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Saturday, November 30, 2013

What I've Learned Working on a Weekly Newspaper

Writing for a weekly newspaper provides valuable lessons for writers of all genres.
My first writing break came when I was in high school. The local weekly newspaper asked if I would write a first-person sports feature about a Univeristy of Nebraska football player who was friends with my family.

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. 
Writing for a weekly has made me a better writer. Perhaps it's the perfectionist in me, but I used to agonize over a story's lede, let it simmer for an hour - or even a day - before I'd commit to the details of the story.

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 


  1. LuAnn--I imagine working under the time pressure of a paper DOES make you a more economical writer--in many ways.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Very good comments. Having a deadline on a regular basis is a good discipline in writing. I have two biweekly commitments and getting a post that is audience-centered, short and easy to read every other week has taught me a lot of lessons. I like the other ones you incorporated in here too. Thanks!

  3. Congrats on all your success working with the newspaper. I loved being a stringer for the local paper when I lived in IL. I liked writing to deadline--I learned that I could write an article in a night if I had to. I also liked knowing what was going on with the Village government and local school board--both things I covered for the paper.

  4. Stringing for a metro newspaper really helped me hone my interviewing, reporting and writing skills when I first started freelancing. I had the chance to cover human-interest stories, traffic and restaurant reviews and recipes. Very diverse! It also taught me that deadlines aren't as scary as they first appear. Writing for a newspaper also looks great on a writer's resume.


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