Creative story ideas: more than a press release

15 Feb

The key to finding fulfillment as a reporter and having pride in your work as a journalist is feeling good about the stories you cover. Although many journalists love having a sense of routine in covering a local government beat, others resent covering the “same old thing.” However, without any inclination to find ways to get new story ideas, their griping is hardly warranted. But there’s so many ways to find new stories and angles that it’s certainly worth discussing.

Oftentimes, the local news reporter gets caught in the repetitive cycle of either tired news or uninteresting general copy fodder to fill news space. A great way to spice up the usual finance or economics section is to take a look at public government records on your own time. By waiting for a press release from U.S. departments or the Census, you’ll just be reporting the same news every other outlet is printing, and it’s not as fresh. Although taking the time to personally analyze data can be tedious at first, but the payoff of finding trends or unlikely statistics yourself is absolutely worth the time. In addition, academic and scientific studies can also be localized for interesting pieces that apply to a wide demographic and capture the readers’ interest for things that affect them personally.

News aggregation sites have also proved to be great tools for finding quick story ideas. In addition to the more fleshed-out articles on Mashable or The Huffington Post, user-submitted content on websites like Reddit and Digg are excellent for browsing for ideas. The extra benefit is that these sites are often partitioned off by subject (or “sub-Reddits”) for a huge range of topics such as politics, environmentalism, humor and even local job postings. The I Am A sub-Reddit is specifically dedicated to those with extensive knowledge on various topics to post their expertise for others to ask them questions — or, in other words, a sources goldmine. Although it’s a bit slapdash and on the cyber-geek side of the Internet, it’s an invaluable tool for those brave enough to trudge through the seemingly endless amount of daily content.

Of course, finding a great story idea isn’t just tips and tricks — there’s a mindset a reporter needs to be in. A journalist should be open to anything and always be on the prowl for a new lead. Especially in this new digital age, self-sufficiency is imperative for a reporter-editor-blogger looking to stay afloat among a world full of innovative forward thinkers. Technology and the our reliance on new platforms to aggregate community ideas and priorities is shifting the burden of interesting stories from a routine of assignments and meetings to highly personalized process that is dependent on the proactive nature of the journalist.

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Using the resources and ideas above, here are two story ideas that could be used in a local Gainesville newspaper:

1. STORY DESCRIPTION: The Gainesville Roller Rebels, the local women’s roller derby team, was selected for initiation to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association Apprentice Program. Explore how they have grown as a team in the past few years and if they’ve gotten more popular, their community involvement and how they plan to expand their influence and brand. In a SEC town that is extremely football-focused, it would be interesting to get a story about the accomplishments of a more low-key sport that is thriving. The story would be about 650 words.

SOURCES: Members of the roller derby team, sponsors, volunteers (B. Lawhorn, a University of Florida advertising major), fans in attendance of a derby

ONLINE: Action photo of a derby match. Online, a Soundslides presentation that captures the relationship of the derby members and their fans would be a great addition to the story.

2. STORY DESCRIPTION: This survey data suggests that women perform lower on tests about politics, which in turn causes lower female voter turnout, run for public office and otherwise influence the political sphere. Because Gainesville is a college town with an active political voice, explore how women in politics view this statistic and if they have noticed a similar problem in their own experiences. The story would be about 750 words.

SOURCES: Local women politicians (such as Jeanna Mastrodicasa, a city commissioner), UF students involved in Campus Democrats and Republicans, students involved in Student Government, and both male and female political science professors.

ONLINE: A great way to do this online would be to have an interactive infographic display, similar to what The New York Times does. Having clickable content comparing various cities (college towns, metropolitan areas, rural areas), socioeconomic demographics and other data in an aesthetically pleasing way could make this a great online piece.

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One Response to “Creative story ideas: more than a press release”

  1. Ronald R. Rodgers February 15, 2012 at 8:05 pm #

    Excellent re Rubric – well written and edited. It has voice.
    Also, nicely done story ideas – this is the sort of thing you would submit to a budget meeting.

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