I am offering a workshop at the Indiana Writers’ Center on “stringing,” writing for all kinds of small-town and local residential papers in our state. Tim Timmons of the Crawfordsville The Paper of Montgomery County has co-hosted these workshops. His story of putting together and doing a daily newspaper, with all its challenges, hurried deadlines, advertising goals and rewards is interesting.
I urge beginning writers of any age to consider writing for local papers. Weeklies, long-established newspapers owned by conglomerates and especially those owned locally look for articles to fill their pages. Even advertising and special interest magazines can be outlets for your writing talent. You do not need to be “on staff.” Call the paper and inquire if they accept submitted articles.
Money for your work should not be the primary consideration, particularly when you are beginning to amass credentials, published articles.
These are some of the characteristics small-town papers or locals are looking for in their stories. These vary from those in the Indianapolis Star or Washington Times, obviously, but they reflect the reading preferences of the locals who subscribe to the paper:
- Human interest which reaches beyond front page news. Topics can be: sports events in the high school and middle school, with individual record-holders or achievers highlighted, with their person stories.
- More topics: Town meetings which might not catch the eye of big-city folks: the city council meeting, new ordinances or zoning issues, outsiders coming into the county to initiate money-making schemes. Mayor races, visits of state politicians and their caravans.
- The needy in the town and causes which will benefit others: a walk for a rare ailment, a girl scout troop taking on a troop in a foreign country as pen pals, animals with unusual rescue stories. (I remember taking a student group to the Bahamas years ago and showing them the Nassau paper with a front page article “Fire on Shirley Street, Mother Cat and Five Kittens Saved.”)
- Humor, sometimes told through the eyes of interesting neighbors. A street where people help each other? A veteran who can’t get out and put up his flag but somebody assists? A special party with a purpose?
- County and town growth, whether the area is moving forward quite rapidly or shrinking and efforts to take care of that problem: Chamber of Commerce actions.
Above all, people, people, people and story, story, story.
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