Developing Story Ideas Students Want to Read


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Developing Story Ideas Students Want to Read

Because you are expected to act as journalists in this class, you will be expected to constantly be developing story ideas as well. Each week, you will be responsible for coming up with three story ideas. For each of these ideas, you need to list several sources, and several questions the story will answer for the reader. The first set of these will be due on Monday 9/19. They will be due every other week on Monday until further notice, or unless I waive a specific week. I will remind you when they are due and it will be posted on my website. How to find story ideas:

  • Know what’s going on in the school – listen to announcements, talk regularly with teachers, students, administrators, secretaries, supervisors, coaches, guidance people - whoever you have access to. Check the schedule for school board meetings.

  • Know what’s going on locally – read the VCG Times, Verona specific websites.

  • Talk to your Friends – What are they talking about or writing about? What are they going through that others might be able to relate to? Use Facebook or other social media to connect with students at this school and other teens

  • Read other school newspapers – Use the links on the my site (I will always be adding to this) to see what other schools are writing about.

  • Set up your homepage with RSS feeds – Use iGoogle, myYahoo, or Google Reader to have content delivered to you.

Getting Started with Story Ideas – (Credit to Candace Perkins Bowen)

My student newspaper staffers always wanted someone to hand them a list of 101 story ideas…and that would be all they’d need to have a never-ending supply of material.


As I told them, it’s not that easy because a story idea is only as good as (1) the angle and focus a reporter takes and (2) the sources he or she gets. Besides, list topics get old. You’re not writing about the Walkman anymore, are you?

Better, I told them, to ask yourself some questions that generate good ideas. For instance, “What has made me angry lately?” I remember trying that in class once and having a student snicker, “Yeah, my sister wore my sweater without asking, and I’m mad, but that isn’t a story.” It could be. Think of the various ways a staff could cover sibling issues, from dealing with conflicts to supporting each other to a great photo essay.

The same thing works with questions like these:

  • What am I going to buy soon? Especially when teen readers consider big-ticket items like computers or used cars, a little consumer research from their student newspaper could be a big help.

  • What have I been curious about lately? That hole in the ground in the field on the way to school….could that be the start of a new strip mall? Might they have after-school jobs for teens?

  • What has worried me lately? Swine flu or H1N1 was a big topic last year, then commercial media began covering a lack of vaccine. Just what ARE the issues?

  • What has made me happy lately? The college where I applied instituted an earlier-than-last-year acceptance policy, deciding to notify students in December. Are other places doing that? How does that help those who are college-bound?

Some other tips that might be helpful if the staff stares blankly when it’s time to list ideas:

  • Localize and Teen-ize. Want to write about the economy? The national picture and what Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke says will be old news shortly after it comes out in and never of much interest to high school readers. But how are students’ lives affected by the current economy? Is it impacting day-to-day purchases? College choices? Job opportunities?
  • Focus. The best stories are not a mile wide and a half inch deep. They don’t cover a little bit about a lot of angles on a big topic. They dig deep and tell readers things they don’t already know about one specific idea. Don’t cover body art. Don’t cover tattoos. Don’t even cover just the dangers of tattoos. How about the idea that doctors now say many have problems getting MRIs because of their tattoos. Metals in them could cause severe burns. As teens age and tattoing gains popularity, how big of a problem will this be?

  • Source. Sure, you have sources, but they shouldn’t be the first five clueless kids you ask in the hall. They should be experts and those knowledgeable enough to bring new information to readers. Doctors, lawyers, financial consultants, college professors, law enforcement officials…..those are the ones who can take the article beyond uninformed opinion and make it good journalism.

  • Update. The Walkman might not be much of a topic, but what ARE people listening to now? What is on the other end of your readers’ ear buds? Can you do a cost and features comparison of various “portable listening devices”?

So relying on a list isn’t the way to go. Starting with questions and approaches that will give you solid information and stories your readers want and need to know — that’s what generates good ideas.


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