This carries on from my Building a Local Directory Post. You should read that first.
In addition to building web directories I’m a firm believer in hyper-local news as part of the future.
All across America there are small towns that are no longer directly covered by a local newspaper. Once upon a time they probably had their own weekly paper or maybe even a daily but those have shut down. They are probably served by a regional paper, but, and this is the important part, that paper does not report on the meetings of your little town’s government. Therein lies your opportunity if nobody is covering your town government.
- Start a blog on your own domain. Best if it sounds newspaperish.
- Start a blog. I recommend WordPress for this. Find a newspaper looking theme.
- Start attending meetings of your town government. It’s probably one night a month. Take notes ask questions.
- Write up a brief summary of the meeting: topics discussed, action taken on your blog. Keep it impartial stick to the facts. Try to explain to your readers why the town is doing it the way they are – why it’s important.
- Even small towns these days post transcripts of town council meetings, usually as PDF’s. Most town citizens will never take the time to read those. They are more likely to skim your summary.
- Spread the word around town. And hand out flyers to people with your URL.
- Put up a contact form, encourage clubs, churches, civic organizations to inform you of upcoming events and post those for free. The local library always has stuff going on, post that.
- Make a business directory: you can probably find a plugin for WordPress. List all the local businesses and civic organizations. List the clubs and their meeting places and times.
- Everyone has a smartphone with a camera these days. Walk around town. Take photos of interesting stuff. Heck, have Mr. Smith pose for you while he’s raking leaves. Post it on the blog. Or get a photo gallery plugin. People like seeing what’s going on around town at a sidewalk level. People like seeing their name in the “paper”. You can do a heck of a lot just with photos and captions.
- If there is no “shopper” newspaper you might add a classifieds script.
- Take some good photos of the town. Turn them into ePostcards with “Greetings from MYTOWNNAME” and get an electronic postcard script. Visitors and locals alike enjoy these.
- Fill the vacuum left by not having a little hyper local paper.
- Cover people’s hobbies when you hear about them: if you admire somebody’s yard and flower garden ask to interview them and take pictures then post. If somebody has a big model train layout, introduce yourself and ask to write a story about it.
None of this costs much except some time. This is perfect for somebody who is retired. You are helping knit together a community again. Go to the library, chances are they may have the archives of the old weekly town newspaper that went belly up 50 years ago. Read through the archives from 100 years ago. Small town papers were folksy a lot of the news was gossipy stuff: Robert Smith’s parents from Peoria are visiting him for a week. Delinquent kids are breaking bottles on the sidewalks in Founder’s Park. There is no reason your little news portal can’t do the same. Get the community involved in reporting news: post photos sent in of the Volunteer Fire Department fund raiser,
You are going to have to play with the scale here. Your town may no longer have many businesses left open in town proper. If everybody has to go to the next town over to shop then list those businesses in your directory.
Keep you blog’s comments open and as easy to use as possible. Use Akismet or other plugins to prevent spam. If you get a fair amount of discussion, consider adding a forum script for the local wags to discuss stuff.
It may take awhile for word of mouth to spread but keep at it and it will. Make friends with the local librarians, they will help you find resources to hone your craft and if they like you they will help informally spread the word.
It’s a good way to become involved, become self informed about your community and give something back by sharing.
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