What’s the story? Generating story ideas

You want to be a reporter. That means writing news stories. Where do you find a story idea?

First, read, read, READ — develop a list of publications that you read or check on daily.

Second, talk to people: family, friends, neighbors, and experts in the field you want to write about. Attend public meetings. Get on the mailing list for community groups. Talk to business owners.

Think about what is happening in the world, in the country, in Minnesota, in your city, in your neighborhood, school, community group, place of worship, etc. Identify a story that interests you. (If you’re  not interested, your readers won’t be interested either.)

Make a list of stories you find interesting, stories you would like to find out more about, stories you would like to tell.

Once you have a story idea, do some preliminary research. Do a Google search. Read what other people have written about your topic. Get some background and the big picture.

Shaping your story

To shape the story, think about:

1) the story idea
2) your audience/readers
3) the publication you are writing for (or pitching the story to.)

The war in Somalia is news, but it’s a story for the New York Times, not for the weekly Litchfield Independent Review. The clean-up of Jewitt’s Creek is also news, and that’s a story for the Independent Review, not the New York Times. Right? Well … almost right.

The war in Somalia is international and national news, but it may also have local dimensions. When Minneapolis youth are recruited to go to Somalia to fight, the story becomes local news.  The clean-up of tiny Jewitt’s Creek is very local news, but it may also be statewide news, as part of the report on cleaning up lakes and streams.

Think about how you can tell this story. Do you have a fresh approach? New or more information? Interviews with people whose perspectives have not been heard?

Use specific, small examples to tell a larger story.

  • Talk to a family trying to pay for extra-curricular fees to tell the big story about shifting costs with school budget cuts.
  • Write about teachers in your local junior high school and how they think about/prepare for/worry about testing, rather than writing a summary of the impact of standardized testing on education in America.
  • Cover individual business stories on University Avenue instead of the economic impact of road construction on the economy.
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