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“I want to be a reporter, but I don’t know what to write about!” was the comment from a young lady in an audience I spoke to recently. Her dilemma prompted me to start work on my next book tentatively titled, “1001 News Story Ideas for Citizen Journalists.”
Though the project has only begun, I do have a preliminary outline for the book. I got the outline from a 1978 magazine article by Paul Swensson reprinted in an old book* I picked up at a used bookstore recently. Swensson was a former newspaperman, journalism professor and newspaper consultant who wrote that there are five kinds of news stories. His outline alone should stimulate in any aspiring or active citizen journalist a variety of ideas for worthy news stories. Here is his list of five kinds of news stories: things, ideas, people, projects and problems.
To get your (and my) creative juices flowing, let me expand ever-so-briefly on Swensson’s list -
Things – everything from art and automobiles to zebras and zirconium. Just look around you and you’ll find a thousand story ideas about all kinds of interesting things.
Ideas – fads, opinions, quirks, styles, theories, dogma, advice, language, prophecy, debates, government, trends, motivations, passions, rationale, proof, methods. We humans have a never-ending desire to explore new ideas and many old ones as well.
People – achievements, failures, professions, hopes, dreams, old people, young people, happy people, sad people. People love to read about other people. Find someone interesting, interview them and some of their friends, relatives, co-workers, even their enemies, and then write a profile about them.
Projects – innovations, adventures, enterprises, improvements, destructions and more. Every town has projects of one kind or another that people would like to know about.
Problems – hazards, accidents, mistakes, deterrents and discouragements. Want to know what the problems are in your community? Walk down your main street and ask someone, “What do you think are the one or two biggest problems or challenges our community faces today?” Ask 10 people and you’ll probably have 10 interesting and timely story ideas.
Maybe I don’t need to write the book after all. You could save me a few hundred hours of work if every time you get writers block, you just pull out this list for all the ideas you will ever need!
*Article title: The Hard Work of Writing Better included in “Improving Newswriting,” edited by Loren Ghigilone and published by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, 1982.