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Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds So now you know what news is. You know what makes a good news story and we already discussed what makes some stories more newsworthy than others. Now the next question that comes along in this thought process is, but where do you find these stories? And there are two ways of finding stories and of getting stories. One way is that you, as a reporter, go and find them. And the other way is that they actually come to you. The way that news stories come to a reporter are typically through audience feedback. Sometimes, people from the local audience call the newspaper to voice a complaint about something.

Skip to 0 minutes and 57 seconds And if a reporter decides to follow up on these complaints, they may find out that there’s actually a newsworthy bit behind them. Other times, local audiences write letters to the editor about an issue that, again, may spur some ideas to reporters in that newspaper. Nowadays, with social media and interactivity, there are even more ways for the audience to give feedback and story ideas to the media. So actually, a lot of media outlets nowadays have specific forms online that residents can fill in and pitch story ideas to them.

Skip to 1 minute and 44 seconds Or journalists can monitor their social media accounts of their news organisation to see the discussions that citizens are engaging in, and, again, see if there’s any problems, or complaints, or suggestions, or things that the journalists did not necessarily know about. Another way for journalists to find stories is that they, themselves, go out and get them. And if a journalist is going down this route, a very important part of this process is the journalist’s contact book. So this contact book is an actual little book or a list of the sources that a journalist has worked in in the past.

Skip to 2 minutes and 38 seconds It contains the source’s name, position, organisation that they work at, obviously all their contact information, like email, phone numbers, and so forth– maybe some notes by the journalist on the types of interactions that they’ve had with the contact. And so this contact book is actually one of a reporters’ most prized possessions because it’s something that reporters often go back to and revisit in search for new stories. So there are certain contacts that a journalist would call regularly to look for new stories. For example, if you have a good contact in the local police department, you may be calling them weekly to see if something new or interesting is happening there that you may want to write about.

Skip to 3 minutes and 34 seconds So not only are these contacts books a journalist’s most prized possession– because they very often lead to the creation of story ideas and of actual stories– but also journalists need to cultivate these contacts. They need to, very often, establish relationships with those people. So they’re willing to share experiences with the journalist and pitch them story ideas. The actual contact book, as I said, could take many forms. When I used to be a health reporter, I actually had an Excel spreadsheet because I love spreadsheets. So I did not have a little black book, I had an Excel spreadsheet that had a lot of names and numbers of medical doctors and medical professors from around the country.

Skip to 4 minutes and 34 seconds And I used that list often to call back and talk about future stories, or to get some other ideas. But I also want to emphasise that a reporter is never truly off-duty because they’re constantly thinking of the next story and where it would come from. And they’re constantly looking around for what’s happening around them because, in fact, stories are everywhere around us. And it takes a little bit of practise and sometimes a sixth sense to smell a story. But as you do it, you become better at it. And you realise that stories truly are everywhere around us. And you may get a story from just talking to your parents, or talking to your friends, or even talking to strangers.

Skip to 5 minutes and 27 seconds So for example, I have a friend, a reporter, who says she loves to talk to strangers on the bus, or while waiting for the bus, and that very often gives her story ideas. And actually the longer you wait for the bus, that in itself may be a story idea because you may realise there’s a problem with your public transportation in town. Or looking at your local trash delivery and realising that it has not been picked up for a week, that may also be a news story of the local city council and its trash and recycling services. So, again, the point here being that story ideas and good story ideas are, potentially, everywhere around us.

Skip to 6 minutes and 14 seconds And one of the best things you can do to find them is to talk to people and to be observant of what is going on around you. As I said earlier, you can virtually find good story ideas everywhere, but there are also certain places that are a consistent source of story ideas because new things are happening there on an on-going basis. So practicing journalists often make it a habit of visiting those places on a regular basis just to check if new things are happening. So for example, we’re going to go down a list of such places that may give you ideas for where to look for stories.

