By Chad Morelli
Right now, in a small cubicle on the second floor of the city hall building in your town, there is a web content editor who is frustrated, angry, and tremendously stressed.
And why is our poor friend having such a bad day? Why has he alone been subjected to the terrible anxiety that comes with managing a web site? Why must he endure the pressure and constant worry of formulating quality content each week for his city’s citizens to view?
At least one reason for this tragedy lies in the fact that many freelance writers have not yet discovered the incredible market that lies in writing for their local city government. Nearly every city, no matter how small, is trying to put together a web site for their citizens to visit.
The only problem, of course, is what do they put on their site? Having a presence on the web is one thing. Giving your virtual visitors something to read is quite another.
Enter the freelance writer. By providing profiles of people, local attractions, or even a list of the best stores in the town shopping center, freelancers can give our fateful web content editor something to post on the city web site.
Freelancing for city web sites offers a number of great advantages. Generally, you won’t be competing against as many freelancers as you would with a magazine. Most established freelancers won’t even consider doing a story for a small town, as the pay is very little (if any) and the number of people who will be viewing a city web site is limited. However, if you are a freelancer that is just starting out and is itching to get published, the town web site might be for you. In addition, your query to a city web site will be answered almost immediately. Queries to magazines will usually be required to go through snail mail, then be sorted by the magazines mail room, then be routed to the appropriate editor, and finally be returned to you weeks, sometimes months after you had written it. At city web sites, the email of the web master is always listed, along with other people you might want to contact. And even if you don’t send your query to the person who ultimately makes the decision, email is quite easily forwarded.
Another advantage of writing for your city’s web site is the freedom you will more than likely experience. I have yet to find a city with a web site that has its own style. Instead, there is usually a smorgasbord of topics and styles to match. Unless you are writing for a large city with an established web site, you will have an opportunity to develop your own style and maybe even experiment with your voice a little.
This does not mean you can be sloppy with your work. As with any writing market, the quality of your work will ultimately decide if you will be the freelancer chosen to do the piece.
A quick review of local government web sites will get you familiar with what kind of content they use. In general, most sites will have a “Feature” or a “Spotlight” page, and sadly, these pages will usually have a feature from many months ago. The town I live in, for example, once went an entire year without changing their spotlight page. They were more than happy when I provided an article about a local festival that took place in February of 2000, as it replaced a feature story from January of 1999.
Any web search engine will provide you with a list of city and county web sites. Focus on your own town and those cities that are nearby, and browse the pages to see what kind of writing they have on their site. Then, start paying close attention to what is happening in your town. Is a yearly festival coming up? Are any new restaurants opening? Will the city be hosting any events or seminars? Any of these things could make the perfect story for a city web site. Rattle off a query to the web editor and see if they might be interested in your services.
Once you do get your first job writing for a city web site, it can lead you to a number of lucrative opportunities. It may not be long before you are a regular contributor to your town’s website. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be writing press releases for the mayor!
Chad Morelli is a freelance writer and is the Chief Web Content Editor for a large internet company in California. He has written for numerous publications on and offline, including the Alameda Newspaper Group and Schoolsports.com.