Wednesday, September 19, 2007

50 Places to Shop for Story Ideas

Reaching in the editorial meeting without any story idea may not be so disturbing until questions of the editor regarding new ideas make it so. Story ideas neither grow in the field nor fall from the trees but you can still shop for them! what if they are not a commodity for sale.
Editors can't always help you with the story ideas, so why don't you get yourself and shop for them. I did it last year when I was struggling for some story ideas for the Wall Street Journal, where I worked for a brief period as a Daniel Pearl Fellow, I got one email from a colleague mentioning those 50 places to shop for the story idea. Though I could not visit all of those yet going to few of them really worked.
"50 places to shop for story ideas" I chose the same title for my blog. Thanks to Gregg McLachlan, Associate Managing Editor of the Simcoe Reformer, Ontario, Canada, who compiled the list of top 50 places. List was originally published in The Write Way, newsletter of the Simcoe Reformer.

Credit of making such a highly impressive list public also goes to www.notrain-nogain.org that made it available online for the print journalists. I am reproducing the list after permission of Gregg McLachlan.
I bet you can't afford missing such a good resource.
So, why are you waiting for! Let's start hunting though;

1. The Internet: Check out your local Internet service providers’ websites. Most ISPs host free web space for members to have their own websites. Usually, you’ll find people with simple websites about their hobbies, family, groups, etc.
2. The grocery store: Scan those bulletin boards.
3. Veterinarians’ offices: The public loves animal
stories. And there’s no shortage here. I once spotted a photo of a badger in a vet’s office. I asked about it, knowing the animal is virtually extinct in Ontario , Canada . Turns out, the animal was found injured only kilometres away and was being rehabilitated.
4. Cable television station: Most run a community
events service. Check it out. (And don’t forget your own newspaper’s community events listings)
5. Health department website: It’s interesting what officials will sometimes post on their websites, yet not
send press releases to the media. For example, our health department will post notices about beach closings on its website, but will not issue press releases about closings.
6. Start Googling: Google names, Google town names,
Google organizations’ names. You’ll be surprised what you find.
7. Arena bulletin boards: Association news gets posted here.
8. Church bulletins: We have a staffer who routinely gets
tips from church bulletins.
9. Community signs: Be alert when
you’re driving and read community signs. What are people publicizing to other people?
10. Rezoning notices: You see these
posted on properties where there is a proposed zoning change. Read them. There’s information there about development happening in your community.
11. Classified ads: People sell items.
They look for items. And then there are the oddities such as a cemetery plot for sale. . . you never know what you’ll find.
12. Ads: Don’t confine your reading to
the classified ads. Check out the other ads in your paper. Businesses and organizations use ads to announce events.
13. Club notes: Many newspapers print
club notes from various organizations and clubs. It’s amazing what groups will bury in these hand-ins. Once, a local club buried an item about the coming visit of a Belgian prince. In another item, a Women’s Institute formed in 1918 announced that it was folding due to declining membership.
14. Your local ISP’s forums: Local Internet Service
Providers usually operate discussion forums on their websites. These forums are usually very locally based and feature chatter about all sorts of issues and newsworthy items.
15. Anniversary notices: Read ’em! It’s how you’ll find terrific
human interest stories such as Mae and Jack celebrating 75 years of marriage.
16. Graduation notices: These can be a treasure trove of
story ideas. Learn about the local high school grad who’s going to university in Australia, or the university grad who’s starting a new career in Hong Kong as an ambassador’s assistant, or the young woman who’s becoming a police officer.
17. Obituaries: There are nuggets buried (pardon the pun) in
obituary notices. Nuggets like the person who once taught in a one-room schoolhouse, or the soldier who landed on the beach on D-Day, or the fellow who was a prospector. All stories waiting to be told.
18. School newspapers: Students will publish all kinds of
breaking stories about their school in their newspapers. Find out what events are upcoming, what trips are planned, and about staff and student accomplishments.
19. Sports association websites: Find out how teams are
doing, what tournaments are scheduled, get association news.
20. Hydro poles: People aren’t supposed to staple notices to
hydro poles, but they do. Sure, some notices tout stuff like ‘Lose 10 pounds in 10 Days’, but others may advertise a giant neighbourhood yard sale or a rock concert by an up and coming young band.
21. Sports hand-ins: There are some human interest gems in
those writeups that parents and coaches slide through the mailslot late at night at your office: little Johnny who scored six goals in one hockey game, or the basketball game where Jenny netted 47 points.
22. Eavesdrop: Eavesdrop at the grocery store checkout.
Eavesdrop at the coffee shop. Eavesdrop at the arena or sports field. Learn to listen to what people are talking about.
23. School websites: Learn about staff news, alumni news,
policies, upcoming events and happenings.
24. Blogs: Search for bloggers online in your community.
What are they talking about?
25. Meeting minutes:
Government organizations (councils, committees, school boards, conservation authorities) usually post notes from their meetings. If you weren’t at the meetings, it’s a quick way to review what was discussed and stay on top of newsworthy decisions. Also, look at agendas before meetings.
26. Tourism websites: Find out what’s being promoted as
tourism destinations, and find out what’s being overlooked. Get a list of festivals. Find out who belongs to your local tourist association. Learn where the association is going to promote tourism.
27. Radio, TV: Most have a community events board. Just
because a citizen didn’t call you about an event, it doesn’t mean they didn’t call competing media. Find out what the competition has that you don’t.
