Finding good stories is as simple as looking around with a new perspective

14 Feb

Even though there are so many different ways to find a good story idea, actually finding one can be one of the most challenging parts of reporting.  

Maybe it’s difficult because of the desire to find a story that’s fresh and interesting rather than just finding some news, but it’s important to remember that sometimes it’s the basic news story that leads to the fresh, interesting angle.

On the local level, the key to finding a good story seems to be always remain aware. Inspect every angle because any piece of information could possibly become a story.

These are the top five tips I gathered from other blogs about finding story ideas:
1. “Strike up a conversation with a local business owner as you’re paying for your coffee or perusing the used books.”
Local business owners always seem to have some kind of news. Business is almost always going better or worse than usual, or the county is wanting to impose some regulation or there are some renovations in mind for the store…

2. “Conversations with acquaintances – I don’t write about family and friends. But I do listen carefully when they talk about what’s going on in their personal or work lives because you never know when you might hear something that clicks.”
Stories about people doing seemingly everyday things can make the best stories because people are actually very quirky, and that everyday thing could have some very unusal aspect. 

3. “Vary your commute now and then.”
You’ll see new advertisements, people doing things outside, construction, etc.

4. “The biggest mistake beginning journalists make is not getting future story ideas from current sources. Every phone call, email or interview with a source (expert or real person) should close with a question about other story ideas.”

5. “Get local and regional.”
Localized stories are some of my favorites because they involve a variety of sources. Usually, many people will be invovled if a trend is national and not just local. Drawing from national or regional trends and reports also helps legitimize a trend occuring locally. 
Also, sometimes looking at a research article can spark a localized story. Research articles are like trends that haven’t been given a news spin yet.

There are many lists floating around the Internet that are filled with dozens of good ideas, but the above list has options that are more sure to get you some kind of story every time.

There are also places to go online for ideas.

Some, like message boards, use the Internet in a sort of traditional format (regular, local people talking together about an issue), but the Internet also offers more involved sites like Reddit, which calls itself “The Front Page of the Internet,” and Facebook, which allows a reporter to get connected to all kinds of businesses and people and follow their events and news.

After a story is found, the next challenge is finding sources. Finding sources isn’t as difficult as initially finding the story because there’s already a solid idea to branch off of, but getting experts to give credibility to your information can be hard sometimes.

Reddit has a feature that allows people to offer themselves as sources and have “Ask Me Anything” sessions, so this site does more than just offer story ideas. It provides both the platform and the running start. Other sites like HARO and Listorious also provide expert sources.

But is trying to utilizing everything the Internet has to offer really better? I struggle between whether being connected and in touch with so many people and opinions is helpful or stressful.

It seems that local news should be about finding stories and sources through friends and people around town, but at the same time, there are so many sources to tap into online that it’s impossible not to utilize all of its best features.

In an article about the differences in how journalism was, is and will be, it’s interesting to notice the difference in the length of each of those sections. Is the author suggesting that reporters will write less stories as their stories become more involved? Or that stories will be shorter as more time is spent letting people comment on Internet forums? Or that reporters will still publish the same number of stories at the same lenghts but work extra hours and devote extra time to work?

I’ve never worked in a newsroom, but I feel like the future of journalism will just be more Internet-based, and it will involve more consumer feedback after stories are posted but not necessarily before. It seems that stories will still need to be published in a timely fashion and opening up a story to everyone to comment on before it’s even been fleshed out doesn’t seem that efficient.

Story ideas:

1. The anti-piracy agreement known as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is still a big deal and rallies across Europe just took place. This is a good story to localize because just about everyone uses the Internet in some form or another and would be interested in its proposed restrictions. As a college town, Gainesville is especially full of young people who utilize the Internet for everything from career networking and school assignments to keeping in touch with people back home and staying up to date on trends like music, movies and fashion.

Possible sources would be college students and professors, local lawyers who would know if such restrictions are even plausible and political organizations that would have organized petitions. Possible photos of people who put together petitions would probably hinge on whether there was an increased reaction due to the protests in Europe.

If there was no reaction to the protests in Europe, and the trend is that Gainesville residents aren’t showing interest in the agreement, that’s a story too. The no-interest story would probably be better suited to online because then it would be possible to link to stories about the Wikipedia blackout, or Google’s blackout or to information about petitioning the agreement. The story wouldn’t be to promote opposition to the agreement, but to raise more awareness.

2. Holiday stories are essential and Valentine’s Day is today. The Swing and Sway Dance Club is hosting a Valentine’s Day Sweetheart Dance that could be interesting to check out. Some of the people in that club are senior citizens and could have some very interesting love stories. Good opportunity to do a feature story. 

Possible sources would be one of the officers for background info before the event and then multiple couples at the actual dance. A photo of the couple with the best love story would be great. A nonprint format for this story would be video. Having a short video with scenes from the dance and comments from participants would be good with a short story online.

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One Response to “Finding good stories is as simple as looking around with a new perspective”

  1. Ronald R. Rodgers February 15, 2012 at 7:26 am #

    Excellent – well-linked and well-edited

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