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Your Free Local Weekly: A Great Place to Start
by Annie Gentile

Almost all towns have one—a weekly newspaper that arrives unsolicited on every porch and business free of charge. Ad driven, these papers were once just a hodgepodge of classifieds for jobs, cars, and tag sales, with a few news briefs about local upcoming events that bore no by-line.

But all of that is changing. In recent years as the public has gained access to a greater number of news source choices, fewer people are choosing to subscribe to the traditional purchased paper. And while this may be bad news for subscription newspaper businesses, it has opened wide a door of opportunity for free weeklies—and the freelancers that write for them.

If the idea of writing for a free weekly newspaper is something you’ve only given a passing glance, now may be the time to revisit the thought. Add to that my ten top reason list why you should be writing for a free weekly and you should make up your mind quickly:

Reason #1: Writing for free weeklies is a fantastic way to kickoff your writing career. Free weeklies report local events and typically draw from local talent—that’s you and me. And often getting started doesn’t require an extensive portfolio of published clips. Church activities, local art shows, or school events—find out what’s going on in your town, write an informative article that showcases your skill, and send it off to the editors. More often than not, if they like what they see, you’ll be writing for them.

Reason #2: Detailed coverage: Unlike daily papers that rely on cranking out tidbits of information each day as the "big local story" develops, free weeklies do not have the luxury of being able to offer the latest "breaking" news. Yet this, in itself, is a boon, for free weeklies must therefore turn the focus of their coverage to more complete and in-depth analyses of those same big local stories. In today’s time-crunched society, this is your opportunity to offer the public total coverage of a story in one informative article that other papers may take weeks to unfold.

Reason #3: Name Recognition. By definition free weeklies have only enough room for a few stories a week. The rest of their space must be dedicated to paid ads. For the freelancer, this means that every printed article will be a standout.

Are you a history buff? If you have a strong handle on your own local history, that knowledge and talent might develop into a history column. Do you love to read? Can you pen an informative, interesting book review? Your local editor might create a special niche for you. Once people start seeing your name, you’d be amazed how work opportunities will grow.

Reason #4: When it comes to free weeklies, you’re where it’s happening! Free weeklies thrive on local issues, so no matter where you live, it’s where the news is.

Reason #5: Unlimited writing opportunities. This is really a carry-over from Reason No. 4, but it’s important to point it out that good local stories can be found under every rock. Check out your volunteer organizations. You’ll find them to be wonderful collections of people who do good things in their communities, albeit living, breathing writing opportunities. From the woman who has donated a weekly portion of the last twenty years to voicing on tape books for the blind, to the local man who travels to Nicaragua to help support free-trade coffee purchasing practices, these are the people that fuel the articles for local weeklies. And they’re everywhere!

Reason #6: Money. How many articles have you read that suggest writers who need clips should first consider working for publications that offer no compensation? It hardly seems fair, and writing for free weeklies means you don’t have to settle for it. And here’s something else you might not know—because free weeklies get their revenue from ads (typically prepaid ads), they are often healthier than their subscription-based sisters. Not only may you find yourself getting paid as much for your work as subscription papers, but you also may find yourself getting paid faster.

Reason #7: A free education! Why do writers write? If there’s one thing we all have in common, it’s an innate curiosity. Inquiring minds need to know! Every article you write for your local weekly is an opportunity to learn about the world around you.

Reason #8: Assertiveness training: A huge banner festooned with yellow ribbons was strewn across the front yard of a local home; it declared three simple words: Welcome Home Mike! There was a story there, and the only way to find out about it was to knock on their door and ask. Talk about nervous. But I did it. And do you know what? I met a very nice family who was simply thrilled that dad and hubby was coming home from Iraq. This family hadn’t been together in a year, and it was nice to share their story. Learning to be just a little more forward, learning how to approach people can carry over into other aspects of your life. I’ve gained confidence as both a writer and as a person. That’s good stuff.

Reason #9: You get to be the bearer of GOOD news. War, political corruption—sure, we need reporters that keep us informed of the not so pretty world around us. Unfortunately, too many writers are under the impression that in order for a story to be newsworthy, it must either shock, anger, or otherwise elicit a negative public reaction. Writing upbeat positive stories is your opportunity to showcase the good things in your community.

Reason #10: You actually get to write. This last reason may seem obvious, but far more often than I care to admit, before I looked into my free local weekly, when it came to writing, I was doing a lot more thinking than doing. Sound familiar?

Then what are you waiting for?

© Copyright 2004, Annie Gentile

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