UK reporter Naomi Westland had a good piece this week at The Journalism Foundation entitled ‘Filling the gaps: how citizen journalism is replacing local press.’

The demise of regional papers and the rise of online media have opened up opportunities for individuals to run grass roots websites reporting on issues that matter to them…….

Despite their best efforts, local papers often struggle to provide in-depth coverage of local politics and issues that affect their readership. This threatens to leave local people in some areas without the information they need about local councils, businesses and events.

This opens the door for citizen journalists to fill the gap through blogging.

By reporting on the workings of local councils and highlighting local events and issues, citizen journalists now have an increasing role in local democracy as falling advertising revenue means local papers are forced to slash their budgets……..

The work of citizen journalists – unpaid writers, photographers and film-makers publishing their own coverage of issues and areas they are interested in – may be going some way to filling the gaps. Birmingham, the UK’s second most populous city, has a thriving online news scene with websites – offering video, photographic and written coverage of what’s happening in the city – attracting thousands of visitors.

Many of you lawyers are living in communities where local legal, business, and commercial matters are underreported. What’s to stop you from jumping in to fill the void? If it’s lacking the technology, support, and know how, let me know. I’d welcome working with lawyers willing to step up to the plate.

I’ve got plenty of ideas.

  • Criminal defense lawyers reporting on local cases, getting quotes from the lawyers, and even sitting in the court room when they have the time. Assuming you’re already a busy lawyer, get some journalism interns from the local university or an underemployed reporter to help you. There isn’t a student or reporter with time who wouldn’t want to get involved in a new media effort like this. You’ll be widely read and a be a feeder to the local press.
  • Business lawyers can cover matters of local commerce. Cover matters relating to the chamber of commerce, interview growing businesses, cover local banks/lenders/investors funding of businesses.
  • Real estate lawyers can cover zoning, commercial real estate development, and city council matters. Again getting interviews via emails or quick phone calls from relevant business people and city and county officials.
  • Family law lawyers can cover, subject to confidences, what is being done by local social workers for children and the victims of domestic abuse and how crime is effecting local families. The work of the courts, government agencies, and local foundations in this area is not being highlighted by the mainstream media in the manner which you could cover it as a knowing and passionate lawyer.

The opportunities for you to give back to your local community, and for you in turn to create a strong local reputation as a lawyer or law firm, are only limited by your imagination.

  • You don’t need to be a news service, offer something different that the local mainstream media. Plus you don’t have the time.
  • Use your local and subject matter knowledge to cover things in greater depth than the mainstream media. Quality trumps quantity.
  • Develop relationships with local mainstream media so you’ll become a valuable resource for them. That’s better than having a team of PR people.

Anyone can be a journalist these days, you need not be part of the mainstream media.

As Westland writes, …[T]here is clearly huge potential for local people to use new media creatively to publish and share information about what is happening in their communities.”

Lawyers included.