your local theatre, start attending those group meetings, and dig deeper to discover the untold story from press releases. Get out there and be seen.
About the writer:
Siobhan Wood is an NCTJ trained journalist and experienced ghostwriter who writes as the Killer Whale Content Writer. Siobhan creates in-depth blog posts, thought leadership articles, and eBooks for startups, small business owners, and entrepreneurs who want to make the world a better place.