Skip to 7 minutes and 1 second So the first few places on this list are the police, fire and rescue departments, hospitals, emergency units, and world safety groups. I’m sure you can already imagine of all things that are happening at a police station or at the fire and rescue department. A lot of it has to do with accidents, with fires, of course, with people being impacted by all this. And that naturally has a lot of good potential for story ideas. Another group of places that you can look for story ideas is your local city council offices, local or regional municipalities, public works departments, and other local or regional government offices.

Skip to 7 minutes and 53 seconds So for a story idea I mentioned earlier about the public transport being late, or the trash not being picked up on time, those will be the kinds of stories that, maybe, you would have to go to these local government offices to pursue. So they stories this may not be as exciting, maybe, as the stories coming from the police or the fire department because there wouldn’t be, necessarily, any accidents, and blood and things. But they’re just as important. And they, actually, maybe more newsworthy because they’re impacting more people. Another group of places where you could potentially find good news stories is schools, universities, academics, professors working in those places, and libraries.

Skip to 8 minutes and 42 seconds What you would find there are different types of stories compared to the other two places that I already mentioned. There you could talk to professors about their ongoing research. You could be getting background on stories that you’re pursuing from elsewhere. But, in general, universities are very dynamic places with a lot of people doing a lot of new and exciting things. And often these people don’t get the deserved media attention. And that’s why they’re typically quite open and willing to talk to new reporters. Another place to look for stories is non-profit or civic organisations, charity bodies, churches, mosques, or synagogues, or other temples, arts organisations, neighbourhood associations, or community groups.

Skip to 9 minutes and 39 seconds So this is the whole civic sector of society that in many countries is very engaged with the life of the country. And a lot of things are happening there. So the types of stories that you could find there are entertainment stories with human interest. Or you could find stories about volunteers doing some special project. And often these are also feel-good stories. So if you’re in the field for us this type of story, the civic sector may be a good place to look for them. Also you could look at business or trade organisations, unions, and companies for a different type of story. A lot of times those would be business-oriented stories.

Skip to 10 minutes and 30 seconds But they may also be human interest stories or just stories about trends of various kinds. And sometimes you would find things that affect people in the general community and maybe are hard to find otherwise. You could also talk to politicians themselves. So for a story that has a political spin, or has to do with a civil matter, you may want to get in touch with politicians without going through their party but just on an individual basis. And that very often may lead to a good story that shows the opinion of that politician on the current issue, or you may get some tips and ideas for future stories in this way.

Skip to 11 minutes and 23 seconds Another place where you could potentially find story ideas is press officers themselves. Most big organisations have press officers who work for them and whose job is, basically, to liaise with the media, to establish relations with journalists. So those people, press officers, are very often welcoming to questions from the public or from the media. And they’re very open and willing to discuss their organisation and the things that they’re doing and to help you out with potential story ideas. However, be careful to always double check the information that you get from press officers with other sources, as well. Because you want a well-rounded story in the end that doesn’t have only the press officer’s point of view.

Skip to 12 minutes and 21 seconds And finally, as I said earlier, the general public are a very good place to find stories. Regular people are excellent sources. And this goes back to my whole idea earlier that stories are everywhere around us. So you may find a good story again by talking to your mum, or talking to your best friend, or just strangers at the bus stop. And very often that’s the first breadcrumb, that then you follow it along, and you find something big is hiding in the background.

Where stories come from

The next question that many reporters who are starting out struggle with is “Where do I find these stories?”.

Having important newsworthy stories to cover is great, but often you can’t wait for them to happen. You need to go and find them. There are two main routes:

1) You as a reporter get the stories or 2) others give them to you. Often people call the newsroom wanting to give a tip or story idea or wishing to complain about something, which may turn out to be newsworthy and spur a story.

Good reporters develop a sixth sense of story ideas. They begin to sense when something they hear about is newsworthy. This comes with practice. You can find story ideas virtually anywhere. But there are also certain places that are a constant source of ideas because new things are always happening there.

Please post your thoughts about the places that are mentioned in Dr Eckler’s video.

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This video is from the free online course:

Introduction to Journalism

University of Strathclyde