Generating Story Ideas
Always have ideas. You've heard this before, but coming up with story ideas can be a challenge. We know. It's part of our job as journalists and as storytellers. The best journalists always have a steady supply of ideas at the ready. Yes, you'll find ideas at news websites and events calendars. However, it's not so much where you find the ideas, but how.
You don't want to take ideas that have already been done. So, how do you get those original ideas without causing your head to explode?
One of the best ways to generate ideas is clustering. Use a pen and legal pad and write down a single keyword (such as vaccines) in the centre of the page and circle it. Then spin off idea clusters around your keyword that somehow relate to it. Don't edit yourself or stop to evaluate the items - just get them down no matter how wild they are. Clustering shows patterns where you can then do some evaluating to see if the ideas are worth doing. This method is really the easiest way to brainstorm as long as you keep telling yourself that there are no bad ideas. You can criticise them later, but for now... keep the creative juices flowing! Once your momentum starts losing steam, only then do you start evaluating.
When you evaluate the idea, do the following: write a stream of consciousness asking as many questions as you can about the idea. Turn off your inner critic and never mind your spelling or punctuating. Just let the questions fly! This process can take several minutes, but it's well worth it. Then look for anything that surprises or interests you.
It also helps if you stop thinking linearly. Ideas tend to flow randomly. Let it happen. Some of the best ideas are usually triggered by other ideas. Nonlinear thinking will take you into areas you would never have come up with otherwise.
Finally, once you have an idea, start doing the research. Learn as much about it as you can. What leaps out at you? Sketch a scenario around your idea asking if you can make the story personal. Who's involved, who's impacted, what are their needs...? What kind of stand-up can you do? Once you get at what the story is about, then find the focus, answering the question, What's the point? So what? Why should I care?
When you find the focus, then answer who you need to interview and what kind of b-roll you need. Use info from your research that supports the focus and come up with a few questions you can ask your sources. Then give them a ring and explain your story concisely. Do a pre-interview (don't feel obligated that just because you called someone that they must now be interviewed for your story). However, you should know your story before you contact the sources. Only then will they give you credibility.... and the time of day! Remember, always be courteous to people who are willing to share their time with you. Don't waste their time searching for something that you can easily find out on your own.
Then fill out the story submission form. Don't send us ideas and then say that you're going to find out more about it. Instead, you should already have done your homework and come up with sources and a story map. Our evaluation is more effective if you can show that you know your story.