As a journalist, finding unique angles and characters to tell stories is central to the job. Here is how to find those strong story ideas and voices.
In addition to working in news, I am also a journalism professor at USC. As a result, my students often ask how I find characters (aka sources, subjects or people) for stories. I always have a lot of fun answering that question.
First, I go over the basics: reaching out to organizations, officials, etc. Depending on the story, you may need to knock on a stranger’s door or show up at a protest. And the more you work a beat, the more sources you’ll have at your fingertips. That just takes time.
Another great way to find story ideas and interviews, however, is by talking to others in your everyday life. I’ve found some excellent stories just by chatting with strangers.
Here are some stories I worked on for ABC News, CNN and Good Morning America. They’re examples of finding story ideas and characters.
Also, as a journalist, you should always vet anyone you interview and confirm the information they give you with more than one source.
Scroll through the photos in the Instagram post above:
- Migrant workers are making thousands trimming marijuana in California: I found this story from a woman I met at a yoga camp who told me she was going to trim marijuana.
- I became a mermaid for a day and it was magical: I read about mermaid camps in a magazine and started researching until I found a group in L.A.
- Ticks causing mysterious meat allergy: When I was in grad school I was doing a story on allergies. A doctor I called in Texas for a quote told me about this mysterious allergy. It was eventually linked to tick saliva.
- Dead Horse Bay: One of my best friends told me about Dead Horse Bay. I pitched it at work and another producer had also pitched it at the same time. He had some great contacts he’d met from spending time there. Click here for the video. P.S. This one won us an Emmy Award!
- Risk of FGM Increasing for Women in the U.S.: This story idea came from one sentence I read in a newspaper. I spent weeks talking to groups, authors and organizations before meeting the person who told us her story. P.S. This one was nominated for a Webby Award!
- Why This Transgender Woman Used Black Market Drugs to Transition: I found the character in this story by calling a ton of groups who put the word out to those they knew and one day someone called me back wanting to tell their story.
- LA canyon filled with oak trees went from an oasis to a parking lot: I read about this in a history book. I reached out to local historians and put calls out on social media to find people who remembered the pool.
There you go! Those are all examples of stories with strong characters and unique angles. If you want more journalism and work advice, head over to the career section of my blog.