In a week that also sees the launch of his latest self-published novel, Evil Unseen, British indie author Dave Sivers talks about the benefits of also being another kind of writer – being a local newspaper correspondent.
Like so many authors, I always wanted to be a writer. My first love will always be fiction, but I’ve also been a local journalist for over 20 years, a job I was lucky enough to stumble into.
Over most of my adult life, local organisations I’ve been involved with have become aware I’m a bit of a scribbler and asked me to write bits of copy, press releases and so on for them. That was the case when, as a comparative newcomer to my village, I joined its amateur dramatic society. I sent a press release to the local papers and the Bucks Herald featured it on its ‘villages’ page, with the name of the village in a neat box above and a mention that the paper was looking for a local correspondent.
Step Up to the Opportunities
I decided to offer my services and was invited for what I imagined would be an interview. This consisted in practice of being handed a claim form for fees and expenses and a list of handy hints – and then sent on my way rejoicing.
Since that day in 1993, I’ve been sending the Herald weekly copy on what’s going on in the village – what the parish council, the church, the WI (Women’s Institute), the museum society, the choir, the scouts and guides, are all up to, what’s on in the various halls, and what interesting things might be happening to local individuals.
I get my source material from parish newsletters, notice boards and by word of mouth. People will email me or phone me with a bit of news they’d like included in the column. Sometimes I get invited to cover events, where I’m always made welcome and treated like ‘proper press’. I’ve been given the odd exclusive and had restaurant meals as a thank-you for coverage. It’s fun. I now cover four villages and do something similar for the Leighton Buzzard Observer (LBO).
Feeding the Need to Write
But it’s also something I’d recommend to anyone with a yen for writing, for three good reasons:
- having to sit down once a week and produce and file copy is great discipline
- you’re often working with raw material, which requires you to flex your editing muscle
- it gives you something you’ve been paid for to put on your writing CV
“Paid for?”, you cry. Oh, yes. The Bucks Herald pays 10p a line (I have to count the lines and claim for them, but I also claim the cost of the paper back), whereas the LBO pays £10 per column. It hasn’t gone up for yonks, and I’ll swear the font size has reduced. But, totted up over the year, it’s a handy little earner that probably keeps my computer, printer and mobile phone on the road.
Pros and Cons of Being a Reporter
There are frustrations. Finding out about things after they have happened, often accompanied by moans about a disappointing turnout. Copious material in a jpeg that can’t be cut and pasted for editing, and which no one can find the Word original for. And wrong information.
But these are small compared to the benefits. And it can lead to bigger things. I have recycled some of the more interesting stuff into articles for local glossies, and the track record I have built there led to a commission for a mini-series on true crime in Buckinghamshire.
Do any of your local papers have community pages with local correspondents? Is there a gap that you can fill (even if your own patch is already taken)? And can you spare one or two hours a week to write and file copy? If so, give it a go!
OVER TO YOU Do you have any writing sidelines that you think other indie authors would enjoy? We’d love to hear about them!
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