Bet you’ve asked yourself this question at least once: Where do great stories come from?
There are quite a few answers to that question. Thinking back on the work that makes me most proud, I can cite a wide variety of starting points:
- a phoned-in tip
- some documents that arrived in the mail
- an offhand comment heard at a professional conference
- long-term observation and reporting of a complicated subject
- a follow-up on a five-year-old story that made me wonder, “Whatever happened to…?”
- a Freedom of Information Act request
- cultivating a great source as part of beat reporting.
Use technology, like RSS, alerts and Twitter to find out what other people are reporting on a subject you need to know about. Read professional journals and newsletters. Look closely at organization’s websites, and get on listservs.
First step, though? Notice what you notice, as writer Beth Macy puts it so eloquently in this piece she wrote for AJR. She learned the importance of observation as a columnist, and she has serious reporting chops. She wrote a great story I will never forget about a young woman who was the first person in her family (and her neighborhood) to go to college. Oh, yeah — she went to Harvard.
So, observe. And notice yourself observing. Think. Read. Gather. Talk (about your idea with your editor). Read more. Then report.