On occasion, reporters will question why they have to report on a certain story. "It's small stuff," they'll say. "There's bigger stuff out there that we should be doing," another might say. Others may question why there's so much emphasis on local news. . . after all, there's "big news in the world that should be on page 1!" "We should be running more wire stories," some might say. You can make local news be the big stuff if you commit to it.
1. Your hometown matters You may not consider every story you write to be news of importance, but your readers do. In his essay, Why Your Hometown Matters, Roy Peter Clark from the Poynter Institute writes: "Always remember that many people love your new hometown, and you will be a better journalist if you can learn to love it too." He adds, "If you report like you are going to live in your hometown forever, you will commit better journalism."
2. 'Community' newspapers cover the community 'Community' means everything from social teas and strawberry socials to fires and major crimes. 'Community' reporters know their audience and the fact that subscribers belong to many clubs and groups, or have interest in 'community' happenings. Their news is our news. Want to fail to capture their excitement during your interview? Show little enthusiasm. Readers read our newspaper, but they can also 'read' attitude. Be upbeat. Show interest in your community.
3. Nobody can cover the 'local' angle like you can Don't rehash what your local readers have already heard on the nightly TV news or in the 'big city' newspaper. Odds are, they've already heard the big spin. What they haven't heard is: How does this affect me? How does this affect my community? Only you can give them the uniquely local angle they won't get anywhere else. Get the name of your community high up in your stories so readers have an immediate connection with the story.
4. Don't be a 'news snob' The journalist who tackles assignments with enthusiasm is a journalist who makes a positive impression in the community. News snobs consider certain assignments to be beneath them. What in fact a news snob is doing is thinking lesser of their community. Your community is important. Period. The journalist who tackles assignments with enthusiasm is a journalist who will go far (and showcase that he/she is versatile).
5. The only newspaper on Earth dedicated to. . . The Guelph Mercury once trumpeted a slogan on its front page: The only newspaper on Earth dedicated to Guelph. Sure, it's cute. But it should be a lesson for most newspapers. Our community's name is in our newspaper flag. If readers wanted big city news, they'd subscribe to another newspaper. They subscribe to your newspaper because they want local news and your newspaper is the only one on Earth dedicated to their community.
6. Names, names, names Readers will only feel a connection to your stories if you provide the link that lets them know how they are connected. So what does that mean? Include town names, street names, street locations of buildings, etc. Too many times, reporters forget to tell readers in what community does a person live, where a factory is located, etc.
7. What's next? Never forget to tell your readers what will happen next. Maybe it's the date for a followup meeting where a decision could be made. Maybe it's telling readers when a report will be released. Don't leave readers guessing after they read your story and wondering, "So, what happens next?" Tell them. Your reporting is a resource for the community.
8. Expand your sources If you're going back to the same sources over and over again, you're in recycling mode. Don't rely on the same people because you know them, or you know they'll talk. A reporter who doesn't cultivate new sources is a reporter who confines themselves to a small circle and limited viewpoints. Give readers variety. Don't be predictable in who you include in your stories. It's a big community out there. Get in touch with it.
9. Treat 'local' news like it's the 'big' stuff Cynics will always think otherwise, but what's happening in your community is the 'big stuff.' It's big because it's about your community. Local is local. Whether it's a city of 1.1 million or county of 60,000. Look through any metro daily on any given day and you'll find stories that 'news snobs' will label as 'non-stories.' Fact is, community news is community news is community news. No matter where you live. The only difference is that in a small community that 'community news' usually moves closer to page 1 than at a metro daily. Another reason why it's our 'big stuff.'
10. Know your readership Are you writing a story for one town, or an entire county? If it's a general story, have you expanded your reporting to include more than one community? Don't get stuck writing for just the town name that's in your newspaper's flag. It's likely that your readers extend far beyond just that town. Perhaps the issue affects more than just one town. Imagine how readers feel when stories are directed at one town? "What about us?" they ask. Make your stories relevant to as many communities as possible.