Thursday, January 15, 2015

Developing story ideas

Image from Wikimedia Commons
I was a story-idea machine back when I was a reporter.
Sure, that's bragging, but it's true. I always had three stories in the works and contributed stories outside my beat during news meetings. Editors loved me!
How'd I do it?
Here's an annotated list of story-idea sources I discussed at Oriontation yesterday:
Beats - The most traditional source of story ideas. Talking to people, attending meetings, gathering documents from a geographic or subject area is the way most stories happen.
Calendar - Before computers, I kept a drawer with file folders marked 1-31 for each day of the month and dumped news releases about events, noted about important news anniversaries and anything else date-specific in the folders, then looked through them a week ahead for ideas. You can use an online calendar that lets you attach documents or URLs to do the same thing.
Localize it - Basically, when something happened elsewhere, I thought about what that would mean in my community. This only works if you're paying attention to the news and take the time to browse other paper's websites. For The O, watching other good college newspaper sites would be a good strategy.
Observation - When you're in a story-idea frame of mind, which means being curious and observant, you can pick up a handful of ideas just walking across campus or driving to the mall.
Audience contributions - Readers call with suggestions. Online comments often prompt ideas. Conversations with friends and neighbors can be a rich source of stories. Some papers and a lot of TV stations do a good job of asking readers and viewers for tips.
News releases - Just because a public relations professional is touting a story doesn't mean it isn't news. Use media releases as a starting point for stories. They are especially good sources of news briefs, which can help keep the website stocked with fresh news content.
Social media - Use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other online platforms to tap into what people are talking about on campus and in the community. Someone should be looking at #chicostate on Twitter every day or even more often.
Databases - More and more data is published online every day, and the information contained in databases and be scraped and analyzed for news and trends. When you identify a website that's a good source of information you're interested in, use a tool such as to get email push notifications that something new has been posted.

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