Freelancing / Journalism skills

Being a community journalist.

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I’m a sucker for a quote, and this reminded me of my work writing as a community journalist for a local magazine. The magazine goes out once a month and we work roughly two months in advance (challenging when you are reporting on something ‘new’ and ‘exciting’ but doesn’t reach your readers until two months later!). But, much like this quote says, I am always thinking about writing for the local magazine, not only because every four weeks I have a deadline looming for enough articles to fill the community section, but because I want to write features and articles that people want to read.

Local newspapers have all the breaking stories covered, whether daily or weekly, they can report on matters in the local town that are immediate. Magazines however work on a longer time frame, and I have to find stories that are topical, interesting and new… for two months in advance. Sometimes this can be a struggle, asking charity and community groups before Christmas, if they have anything coming up in February – well they might do but the festive season is their only focus at that moment! Some months I am struggling to find relevant and up-to-date content, or anything events going on in the area and yet other months I have an interview with the mayor, some fantastic fundraising success stories and so many events to report on… it’s hit and miss, but here’s what I’ve learnt about being a community journalist.

Key sources are important

Starting out being the journalist for a local magazine, you have no contacts. It took a while for me to establish the right people to talk to, the people to go to for any up-to-date information, those who can report on new events. Knowing who to go to and who to keep in contact with was half the battle for me. Now, I receive press releases, which give me ideas and inspiration for future articles, but starting from scratch I had none of that. I have a great contact who is the head of our Town Team who is always letting me know what’s going on – when I’m starting a new issue, I know where to turn!

Little happening in a small area

Sometimes it really can be quite challenging to find and write about features, news or events that people will want to read. I have had bad months, but you don’t want to let that put people off reading the magazine the next month. In a small town for a magazine, sometimes there really is not much happening and it is challenging to get a diverse array of opinions and issues. Finding stories might be a challenge, but it’s always satisfying on deadline day when everything is done and in print.

You have to know what is going on.

If there is something big going in your town and you don’t cover it, it won’t go unnoticed. In May this year there is a lot going on in the town I live in, and I have known about these since last year, and been mentioning and promoting in the magazine. It’s great support for the community, and good to show you are in the know! Meeting (and sometimes befriending) those at local charities, or key people in the area will enable you to keep on track of any future events.

Greater responsibility

Local magazines are a lot smaller, of course, than bigger magazines. But this comes with the added plus that you will have more responsibility and control over what you are doing, because there isn’t a huge editorial team looking over you! At a big city magazine, you might be working on mindless fact-checking or research tasks, but if you’re the only community reporter on a small magazine, it’s going to be you who people turn to for stories, you will be out there attending events and you will be deciding what content you want to go in the magazine. I love having responsibility and managing what articles go in the magazine – it’s extremely satisfying!

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