Journalists are constantly told to source build and break stories. Problem is, in many shops you are given two packages a day and have no time to work the phones and source build. That’s what you think, but it really is possible. There are ways to generate fresh story ideas that do not take a ton of time. You also can source build. It will take some of your too precious free time. But the payoff is making you more valuable to the station.
So how do you come up with interesting stories when you have next to no time? Here are some ideas to get you started.
First, some help for reporters. Try and “befriend” one person a day while covering the news. This could be the secretary you have to stare at while waiting for an interview, the officer telling you to wait behind the yellow tape, even the restaurant manager at a local dive where you bought a sandwich. Ask them about themselves and hand out a business card. Make sure you get their card too. A few days later, send a quick email saying you really enjoyed your conversation. If you learn the person loves a football team or has kids that like to play sports send email links to interesting stories every once in a while. Bottom line: Build a connection. If you have time to write an update on Facebook, you have time to send a quick link to these new potential sources.
Set up a Twitter account and use it. When we say use it, we don’t mean throwing up a meaningless self-serving plug for the story you are reporting on that very day. Throw up a comment about something interesting you read about. Mix up the comments so you are engaging to follow. Give snippets of what it’s like to be a TV journalist each day. But keep it positive. Remember, employers and potential employers often research Twitter and Facebook accounts. For example, don’t gripe about how much you “hate” your assignment to babysit a “dumb” police standoff. But do mention that your feet sure do hurt after waiting two hours for the standoff to end. The first makes you seem look childish, petty and unprofessional. The second, however, makes you look real and is something your followers can identify with. Twitter is an amazing resource most people are not using correctly. It is a chance to tap directly into what people are thinking about each day and what they want to learn more about. You will gain a following and, eventually, you’ll also start getting interesting tips. The key to Twitter is creating a human connection not another shameless, weak marketing ploy that just ticks people off. People on Twitter tend to obsess about being in the know, right now. You will lock them in if you make them realize they can literally be your eyes and ears and that their ideas may actually make it on the news.
Next, contact the Better Business Bureau and county or state run groups that help small businesses get off the ground. Let these organizations know you are building a list of experts. This can help you when you are suddenly asked for an out of the box story on damage prevention during bad weather or the latest housing or computer scam. These businesses need publicity and cannot, generally, afford to buy ads. But they can afford to send you a quick email pitching ideas once in a while.
Look at blogs on local newspaper websites. People go off on interesting things that sometimes turn into colorful television. How about the guy with the American flag that is too big for the homeowner’s association by-laws? Many of these kinds of stories turn up first in these blogs.
Now let’s talk about generating interesting stories if you are a producer. Yes, it’s hard to source build when you never even leave the newsroom for lunch. So use the computer to get ideas. Search for blogs and groups online that target your key audience. Then browse them several times a week for fresh information. These groups constantly dish. Also keep your ears open when you go to the gym, pick the kids up at daycare or stand in line at the grocery store. You will hear what people are concerned about. These tidbits can turn into interesting stories that you can “produce up” in your newscast. Also look at the hottest video of the day online, then try and come up with a local spin. A Twitter account can be a great asset for you as well. Build your following in the same way we just laid out for reporters.
Finally check out what other stations around the country are covering. Go to a few station websites in areas nearby and see what they’ve played up. Often you can at least find a consumer story with universal appeal.