May 26, 2011

How to find stories


I have an anxiety problem about coming to work without a story pitch. Every day I need to be able to say that something new and interesting is happening. If I don't, I feel I haven't contributed very much.

This is a common ailment. A very good reporter told me that he sometimes wakes up and thinks, "Ugh, got to find a story today." He also told me that we all have our different ways of finding them.

I've been making a list of resources for story ideas. I've used all of these in the past, some with more success than others. It's a good reference so I'm going to post it here, and I'll try to keep adding to it if I find any more.

-Go to neighbourhood meetings and talk to people. This should be the best way to get good stories, but it's time-consuming and probably the most ignored. When I'm feeling civic-minded I'll go to a meeting in the evening. Sometimes people there say something gold...sometimes I doodle for two straight hours.

-Go to places where people gather: coffee shops, public meetings, protests, open houses, community centres, the local convenience store, libraries, the medical clinic. Talk to people there. Look at the notices in the windows.

-Read constantly. Read the newsletters that come in your mailbox from local businesses. Read your municipal councillor's message to the community. Read bulletin boards. Read everything with words on it.

-Check Facebook. What are your friends saying, protesting about, attending, getting angry about?

-Check Twitter. What's the buzz? Location-based tweets are getting more and more specific. What's trending in your area? Try checking lists other than your own home page. Many people curate public lists based on region or interest ("Fab from Nova Scotia" or "Local writers"). Engage and ask questions. Reply to comments.

-Check blogs. You can find blog directories listed by region on Blogger and Wordpress, or (since like-minded bloggers tend to link themselves together) you can just go where the related links take you. Everyone from neighbourhood associations to business groups are starting blogs and posting their issues online.

-Keep an eye on media outlets: CBC, the Herald, the Globe, Metro, CTV, Global, Rogers 95.7, The Coast, Make sure to include the small town papers and the even smaller neighbourhood newspapers (like the Chebucto News, the Trident, the Masthead, the North Dartmouth Echo). You can even try the gossip papers. I've never found many ideas I could use from the international media, but they're worth a skim if only for a good read.

-When you're in a coffee shop, have a skim through alternative media like student newspapers and homeless papers. Tune the car to community radio stations like CKDU once in a while.

-Say 'yes' to being put on mailing lists and let people know that they should feel free to email you upcoming events. Don't say yes to all of them because that can be overwhelming, but it's not bad to be on a few lists if you've found them useful in the past.

-Look at the listings of federal, provincial, and municipal tenders. Try neighbouring provinces as well.

-If you have access to newswires such as the Canadian Press, check them.

-Government grants can make for good stories, like the federal government's disclosure of ACOA grants

-Check the Utility and Review board's new decisions. Check out both what's recently been decided, and what's coming up for a hearing.

-The Nova Scotia courts have a searchable decisions database online. Be aware there's sometimes a delay between the release of a decision and when it appears online.

-The provincal government puts out the Royal Gazette of its activities in two parts. Part I is the Province's official weekly government record of proclamations and other statutory notices. Part II is all regulations filed with the Registry of Regulations.

-The city of Halifax has a planning website that breaks down building proposals and developments. Also on the city website, you can find the past and upcoming agendas and minutes from council. Council is further broken down into six community councils, which also have their own agendas and minutes pages. A huge help is the HRM Event Calendar (on the left hand column on the main website).

-Events listings such as those on Kijiji's community page are broken down by activities, groups, events, etc. SNAP Halifax also has an Event Calendar It's a long shot but never say never. It worked for me once.

-And most importantly...keep your eyes and ears open.

Phew!! That's a long list, and it's mostly Halifax-specific, but definitely not exhaustive. If you know a good resource, post it in the comments and I'll add it.

I don't check all of these sources every day. I just do what I can, and there are still days when I come up dry, or nearly dry. There's a lot of dross to go through before you hit gold. But I will leave you with this quote:

“The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas, and throw the bad ones away.”

- Dr. Linus Pauling (American theoretical chemist and biologist, 1901-1994)


  1. This is an excellent resource. I'd also suggest that if you write for a lot of trade or b2b publications that you stay on top of industry news and events like regional or national meetings or AGMs. Also think about "honoured" days both obvious (Earth Day) and lesser known (World School Milk Day) and think about connecting story pitches to those events.

  2. This is really helpful. Thanks for sharing!