If you’re just starting out, how do you come up with story ideas?

If you’re new to freelancing or new to the area, you might not have a lot of story ideas handy, and you need a LOT to be a freelancer.

Once you have contacts in an area, of course, you can mine them for story ideas — chambers of commerce, local artists’ guilds, politicians, etc… are all happy to showcase their members and accomplishments.

If you don’t, here’s two easy ways to generate stories: GENERALIZE, and NARROW.

For example, say you’re pitching stories to a regional daily. Look at national pubs — newspapers, magazines, etc… and localize them. If there’s a national obesity trend, how does that affect your area? Are local schools changing their menus? Does a local nutritionist plan to hold a seminar?

You can also look at more narrow publications — those same church bulletins, library newsletters, and free weeklies that you’ve moved up from. Take a story and generalize it or expand on it. If a clown came to the local library, does that clown travel to other area libraries as well? What kind of a life is that? If there’s a paragraph about a business getting a new contract, what does that mean for the local economy? How did its owner accomplish that? Is there a management lesson in there for other businesses?

Finally, you can call potential news sources out of the blue and ask them for ideas. Make the questions specific. Call the chamber of commerce and ask if any new businesses have opened that haven’t been profiled yet in the local press. Find out if there have been any senior management changes recently, or mergers or acquisitions. Call the arts council and find out if any local artists have won awards. Call the schools superintendent’s office and find out if any teachers have innovative programs, or if any student groups have travelled overseas or won competitions.

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