No Reporters in Sight? You’ve Found Your Grail
My first real writing job, way back in 1980, was covering the Pittsfield Township Zoning Board for a local real estate development consulting firm. Pittsfield Township, located just south of Ann Arbor, Mich., was experiencing rapid suburban growth due to its proximity to the University of Michigan, an economic juggernaut in the state.
Substantial sums were changing hands as farms gave way to subdivisions, shopping malls, and chain restaurants. The Ann Arbor News, a prosperous paper with a large staff and no competition, rarely covered zoning board meetings.
My employer needed to know what was happening at those zoning board meetings. Objectively, and in detail. So he hired his own reporter. Me.
Bad News for Newspapers
Fast forward to July 2009, roughly 15 years after the Internet began devouring newspapers across the country. The Ann Arbor News shut down daily print operations, dismissing nearly all of its 272 employees.
As everyone knows, The Ann Arbor News wasn’t alone. Dozens of newspapers have down-sized, gone under, gone digital, or been swallowed by cross-town competitors. The Pew Research Center estimates that newspaper newsrooms have 20,000 fewer positions than they did 20 years ago.
Coverage of state and local government, spotty under the best of circumstances, is now virtually non-existent in large parts of the country. According to Pew Research, 71 percent of U.S. newspapers did not have a full or part-time statehouse reporter in 2014. Even the trade press has retrenched, sending dwindling staffs to fewer and fewer government hearings and industry events each year.
Good News for Attorney Bloggers
Troubles for the news business have created an enormous blue ocean of opportunity for attorney bloggers. Demand for news hasn’t gone away, but the supply of news has cratered.
Had the commercial Internet been around at the time, my zoning board coverage would have made for great blog posts. Think of it: coverage on topics of intense interest to my employer and his clients, coverage that was available nowhere else. Anyone searching for news about the local zoning board would have found my (hypothetical) posts at the top of their query results.
Attorneys are present everywhere that news happens. At zoning board meetings, at city hall, at the tax assessor’s office, at state and federal legislative hearings, at local bar association meetings, at industry conferences and continuing legal education seminars, and at real estate closings. Much of what occupies an attorney’s day is of interest to the community yet little of it is reported in print or even digital media.
I can think of no better example than Brian J. Winterfeldt of Mayer Brown, whose team of attorneys files reports before, during, and after public meetings of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Because it meets in far-flung locales and its proceedings are inscrutable to all but the most knowledgeable observers, ICANN presents a perfect opportunity for knowledgable participants to call attention to their law practice by filling a news coverage void.
If you are lucky enough to have a daily newspaper in your town, take a moment to look through it. Reflect on recent developments you know about — or participated in during your workday — that are not covered in that newspaper. Or, think about public meetings you’ve attended where no reporters were present. When you identify the spots where uncovered news intersects with your law practice, you’ve found your blogging grail.
Rather than write a “me too” account of a recent court decision, consider blogging about a development you know will not be reported elsewhere. You’ll be doing your law practice and your community a good turn.