Some reporters have lots of ideas but they fail the “so what” test. Just because something’s interesting to you doesn’t mean it’s going to interest your audience. Other reporters become dependent on scheduled events or breaking news to fill their days and hardly bother looking for stories. But journalists who train themselves to find and follow potential stories are treasured in every newsroom I’ve worked in, and they’re also the best equipped to succeed in today’s media world, which relies more and more on freelancers.
One way to find story ideas is to listen, really listen, to what people are talking about. Begin with people you know–your family and friends. What are their everyday concerns?
I’ll never forget telling a news director about a story I’d seen in another market on how the disappearance of full-service gas stations was affecting the elderly and people with disabilities. His reaction was priceless. He put his head in his hands. Turns out his own mother had been complaining for months that she had to drive miles out of her way to get a fill-up, but he’d never thought of her problem as a broader issue.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you feature your family or friends in your stories. That would raise obvious ethical concerns. But if someone you know has a problem, find out if it’s part of a trend. If it affects others in your community, you might have a story idea worth pursuing.
Next, broaden your circle to talk to people you don’t know and who aren’t a lot like you. I know it’s not easy to talk to strangers, but it’s part of a journalist’s job. Might as well start now. But how to begin?
Take a look at these excellent tips from freelancer Beth Winegarner, who says she was “painfully shy” as a child and had to psych herself up for just about every interview she did as a young journalist. Here’s one:
Many people — from random citizens to seasoned politicians — would rather get a root canal than talk to a reporter…So if you’re nervous about asking them questions, remember: you’re probably not the only one with butterflies in your stomach.
The key to finding story ideas in these conversations is to listen, really listen, to what people say, and to what they’re not saying. Be prepared with responses that will elicit more information: “Tell me more about this.” “What do you mean, exactly?” “Why do you think that is?” “What bothers you about that?”
Give it a try. Let us know what works for you.
Originally published at Advancing the Story