Developing Story Ideas

C. Dow Tate
Hillcrest High School
Dallas, Texas

The ultimate goal:

Developing specific and feasible story ideas.


  • Teach news value judging criteria. Students need basic questioning strategies to help them determine if their thoughts make a good story idea. The first questions students should ask are “Who cares and why should they” and “Why is this relevant or interesting to my audience right now?” Other important criteria students can apply to their story ideas include conflict and human interest.
  • Give students language to ask beat sources for story ideas. Students typically get weak results when they ask the most broad and blatant questions — “What’s going on?” or “Do you have any story ideas for the publication?” Arm them with the questions such as “What’s your next project? What are you working on right now?” or “What’s your organization’s largest concern?”
  • Distinguish story topic from story idea. A topic is a vague two-word reference such as “dress code story.” An idea is: “A story about the administration’s new proposal to require students to dress up on Mondays and how the students are rebelling.” The idea has a more specific focus and is based upon actual timely occurrences. Pre-reporting is key to identifying feasible story ideas that will pan out. Ideas need to be specific enough to give students a place to start. In the above example, the student had to talk to an administration to find out that there was an actual proposal to change the dress code. Possible sources, timely events or proposals and key issue questions are good parts of a story idea that will help make story ideas a reality.
  • Teach localization. Students need to read daily newspapers with an eye for stories relevant to their readership. As they read they should ask themselves: How will this story affect students? Are there any connections to this story in our community? Is this an issue that students at our school can relate to or are dealing with? The process of generating story ideas from reading other publications isn’t necessarily a literal process. Show how a story on an NCAA lawsuit not relevant at the high school level can make you consider other relevant NCAA stories such as how athletes are coping with higher eligibility standards.

Some ways to teach them.

  • Idea stations. Create idea stations in your room to prompt possible story ideas. A stack of daily newspapers from cities across the country, a list of possible beats or a set of teen and news magazines and exchange newspapers are all possible stations. Group students and have them rotate through the sites reading and discussing the materials.
  • Localizing. Give students a list of scenarios, such as “A local computer manufacturer lays off 200 workers,” and challenge them to search each scenario for a localized story by asking questions. The questions can be the answers to the exercise, or you can play lead source and answer those questions until they develop a localized story.