My advice is all very basic.
1. The first time you get Mrs Carolyn Smyth’s name wrong should be the last time too. If you are writing for a local website you must presume that the vast majority of your readers will be local too. And they will know that Carolyn is with a y and if you get it wrong then bang goes your credibility. Put another way, when I was managing editor, we often got job applications addressed to The Independant. They went straight in the bin.
2. Being local means just that. The first edition of the Carlisle Patriot in 1815 had a preview of the Battle of Waterloo on its front page, it wouldn’t get on the front page of its successor, The Cumberland News, now – unless a local was involved.
If, for instance, there is a national story about adult illiteracy, then this can be turned, with a little bit of digging, into a local story. Speak to the Education department of the council about how they see the problem in your area. Ask about illiteracy classes, ask which areas within your area are most affected. Best, of course, would be to find someone who is learning how to read and talk to him or her. Stories which use examples of real people are the best for gaining attention.
3. Local news does not have to be sensational – one of the big differences between national and local media is that the local media are usually much more about people living their lives. People raise money for charity, worry about the bin collection, complain about potholes in their street, organise the school run, or check for local dog poo. These are legitimate interests and concerns that resonate with local people.
4. Remember that if you insist on writing opinion pieces that you must be informed about your comment. Decent opinion writing takes a lot of work and time. Don’t just write something because you can.
5. If in doubt about an opinion or a fact that you can’t check – leave it out.
6. Avoid being abusive or hurtful. Think about how you would feel if the piece you were writing was about you.
7. Unless you are a professional comedian then don’t make up jokes. Or be ironic.
8. Think about timing and reasons for running a particular story on a particular day.
9. Keep it simple, especially in headlines. And do not presume that everyone knows who the local council leader is. Spell out all acronyms, apart from the really obvious ones. New readers or viewers have to be kept in the loop.
10. Ask questions. Your readers may also have the answers.
This piece is taken from The Journalism Foundation’s free toolkit on how to build a local website. Get the guide in full here
To read more about The Journalism Foundation’s local journalism project in Stoke-on-Trent click here