It's fun and it's easy, but those aren't the only reasons to write for Fenton Patch.
Why to write
A columnist wrote that reports show that strong communities are made when you have good schools, a good downtown and a good newspaper. Good is a subjective word, so I delved into research of what made these things good. Report after report stated that the strength comes from participation. Teachers frequently say the schools are better when parents participate. You can have fancy stores downtown, but they need to serve the needs of the community to have shoppers. A newspaper must present diverse viewpoints from diverse voices. If the advertising department dictates the content of the paper then you do not get diversity. If writings are slanted to reflect the views and wishes of the good-ole-boy network of the publisher, again you do not get diversity. You should write for the Fenton Patch because your participation helps make your community strong.
What to write
Passion – the best writing comes from things we are passionate about. There are two types of passion long term and short term. Long term is the normal powerful or compelling feelings and emotions that we normally associate with the word. These include things like helping the environment, anti-animal cruelty, love of a person or thing, playing or watching a sport. Short term passion can be thought of as that happening that makes you mad or gives you great joy. It could be positive like when your team wins a tournament. It could be negative like a sign that strikes you as abhorrence to the decency of art, or a city council decision that you believe is stupid.
What you know – We often learn from others, in that endeavor we look for advise from experts or those with experience. In the talk I used the example of gardening. Many people want a nice looking flower garden or a useful herb garden, but they are novices at it. If you are one of those knowledgeable in what flowers do better in shade than sun or what it takes to make an indoor herb garden, then share that wisdom. You can help make Fenton beautiful and put more flavor in the food of others.
The same idea of writing about it applies if you are knowledgeable in trains, history of Fenton, stamp collecting, doll collecting or one of many other hobbies and interests that people have.
High school sports – We are all proud of our children. Competing in sports often brings with it a special feeling in parents. Unfortunately not every parent can make it to the tennis match, cross country meet, swim meet, etc. If you are someone lucky enough to experience these young athletes in action then write about it so that other parents can share in the event. These students deserve credit for their efforts and to see their name and photos in the paper.
Interviews – Often we know or meet someone who has an interesting life, job or hobby. Write about that individual. This type of article is a favorite read for many people. They usually gain some information while being entertained. Another area of interviews might be if you know the chief of police, the fire chief, mayor or city council member. Think about interviewing them on an important topic that is happening in the city.
Reviews – Readers enjoy receiving an honest opinion about books, restaurants, movies and plays. This type of article also ties in with writing about what you know.
How to Write
Many people say they can’t write. Usually that is because they consider it a one step job. Writing a blog is really a three step process and some times four steps. It consists of research, writing, editing and occasionally photography.
Research – A great part about the Fenton Patch is that you can use links. Like the Wikipedia this is an excellent way to lead readers to additional information. Rather than write what another article on line says, you can give a quick summary then include the link.
Double checking what you think is a good idea. Before writing a statement it is sometimes good double check your information. For instance if you are going to quote a study done in 2001 you might want to see if there is a more recent study or if there is a study that contradicts the one you want to use.
Reading is a part of research. If you write reviews it is good to read professionally written reviews and analyze how they are written. The New Yorker or New York Times book reviews would be a good place to study the craft of how to write a good one.
Writing – This is where you get those thoughts down on paper or in computer. According to C. Hope Clark, editor of the web site Funds for Writers, 90% of people have trouble with this because they try to edit while writing. They worry about spelling and punctuation. The next step of editing will solve those problems; this is not the place to worry about it.
The idea is not to inhibit your mind with correctness but to allow your thoughts to flow unhindered. Author Bonnie Hearn Hill calls it the thousand word sentence. In her book Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg, presents excellent methods to help you get to that free mind.
To train my students I had them do daily five minute writings. A topic would be chosen and the student had to write on it for five minutes without lifting their pen from the paper or taking time to think.
Editing – The third part of writing is editing. This is where you correct spelling errors, check sentence structure, and bring the writing into the correct word count. More advanced editing includes ridding the writing of pronoun over use, eliminating passive voice, getting a beginning that grabs the reader and checking that the writing keeps moving. I suggest that you read your writing out loud. Many times things that slow down your writing or come across funny are revealed that way.
I highly recommend two books that can help with editing. One is Elements of Style by William Strunk, E.B. White and Roger Angell. The second is the Associated Press Style Book.
Photography – They say a picture is worth a thousand words. An advantage of an online newspaper like the Fenton Patch is there is more room and ability to add photos than in a paper based newspaper. Do not go crazy with these, but try for ones that support the writing. Photos are especially great for sports.
It is my opinion that if you follow much of the above and write for the Fenton Patch that you not only strengthen your community but you transcend beyond a blogger to a citizen journalist.