Ask any editor: What are some of the most common comments heard from reporters in newsrooms. Guess what comment brings the most laughter? Yes, it's "That's not a story!" Every newsroom has at least reporter -- maybe more -- who like to grumble this tired old line.
Don't let the "That's not a story!" bug infect you. Here's a 10-step vaccine:
1. It's not about you Reporters who say they don't care about something and therefore it's not a story are in desperate need of a journalism reality check. It's not about you. It's always about your readers. Ask yourself: "Will my readers care about this?" "Is this something that's of interest to readers?" "Will readers be better informed by doing this?" Know your readership and your audience. That's who cares. Report for your readers - not yourself.
2. Initiative Enterprising reporters who can see story angles where others can't are often the ones who are the bright lights, the ones who are always 'breaking' stories and leading the way. Initiative is how you stay ahead of the competition and further your career.
3. Develop an outline It will help you develop ideas. Ask yourself the key questions: "What's the theme?" "What am I trying to show?" "What's been done on this before?" "What makes this a relevant story right now?"
4. Proactive vs. reactive So, you say something is not a story. Will it be a story a week from now? Will it be a story six months from now? By doing a story now, are you setting up an issue and educating your readers in advance about something that's going to be making news in the future? News isn't always obvious or in front of us. Creative reporters explore issues - even if they aren't in front of us or readers all the time.
5. Is there a link? Can you draw a link to other events unfolding in your community? Comparisons on one issue can add perspective/parallels to other events.
6. Alternatives Maybe you have a twist on the suggested story idea. Pitch it. Discussion can be a starting point. It sure beats "That's not a story!" which is a dead end. Reporters who put up walls don't get far.
7. Do the bounce Before you jump to conclusions try bouncing the story idea off a colleague, friend, neighbour or source. Gaining insight can enlighten your outlook. Ask a colleague: "What would you do?" Ask a friend or spouse: "Would you find this interesting? Why? What would you like to know?"
8. Investigate Ask questions and begin to gather facts. This will help you evaluate the focus. Interestingly, many comments of "That's not a story!" come when reporters are assigned proactive stories. Imagine if all reporters operated on the "That's not a story!" basis. Investigative reporting wouldn't exist. Our job is also to probe issues.
9. Bizarre and unusual matters It's no secret that readers love the unexpected, the bizarre and the unusual. So start writing!
10. Have courage Reporters need to make a commitment of time and effort to grow a story idea. Reporters need to have courage to open their mind. You may end up going into a field that you're not familiar with. Have the courage to learn. Have the courage to ask: "I don't understand this, please explain. Why is this relevant? Why does this matter?" Reporters need to have courage to overcome setbacks and remain determined. And they need to have courage to know that experience comes from trying many new challenges.