By David Arkin

A new year means colder weather, State of the State speeches and Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

Here are a few ways to cover this month:

1. What does the government shutdown mean to your town?

The government shutdown does not seem like it’s going to end anytime soon. Take a look at services in your community or within your region that your readers care about and/or are impacted by the shutdown. Here’s a story from Iowa City Press that noted access to a national historic site has been impacted in their town.

A nice format to try would be looking at areas that residents rely on for government support and note if it’s open, the impact and where else you can go for the service.

2. What’s important to your mayor?

With it being a new year, quiz local mayors on their biggest priorities for the year. Here’s a piece from Fast Company that examined the 10 most important issues facing mayors.

Another way to do this piece is to ask a question per a topic, which makes for a nice way to drive the conversation opposed to generally asking mayor what’s important to them. Then organize the story with subheads for each topic with the mayor’s response.

3. Was 2018 really rainy in your community?

The start of the year is a great time to look at trends like weather from the year prior. This story from Westword noted that Phoenix actually got more rain that Denver last year. That’s pretty interesting. Look up the totals and compare them to other cities and past years in your town.

4. A quiz for MLK Day

MLK Day is a few weeks away and there are really lots of good feature stories you can do. An interesting one is to pull out facts that people may not know about MLK. Here’s a good list of tons of facts from the History Channel. Turning this into a quiz would be engaging.

5. Are winter breaks too long?

If you ask most parents, the answer is a resounding yes! This is an interesting column from the Chicago Tribune that examined the issue for college students. See how time out for winter breaks has changed over the years in your school district(s) and why, tips for parents and any changes that officials may consider in the future. This story is likely to create a lot of reaction from your social media audience.

6. How about a contest on snow predictions

This is a fun idea from a TV station in Alaska that asked readers to predict the amount of snow their city would receive during their first storm of the year. Since that storm has likely already passed you could ask readers to predict the total for the year or for a given month. If a big storm is coming, you could seek inch predictions for that specific storm.

7. Is there a lack of snow in your community?

Is it not snowing like your audience is accustomed to? That’s happening in some places like this Rome Sentinel story points out. Look at the totals received so far this year and talk to those whose businesses are impacted. 

8. Fact check those city and state of speeches

This is the time of the year when mayors and governors make speeches laying out priorities for the year. Even at the local level, fact checking their statements is a great public service. Here’s an example from The Baltimore Sun where they fact checked their governor’s speech.

9. And don’t forgot those speciality days

These are usually social media gold. You can simply ask readers their favorites on these days or package up lists of your favorites like LA Eater did for pie. 

Here are the specialty dates to keep in mind: 

• Jan. 19 National Popcorn Day

• Jan. 20 National Cheese Lover Day

• Jan. 23 National Pie Day,