Rescue Your Local Newspaper

Local newspapers are hurting. Though still the major source of news and information for most communities, many locally published newspapers are losing audience and ad revenue. This means they must cut staff – usually reporters – just to stay alive.

This provides an aggressive citizen journalist with a significant opportunity. Local papers, large and small, are actively soliciting the help of citizen journalists – people just like you – to help them cover a variety of news events.

You may be able to rescue your local newspaper by covering a certain beat in your community – and you might even get paid for it. Here’s what to do:

First of all, pick a beat. Get several editions of your local paper. Page through them and notice what is getting covered. Then ask yourself what is NOT getting covered like it used to. It could be school events, news on main street, the police blotter, etc. The area that you sense is being neglected by the newspaper might be just the beat that you could cover. I can promise you this, they are not covering it because they don’t want to. They are not covering it because of limited resources. You can become that resource.

Next, research, source and write a couple of news stories in the area of your greatest interest. Let’s say your local paper is not covering the summer sports leagues like it used to and you like sports. Write a feature article about a team’s coach, a star player or maybe a mascot. Write one or two short news stories about last night’s games.

Here’s an important tip: Write your articles using AP style. Write like a journalist not like a PR person. If you need help writing your article, purchase your copy of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” where most of your questions will be answered.

Your next task will to prepare a “one sheeter” – sort of a resume about yourself. It doesn’t need to be exhaustive, just informative so the editor can easily get to know you.

Then call your editor and say, “Hello, I’m ______, a long-time resident of Lake City. I have a little journalism experience (or writing experience) and some samples of my work. I would like to offer my services to the Lake City Herald as a citizen journalist. Could we make an appointment to meet and visit about the possibilities? I’ll bring in some samples of my work. What time and day works best for you?”

When you meet, hand the editor your one-sheeter. This gives the editor a quick review of who you are. It will be a springboard for further discussion. Tell the editor your particular area of interest and show your writing samples.    

Don’t be afraid to ask about payment for your services. Don’t expect an offer of $75k per year, a car allowance and a corner office with a view. Expect to be first put on some kind of probation with a follow-up interview sometime later to discuss a (probably modest) pay-per-word or pay-per-story arrangement. Before you will be paid for your work, the editor will want to see some consistency, good reporting and the ability to meet deadlines.

Most of all, the editor will want to see quality work that requires little editing on his/her part. Citizen journalists around the globe are filling the gap made because of newspaper staff reductions. This is your opportunity. Take it. Act on it. Do it today!