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.
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
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.