21 ways to find story ideas

1. Establish a story-hunting mindset. In other words, always be on the hunt.
2. Assume every story has a follow, either the next day, week, or month. Stories beget stories.
3. Read the paper, even (or especially) the briefs. You’ll spot trends
4. Read other publications — newspapers, magazines, the works.
5. When covering city council or school board meetings, read the entire agenda, including the seemingly routine "consent calendar." You may spot something.
6. Pay attention to advertisements.
7. Drive around your beat. Visit your beat at night.
8. Speaking of driving, vary your commute now and then.
9. Study maps of your area.
10. Don’t use directory assistance to get phone numbers. Use a phone book and you’ll spot something.
11. Updates. Absolutely desperate for an idea? Look at what you wrote recently. Do a follow up or see if you’ve forgotten something.
12. Mark your calendar for anniversaries of big events a year ahead of time. If a flood hits your town, you probably want to see how the recovery is going one year later.
13. Switch the focus of your story. We tend to focus on the stars, but perhaps the real story is the supporting cast.
14. Turn a story on its head. If the macro view has been done, do the micro view. Or vice versa.
15. Look for holiday stories well in advance of the holidays. Your editors will thank you in advance.
16. Ask how a state, national, or even international story affects the local scene.
17. Periodically check in with sources to ask what’s up.
18. Hand out your business cards like candy.
19. Read the classifieds. Weird things pop up.
20. Annoy friends and family by deciding everything they say is a possible story.
21. End interviews with these words: "Anything else going on?"

Steve Padilla is assistant national political editor at the Los Angeles Times. This tip was adapted from materials presented at The Poynter Institute's High Performance Management seminar in Oakland, Calif., April 2-7, 2000.

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