Developing story ideas…

Where do stories come from? Some are pretty obvious – what is happening today/what happened yesterday in your world. Some news is important because it affects you or those around you. No matter where the news comes from, you have to work to develop the idea.

I have at least four stories under development right now for thinknews. They range from food to a quirky philosopher to the changing demographics of newscarriers to a variation on street racing. Three I got from reading local newspapers. One of these is the result of looking at a print ad and realizing there was a story behind the ad. The last one came from an aquaintance who is promoting a local event. Because my goal is more reflective stories, I’m not repeating what the papers did – the plan is to look at each story from a new perspective. I’ll probably (have the time to) go more in-depth, look for the expert interview, tie the story in with a larger issue.

So how do I “develop” a story? The process can be explained in the same sense as developing a black and white print the old-fashioned way. Expose, put in chemical bath and wait for the image to show up.

I’ll use the newscarrier demographics story as an example. Every day (except Sundays when it doesn’t come out) I read my local newspaper – the Lodi News Sentinel. It’s a great paper and does a good job of focusing on its community. A few weeks ago I was scanning through the classifieds (yeah, I read everything) and I saw a two column promo ad that was part of an ongoing series focussing on the paper’s newscarriers. This one showed a stay-at-home mom with her family. The stereotypical newscarrier is a kid on a bike, so this struck me as unusual and worth looking into. Consider this the “exposure” part of developing a story. I saw something and realized there might be more to it.

Stage two: put in the chemical bath. This part involves tracking down the necessary elements and making sure you get enough to develop the story further. I’ve been in touch with the editor, who has passed on the email and phone numbers of the circulation manager. I’ll admit I’ve been a bit lax in my follow-up at this time (the usual excuses of too much to do). I did email him (my server bounced it back) and called (need to call earlier/the guy must get up at 3am)…but this also is typical. You have to be persistent, so I’ll keep trying until I get through. Additionally, one of my daughter’s friends is a newscarrier who rollarblades her route. I’ll definitely ask the circulation manager if he has a typical carrier or if few fit a defined mold. If there is enough information (chemicals) to develop the story I’ll move on to stage three.

Stage three is waiting for the image to develop. Best analogy here is going out with camera in hand and shooting interviews, cover shots, gathering more facts, writing and editing. The final “image” is the final product. The edited story, which will be posted (hung) on the Internet.

Each of the stories I’m considering is going through the same process. They are all at different stages of development – so it’s kind of like juggling, waiting to see which ball will come down next. I may be able to shoot the newscarrier story completely this next week while I’m on spring break from school. Ditto the philosopher story (which has a great follow-up story to go with it). The food story I may begin to shoot this week, but I know I’m going to need some food experts at the state level, so I may not finish it for a month or so. The street racing story will be mostly shot the weekend of the event. All will be posted when I’m through on thinknews, but I’ll keep my Videojournalism readers posted on progress and completion also.

2 thoughts on “Developing story ideas…

  1. One thing I neglected to mention…sometimes there isn’t enough to create a legitimate story. The facts are weak…you can’t get both sides…people do not want to cooperate for various reasons…maybe there aren’t visuals to support the story properly. Unless there is a compelling reason to push, just move on.

    Why push a story that may not seem to initially be worth it? Public safety. Good of the community.

    An example of a story I used to hate to cover was a child on child shooting. One memorable incident was an older brother playing with dad’s gun who shot and killed his younger brother. Dad had unloaded the gun and stored bullets in a secure area. However, he did not check the chamber and there was a bullet in there. Gun was hidden – or so he thought. Kids found it while parents were out and in their play acting, one “shot” the gun. The bullet that wasn’t there killed the younger brother. Parents and older son devastated and (understandable) did not want to deal with media. No photos of anyone available (besides, they were juveniles, so we had to avoid names). Why do the story? A very strong message to all parents: guns and children are not a good mix. If this story got through to even one parent, it was worth it. We relied on night shots of house and crime scene shots from a distance. Neighbors talked about what a good family they were…the final story was that of a tragedy. A father who tried to do what was right and a child who had to live with memories of what he did. And a powerful message about gun safety.

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