Perhaps instead of just lamenting the loss of so many newspapers, you have decided it is time to take some sort of action. You want to join the ranks of the widening numbers of “hyperlocal” journalists. A large number of news organizations have turned to such individuals – and they are the backbone of several sites that focus on local content.
The good news is that almost anyone can take on the task of becoming a citizen journalist. All you really need is some curiosity, the ability to ask good questions, and some writing skills. And it helps to have an excellent smart phone with multimedia capabilities and a computer with Internet access.
A good first step is to find out what kind of website you would like to write for. Or maybe you want to launch your own. Is there a local website that covers your community that you want to contribute to? Check online to see if there is one that suits your fancy. Is there a particular topic or niche that really interests you? Are you more into trying to get involved with hard, serious news or would you rather promote your child’s Little league team? Have you written anywhere in the past, or are you pretty much a novice? These questions and some self-examination can help you decide how to tackle this next.
Let’s say you are off to the local school board meeting to report on a major decision – such as closing down a school, budget cuts, or teacher layoffs. One of the first keys is to have background knowledge: jump on the web and read up as much as you can about the event. Download the agenda and get a feel for what is going to be discussed. This will help formulate some questions in your mind and help your information gathering.
Also, get to know the major players in your community. Odds are that you are not the only one who wants to give more recognition to people in your community. Attend important meetings that you feel should be covered. Let people know what you are trying to accomplish and they are most likely willing to help you out. One of the first surprises I found when I worked for a local newspaper was that most people enjoy being interviewed and quoted (unless you are trying to nail them on something).
Being fairly fluent in technology is also essential. Because much of the work you will be doing involves writing, editing, photo, and video, a few tools might be important. As mentioned, a good smart phone (iPhone, BlackBerry, Android etc.) is an essential tool for uploading content. Also, different web sites may require a variety of tools for uploading material, so it may be handy to acquire some knowledge of some of the major blogging tools (like WordPress and Blogger).
Don’t get discouraged. Finding and reporting on news is demanding work. But in the end your community will benefit from your diligence and willingness to keep everyone informed.
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