Developing ideas for news stories is always challenging, and especially so for broadcast journalists. Our process has evolved over the years as we realized that the most important aspect of a news package is having a good idea to begin with.
Qualities of a good news story:
- story must significantly affect the audience (intellectually or emotionally)
- helps the audience make decisions about their lives
- all stakeholders are considered
Other factors of a good broadcast story include topics that offer the potential for dynamic images and sound, articulate sources, graphics, and the willingness of sources to be recorded on camera.
Since so much time is devoted to production (recording interviews and b-roll, editing, recording VO, etc.) we’ve found that it’s good to hit the ground running once stories have been assigned. This is the latest iteration of our “Bullpen.”
In the second week of the three-week news cycle, the staff are given the prompt for the bullpen, in a style similar to This American Life. Students are encouraged to creatively riff on the theme. Some past themes include “Give and take” (for stories airing near the holidays) and “Failure” (for in-depth stories about problems at our school).
When choosing a theme, make sure you can creatively apply it to news, sports and feature stories.
In the third week of our three-week news cycle, all staff are required to complete a google form which has all of the pertinent information about the topic:
- topic name
- possible angles and focus statements
- confirmed sources (they’ve already agreed to be interviewed)
- background research, info and facts
- rationale as to why this story should be produced
The staff is then divided into teams of about four students, and each team bats around their ideas, and improvises off of what their peers say. This allows them the chance to amplify and enhance the ideas originally submitted with the form. Each team then reports back to the entire class what they came up with, and we give feedback. The News Directors take all of that info and make a decision about which stories to produce.
The form is important because it holds every staff member accountable for generating ideas. The small group discussion is important because it inspires others and sparks new ideas–something my staff has always felt was valuable.
Another important element is to develop a focus statement, which is the purpose or goal of a story. Unlike an angle, the focus statement is more specific, and provides a clear roadmap for the story. An example might be:
- Topic: Freshman class elections
- Angle: new campaign advertising rules
- Focus Statement: How candidates have turned to social media to promote their campaign
Significant time is spent on this process, but it pays off. We started using the forms last year, and the small breakout teams in the middle of the first semester this year. Already we are finding significant improvement in the originality of topics and quality of sources and focus statements. Reporting teams can now spend their time improving their writing and videography rather than scrambling to find a story or sources.
Many of these ideas have been inspired by the work of Dave Davis and Jon Reese and their staffs. What are your tips for developing news stories? Please share your ideas in the comments below.