Article writing and freelance journalism - use local life to get ideas for your articles
As an aspiring writer or journalist, it’s only human nature to have idle dreams about appearing in all the big national newspapers and glossy magazines. Yet, realistically, for many of those setting out on a career in writing the best chance of publication lies altogether closer to home, and as well as a first step on the road to being a writer, writing news stories, articles and features about your local area can offer huge satisfaction. Here are ten tips to get you started…
1 Research writing opportunities near you
Most areas are well-served with some kind of local newspaper or free magazine that relies on selling advertising space to make their money, and many large cities give away listings and lifestyle magazines through city-centre bars, pubs, restaurants and shops. Many will have staff writers, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be interested in using other writers who have something special or unusual to offer.
You may also be able to involve yourself in the community by writing for a local newsletter. Many organisations – schools, clubs, churches – issue a regular free update sheet that you may be able to contribute to in terms of writing, editing or publishing. This type of work is particularly beneficial for budding writers who would like to be involved in different aspects of the publishing world.
And if you’re really knowledgeable about a particular aspect of the area, you could even consider writing and publishing your own book on the subject. This is an ambitious but enjoyable project that is beyond the scope of this article, but if you feel there is a potential market for your subject, go for it – you can always approach local firms to sell your book.
2 What is interesting about your local area? No matter how small your village or town, it will still offer plenty to write an article about.
A few areas to consider might be:
• Local history. All areas have their own history and links to the past that can be investigated and exploited. Just because you don’t live somewhere like Glastonbury, Bath or Pendle, doesn’t mean there won’t be something to cover – particularly with the current interest in social history – following the lives of everyday people in the past.
• Local events. People are always keen to know what’s on in their area, from a new shop opening to a Christmas lights switch-on. Or you could focus on fêtes, festivals, theatre productions, school events; every place, no matter how small, will have plenty going on.
• Local groups. These could include a creative writing group, a book club, the local Women’s Institute organisation, a knitting group, a wine tasting evening...
• Local people. This could be someone well known – a TV presenter, or writer for example, or simply a pillar of the community who you think deserves recognition. Every community is full of interesting characters: lollipop ladies, charity workers, chefs, publicans... just find someone who you think plays a real role in contributing to the lives of those around them.
3 What can you offer as a writer?
You need to be sure what qualifies you to write about your chosen subject. Until you build a name for yourself, chose a subject you are confident with; for example, if you know a lot about food, then a good place to start would be writing about the local culinary scene, whereas if you have an arts background then theatrical and literary productions might be your forte.
4 Get yourself known as an expert.
A huge advantage of writing about your local area is the potential for becoming known as an expert or authority on a particular subject. This means that people will start coming to you for local information, rather than you having to chase the work yourself.
Another advantage of making contacts in the area is that you will always have people you can go to for information or quotes about a particular topic. Getting your name and face in the local paper always helps, and social networking sites such as Twitter can prove invaluable for building up a selection of local friends and acquaintances in various fields. You could also set up your own website, promoting yourself and your work – if you are keen to become known for your writing about a particular area then you could always include the name of the town, city or village in the web address.
5 Be professional.
Just because you are writing for a local publication rather than a national doesn’t mean that your standards should be any lower. This means that you should take the same care with your work as you would with any other submission – plan it thoroughly, do your research properly, and make sure you double-check the finished piece for spelling or grammatical errors. If your work is poor, it will be rejected – simple as that.
6 Be reliable.
This is part of being professional in any circumstances, but reliability is even more important in a small community. If you say you will submit a review by Monday morning, or that you will promote your book at a local shop on a particular day, then make sure you do it. Otherwise you will quickly get a name as someone not to be trusted – your work won’t be used, and you might not be invited back.
The reverse is also true: if you get yourself a good reputation as someone easy to deal with, who has interesting ideas on a range of topics then your reputation will spread – in a good way.
7 Build links with local groups and businesses who can help with your articles.
Any relationship you can build up with local firms and organisations will be mutually beneficial – they will be glad of the positive publicity you can offer them, and in return you may well find they keep you up to date with their latest events, offers and promotions. This will give you even more to write about, and you may even start to get perks like invites to special events happening locally.
8 Champion the area.
Most people who write about their community successfully do so because they are proud of where they live. That’s not to say you shouldn’t acknowledge any problems – perhaps there aren’t enough facilities for teenagers, or maybe you feel there are too many second property owners – but most readers won’t want to hear their home being criticised, so remember to focus on the positives wherever possible.
9 Don’t expect much payment…
It is a sad fact that most newspapers and magazines have had their budgets slashed – many staff writers across the country have been made redundant, or are being asked to cover jobs that would previously have gone to paid freelancers. This means that you are most unlikely to be paid for the work you do, but you may find that if you become a trusted and useful contributor, you can claim some expenses, or be given free tickets for local events and so on.
Similarly, there will be no payment for writing newsletters. Some self-published books do sell well though, so there is a possibility of earning a small income through this avenue – but you certainly shouldn’t rely on this, and of course the initial cost of publishing the books is an outlay that would need to be recouped before making any profit.
10 But do expect to gain both skills and contacts you can use in your journalism career.
The benefits of writing about your local area are huge. As well as the chance to see your name in print, you can develop and sharpen your research, writing and publicity skills, and make new friends with whom you have shared interests. And what better than a job that doesn’t need you to travel for miles to get to work every day.
So get out there and make the most of where you live; you’ll find there are plenty of people only too interested in what you have to say.