28. Nature / environmental groups: Most communities have
these organizations. Find out about their projects, their issues, unusual animals sightings, field trips, etc.
29. Trends: Get up to date on the latest trends and find out
how they’re impacting your community. It might be the hottest new toy for kids. Or it might be something more sinister such as an illegal drug.
30. Cemeteries: Read inscriptions on tombstones. One
reporter here noticed a tombstone with the inscription that the man died in Buchenwald concentration camp. With a little digging (sorry for the pun), it turned out the man was a spy for the allies who was caught by the Nazis.
31. Your newspaper’s ad reps: These co-workers walk the
business beat on a daily basis. They hear gossip. Ask them what they’re hearing on the street.
32. The What Happens Next factor:
Look at stories that have appeared in your paper in the past two weeks. Read them again. And then ask yourself: What happened next? If it hasn’t already been followed up, find out what’s happened.
33. Crime statistics: Talk to police about
what trends are happening, what are the most common crimes, get stats on break-ins, car thefts, drunk driving charges, 911 calls, etc.
34. Weather, weather, weather: From
your local weather office, monthly stats are readily available on temperatures, snowfall, rainfall, etc. It’s no secret that readers love weather stories.
35. Other newspapers: Read their stories. Look for buried
leads. Look for angles that they missed. Look for advancers that tip you off to upcoming events that you were unaware of. Consider how you can give the story a different twist.
36. Use the ‘Is there anything else happening?’ question:
When you’re talking with people, or interviewing them, at the end of your conversation, throw in the ‘is there anything else happening that might be newsworthy?’ It’s a simple interview-ending technique that can lead somewhere else.
37. Demographics: Research statistics compiled by sources
such as Statistics Canada. You’ll find community populations, age breakdowns, income, etc. How does your community compare with national averages?
38. The Barber / hairdresser: Fifteen minutes chatting while
in the chair can produce several leads. Don’t laugh. If it’s happening in the community, a barber or hairdresser has likely heard about from someone sitting in his/her chair.
39. Community centre: All kinds of organizations post information
at these places. All kinds of activities take place here.
40. Year in Review: Most newspapers publish a Year in
Review every January. Print it off and refer to it throughout the upcoming year. Many stories can be updated.
41. Police briefs: In press releases, police give the media a
few paragraphs on crimes that can often be expanded into stories. Also, be alert for multiple briefs over several weeks that show crime patterns.
42. Read magazine covers at the grocery store checkout:
No, we’re not talking about the headlines that scream Aliens Cry Foul Over TV Show Mork & Mindy. We’re talking about the magazine covers that try to lure readers with theme statements such as Bicycle Helmets: Should they be mandatory for adults too? Or Skin Cancer: Are you at risk? These theme statements can help you generate localized stories on topical issues.
43. Employment listings: Who’s hiring in your community?
Tell your readers about the factory that’s seeking 10 workers due to an extra shift being added. Sometimes a story about the flood of applications for a single job can be a telling story about the employment prospects in your community. And don’t forget about government employment listings. Taxpayers always like to know how their money is being spent to hire staff at municipal offices.
44. Welfare agencies: Who’s helping the poor in your community?
Government agencies that distribute welfare payments will keep statistics on how many people are receiving aid. Food banks also keep statistics on how many people are visiting for food. These types of statistics can be reported on a regular basis throughout the year.
45. Member of government websites: Visit the websites of
your local member (MP or MPP) of government. Obviously, there will be lots of news releases touting the ‘great work’ they do, but read between the lines and you’ll have lots of conflict-based story ideas: Politicians fighting with groups, rival politicians, policies, legislation, etc.
46. Variety stores: Frequently on a store counter, you’ll find
donation jars for various causes or benefits. Occasionally, there are even petitions hoping to attract the signatures of customers.
47. Notices on storefront windows: these windows can feature
a mish-mash of notices, everything from community events to legal notices about a business being shut down.
48. Community newsletters: For example, Ontario Power
Generation publishes a newsletter for employees and the community. Sure, it’s a public relations vehicle, but there are story tips. Get on the mailing list of companies which send out such newsletters.
49. Go for a walk: Go for a walk through your downtown and
ask people and retailers what folks are talking about in town? What’s happening that’s newsworthy? What are some issues? What’s the best thing that’s happening? Who would make a good human interest story?
50. Letters to the editor: They offer additional viewpoints on
subjects, possibly other angles for stories. The writers are also commonly Average Joe Citizens bringing to light an injustice, a complaint or opposition/approval of an impending decision by government.

7 comments:

Kiran Nepal said...

thanks shahid, for ur imp. feed. hope u'll do again and again for us.

zabe azkar said...

Thanks a lot for the nice ideas..Let me go through the same..zabe azkar

Shahzada Irfan Ahmed said...

No doubt it's a very good blog for journalists. 50 places can be very
helpful provided journalists are ready to do some legwork.

You have taken a great intitiative. I wish you good luck. Will also
pass on blog details to fellow journalists.

All the best

Shafqat Munir said...

I am sure you are doing a fantastic job to train media practitioners. Keep it up.

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Kirsty said...

Great post ! When I'm finding it hard to find inspiration I'll come back to it ! There's also the A-Z challenge where you find a story in a new area just take a page out of a small map. Or the phone book challenge find a story out of a page in the phone book/yellow pages, just start calling people!

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