|Writing for a weekly newspaper provides valuable lessons for writers of all genres.|
I was 16 years old, determined to go to law school and eventually, write the Great American Novel.
Fast forward four decades. I'm a full-time freelancer, working the regional beat for the area's daily newspaper. I write for other publications, too, but when you write from the comforts of your home office, you develop your own rhythm.
In July, the local weekly (which owns three weekly papers covering four communities) asked if I could cover a few stories. In November, I was named managing news editor of the Clearwater Record-Ewing News. Now, these two towns are separated by approximately eight miles on the highway. One has a population of approximately 387; the other, 419, based on 2010 census records.
Working on this weekly newspaper has taught and reminded me of several key lessons that are pertinent to writers of any genre.
- Know and use the stylebook. No matter what publication I write for, they use a specific stylebook (AP, CMS, etc.) and some take it to another level and have their own stylebook based on the original. If you are unsure of a writing rule, use the stylebook. It will make the proofreader's job so much easier!
- Determine your audience. The weekly has a wide age range of readers. We cover school events of all sorts, we cover town news stories (think human interest), and we cover what I consider breaking news items - fires, accidents, etc. Since a locally-owned weekly paper is the core news source representing the town, it's important to include a wide variety of coverage.
- Build your online presence. Have a website, update it frequently, and use social media to promote your work.
- Network, network, network. Since I live near both communities, I knew a number of "officials" from the area, like town clerks, police and fire chiefs, school officials. Now, I talk with school officials weekly to receive updates. I know who to call for information if there's a fire on Thanksgiving Day or if the town is holding a special election. Keeping those communication lines is important, not only for the current story, but for future reporting.
- Be accurate. It's a basic rule of Journalism 101: Check and double check facts.
- Creativity counts. Even if you're covering the city council meeting, you can use creative lede to draw reader attention.
- Localize a national news story. Application of journalism at its finest. Look for a local angle to national headlines. When you personalize reporting, you increase readership. And trust me, there's been a lot of national news lately that affects everyone.
Not any more. Writing for a newspaper has forced me to focus on the immediate story, collect my thoughts, and prioritize. It's a good push for any writer.
You don't have to work at a newspaper to put into practice the lessons I've learned. Apply these principles to your writing and writing career, and you'll notice a difference.
by LuAnn Schindler