It happens every week in staff meeting. The student editor asks the staff of 10-15 other editors, reporters and photographers what story ideas they have for the week and the room goes silent… eyes diverted, crickets chirping are the only sound–quiet.
After a few minutes of the student editor looking like a beat down, abandoned puppy, someone will perk up with an idea that’s not much more than a calendar listing.
Sometimes this breaks the silence and others begin to pipe in, the story ideas becoming more legitimate by the minute. Other times, the lone idea is spoken, the editor calls for other ideas and then wraps up the meeting when no one responds.
It’s a sad, missed opportunity. It means that the week’s coverage is likely to be little more than what the editor thinks is newsworthy. It’s one man’s view of an entire campus of possibilities.
I’ve written about recognizing news value and finding blog ideas. It’s time to address finding story ideas. Here are 12 tips for finding story ideas:
1. Remember people
People like to read about other people. When you’re out of ideas, look for someone with an interesting story. Everyone has at least one thing worthy of exploring.
2. Brainstorm every topic
Each idea should lead you to another. You may want to try a brainstorming or mindmapping apps.
3. Check the morgue
No, I’m not talking about writing about death (although those often are newsworthy too). Check your newspaper morgue or archive to see what stories you ran recently that deserve/need following up. It’s a good idea to make this process more proactive by putting reminders on your calendar to follow up on stories on a certain date as you’re writing the original.
4. Keep an idea file
Organize your ideas by writing them down, clipping them out, etc., and storing them in one location. You may also want to try an app like Evernote to organize your ideas.
5. Observe what’s happening around you
Your regular life generates a ton of ideas, you just have to be aware enough to recognize them.
Go to lunch at a popular local restaurant or grab a cup of coffee at a busy cafe. What are people around you talking about? This is also what they’re interested in reading about. If it applies to your audience, write about it.
7. Embrace your creative place
Know when you’re going to get your good ideas and be ready for them (Check out my post on Embracing Creativity). Never assume that you will remember a great idea.
8. Read everything
I don’t care if it’s Playboy or The New York Times, everything you read gives you ideas. It also will teach you traits of good and bad writing. I never pick up a book, magazine or newspaper that I don’t find a topic (or two, or three) to write about. My RSS Feed and Instapaper are my best friends and my first stop in the morning (usually before I even get out of bed).
9. Localize national stories
Take a large national news story and determine how it applies on a local level. Is there someone who used to live in the area where the national news is occurring? Is there someone in your area who is an expert on the subject? This same approach applies to covering issues and trends ongoing on local, state or national levels.
10. Ask your audience
Want to know what people want to read about? Ask them. Find people you know are in your typical readership base. Ask them what they wish they knew more about or would enjoy reading.
11. Cover an event
Journalists are meant to be the eyes and ears of the people. This means being everywhere, all of the time. You will get at least one story (if not more) at every event you attend. Also, consider promoting the event before it occurs (if your audience may want to attend) and following it afterward to give the details for those who weren’t able to attend. This makes two shorter stories out of one event and helps your readers get involved in the happening.
12. Have a child-like curiosity
Have you ever spent much time around a 2-year-old? Their favorite question is “why?” Children accept nothing at face value. It’s not because they’re trying to be annoying. They want to understand the world around them and how/why it works. Reporters should use the same approach. Having a questioning nature means never running out of things to write about.
There are tons of stories waiting to be reported, you just have to know how to find them.
I would really emphasize #1 and add that talking to people, really listening, and paying attention to them and then asking good questions yield amazing rewards…personally and professionally!
@BruceSallan I absolutely agree, Bruce! We often forget the part where we ask the question and then really listen. Too often we’re thinking about when we get to speak next or what the next question should be.
Thanks so much for reading and commenting. You’re fabulous!
Nathan Hatcher says
This is a really good post, but I look for stories in another way; I look for trends in Google Analytics and Google Trends among other tools. You read my thoughts here: http://contentwritingfortheweb.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/how-to-find-stories-people-want-to-read.html
MoodyWriting If he were at UT, profkrg would mention booking appointments to brainstorm with your coaches!
profkrg love these tips. Thanks for sharing
shannonphilpott Thank you! U0001f618
profkrg Can I include your list in my college interns’ guidebook? I’d give you credit! Some really struggle in towns they don’t know well.
profkrg gracias, my friend!
Looking for the truth is never easy, so why not check out truthnetmedia.com and learn what’s going on in the world
This article could really help us in our journalism class. At the beginning of the year, we were thinking of ideas for our newspaper and what we were going to include. We tried to relate things to modern day ideas that teenagers would read. This article, if we would have read it at the beginning of the school year, would’ve helped us tremendously to figure out what we were going to add in our newspaper that year. Even though the opportunity for this year has passed, I’m sure that we can always come back to reference this when we are thinking of ideas again. This article brings up a lot of good points about how we can think of some newspaper ideas and I think that this would be of good use if we referred back to it.
Kenna Griffin says
Yes! Tell your adviser to use it in the future.
Steven b joyner says
Thank you for being a person that knows that when you help the next one will help and so on we just need to see what it feels like when you know you were apart of that push that will help out a great deal of people who really need it God know s the people who work through him,GOD BLESS YOU AND WHAT YOU DO ALL OF YOU,IM VERY GRATFUL TO YOU WHO SEE ME LIKE I SEE YOU
Skylar Mitchell says
This article is very well written. But number six doesn’t really need to be a step. Other than that, all the other tips are very well and I would go with this for Journalism class.
Kenna Griffin says
Why do you think No. 6 doesn’t need to be a step?
Johnni Johnson says
Usually, everyone eavesdrops anyway.
Kenna Griffin says
It’s true. You’re listening, one way or the other. You might as well see if what you’re hearing sparks any ideas.
This article was incredibly helpful because each tip was a base for a different article and also reading this article would help with my fellow staff for our school newspaper in finding story ideas. I think the best tip is to cover an event.
Kenna Griffin says
I’m glad you found it helpful! Thanks for reading.
I feel like this is a very good article because it gives out some great tips, helps you order story ideas and i agree on tip number 10 the most because the audience if big part.
Kenna Griffin says
Absolutely! They are who we’re writing for!
this is so good especially when you’re new in the journalism
it helps a lot