Scholastic journalists and their advisers may find themselves on the struggle bus when it comes to locating fresh story ideas. Here are some kernels of wisdom to help get those ideas flowing when (or before) that happens.
“Are there new ways teens are endangering their health or well-being with their choices? It is a question I ask at least once a year, as we begin brainstorming projects that will resonate with teens, and offer perspectives scholastic journalists have unique access to. Finding ‘positive’ features, those stories that reveal the upside of teenage life, are also important. But teenagers are the ones who know what is truly happening in their world, and teen journalists are well-positioned to shine a light on areas of concern. You can actually enlighten the adults in your community with these pieces. Note: always practice proper journalistic ethics when you dig into these topics. Minimize harm.”
Dave Davis, HTV Magazine adviser in Springfield, Mo.
“Journalism at its best also is shaped by your own curiosity and experience. Part of what makes journalism so great is you. Your connections, experiences, your curiosity is what diversifies how a story is told. There’s a million stories waiting to be told and journalists with varying interests are on the scene right now. So if you’re a journalist by day and a concert lover at night, tell the story of a local venue that’s new in town that everyone may not know about yet. If you’re a journalist with a love for conservation and wildlife, share with your community what is happening to the very land around them. I’m not encouraging bias by any means, but your experiences and the experiences of those around you are unique and important. Share them! It’s your duty as a journalist to tell the stories of those who don’t have access to this information or the ability to tell their story themselves. Also, make it fun! Make it interesting! Make it new! Make something! That’s what journalism is all about and the world needs to hear the stories you’ve collected.”
Autumn Osia, senior Digital Media Production major at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa
“What makes you curious? Often the things that raise alarm or question within us are worth investigating and reporting on. As a recently-retired educator who loves the environment, I have noticed an increasing amount of trash on my walks and drives. A vast majority of it is alcohol related. Are the campaigns fighting drunk driving not working? Have alcohol sales increased? Are local law enforcement seeing this? How is this impacting not only the beauty of our natural spaces, but the individuals who are consuming this much alcohol while on the road? There are SO MANY questions I have that if I was back in the classroom I would be begging my student journalists to look into this. Really looking at the trash on the sides of the roads has led to a potentially BIG story for the right person to tell.”
Michelle Turner, retired Blue Jay Journal TV adviser at Washington High School in Washington, Mo.
“We are always thinking about our audience and asking, ‘Do teens care?’ We brainstorm story ideas as a whole class. In the past, we would have the discussion in small groups, but I have learned that with more students involved, we have more potential characters brought up for the students who are picking an idea. As soon as we like an idea, we then discuss who the character could be for the story. Most of our stories are about one central character. And then the big questions come: are there video (B-roll) opportunities and can they shoot natural sound? If we have a story that is timely, can impact our teen audience, revolve around a central character, and give the students an opportunity to shoot video, then we know we have a good story idea.”
Ben Barnholdt, WCTV19 adviser at Whitney High School in Rocklin, Calif.
“Sometimes students need to be reminded to really read their emails and look at posters around campus–there are story ideas everywhere, but you have to look (they often aren’t “thinking like journalists” when checking their email). I also remind students that if they have any questions or concerns about anything that’s happening on campus or in their communities, other people have the same questions, and it can be their role to find answers. I also urge students to be brave–not only with their story ideas, but also by being (or acting) confident when reaching out to and interviewing sources. It’s all scary the first time you do anything, but it gets easier and easier over time.”
Leigh Kellmann Kolb, assistant professor of English and Journalism at East Central College in Union, Mo.
“I look at my community and identify a problem that not many individuals are talking about. It allows me to cover topics I am interested in and have a passion for. There are plenty of stories around us, it may just take some digging to find the good ones.”
Kate Freitag, junior Strategic Communications major at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo.
“What brings teens joy or pain? What are teens most frustrated about? What do teens and their peers struggle with? Is there an older person in the teen’s life that had a unique job when they were younger? Can this older person share words of wisdom for today’s teenagers? The most masterful professional journalists are able to interview and film ordinary people and attain this perfect balance between emotion and information, color and news, the affective and the cognitive. Accuracy is key. A perfect blend of these elements results in a story which captures a character’s heart and soul. An excellent story offers detail the reader can use to make his or her own judgments and, perhaps, forge an emotional connection with a character.”
Susan Larson, PACKTV adviser at Black Hills High School in Tumwater, Wash.
“When I was a reporter writing six to twelve stories a week for a daily newspaper, I found some weeks were swamps of potential and others found me driving around the city digging for anything that might spark an idea for a potential story topic. What’s being built at that construction site? What does that flier on the store window say? Is that a new business? Where do the locals hang out in the morning and what are they talking about? Honestly, student journalists face the same challenges when looking for stories, and they can do the same thing in their school buildings and communities. Take your staffers out for a walk through the building, walk around it outdoors, or walk through the neighborhood. What’s new? Does anything make you ask a question? Do you see anything unusual? Your audience will have the same questions. Find the answers for them. One summer, we sent teams of staffers to different areas of the city to look for stories – they each found something new to cover: an unemployed father panhandling to make his house payments during a recession, an Italian culture festival with students performing, artists in a street fair, an Eagle project under construction in the park next to campus, and more. Tell the stories in and out of your school. Stories can be found anywhere and everywhere. There’s never a reason to come empty handed to a story pitch day for your publication.”
Christina Geabhart, MJE, newsmagazine, online and broadcast adviser at Oak Park High School in Kansas City, Mo.
“In my beginning journalism class, sophomores look for feature ideas to turn into stories for one of their major assignments. The world is literally full of stories – everyone you meet has a story to tell, and the job of the student journalist is to find those that are compelling and interesting to the Chronicle’s teen audience. Just today, for example, those sophomores pitched everything from ‘super shoes’ for competitive running, to a hotline for mental health staffed by teens, to the 80th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which created internment camps for American citizens of Japanese heritage. When using news values, such as timeliness, proximity, conflict, impact and prominence, finding great stories is not difficult.”
Jim Burns, The Chronicle adviser at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, Calif.
After having students read the article, give them this review to help them take what they have learned and put it into action!
Click THIS LINK for a Google doc that you can view and/or copy to modify and use as you wish.