Why Local Stories Require Local Reporters by Susan Johnston

Posted on August 9, 2012


Robert Niles of The Online Journalism Review recently blogged about the importance of using local writers to cover local news. Rather than importing journalism grads eager to work their way up to bigger markets or using telecommuting freelancers from halfway around the world, he suggests focusing on people who are already entrenched in that community:

So your local writers better really be local writers, people are from – and of – that community. This goes for niche topic sites, too, and not just for geographically focused publications. Writers for niche sites must be insiders of the community they cover, as well – individuals with passion for and personal experience in the topic they cover.

What does this mean? If you’re a manager at a national news chain, it’s time to zero out the relocation budget, if you haven’t already. Make local publications hire exclusively from candidates in their local markets. It’s time to reconnect with those communities. Promote from within at your titles, too. If “outsiders” really want to work at one of your publications, insist that they move to that community on their own, first.

We completely agree with Niles’ observations, but we also understand the challenges of finding local writers with strong reporting chops. Local news organizations don’t have bottomless pockets for finding or training journalists either. One of our goals at Ebyline is to help news outlets identify journalists with a specific beat experience or geographic location. Need an environmental reporter in Southern Florida or a crime reporter in Detroit? Using our database of experienced freelancers, editors can search by topic, location, or other parameters, then assign stories to freelancers and manage deadlines and payment in a single platform.

And for journalists looking to hone their local reporting chops, the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism offers free online training sessions on localizing stories and understanding data. Their July 10 webinar is on finding local job stories in BLS data.