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From The Rapidian staff*: Of the reasons we often get at The Rapidian for contributors experiencing writer's block, a common one is difficulty finding story leads. Luckily, this problem can be tackled not only with resources found on therapidian.org, but also online and in the community.
Experienced reporters have a knack for making themselves ad hoc experts on the topics, or "beats," they cover. Researching this material and getting to know experts and key sources in the field helps flesh out a story and contribute to its factual impact. In the same manner, beginning reporters--much like contributors for The Rapidian--can come up with story leads by following the same steps.
Become an expert
Is there a topic you are interested in writing on? Study its parameters and mentally outline the story. If it's a large topic, break it down into different angles and aim for a series of stories. Can you shadow one of your sources for a day and get to know their viewpoint? If your story doesn't focus on something you can study in a library book, you're going to have to do some footwork. Don't forget to ask each source if there's someone else you could be talking to for information, too. It's often the little questions at the end of an interview or chat that get you the best information.
Become a friend
Who are the key players or sources? It's in a reporter's best interests to get to know these people and communicate the potential for a story. Keep the contact info of your sources, too. The stuffed rolodexes reporters used to carry may have been replaced by electronic spreadsheets or smart phones, but the idea is the same. You never know when you might need to contact an old source for main or supplementary information. It's also not a bad idea to contact your old sources from time to time to keep your ear to the ground. Business owners, police sergeants, court clerks, gallery curators, school officers and local government officials are typically more than willing to provide story leads if you give them a specific direction.
Become a reader
Read your local newspapers and magazines. Read The Rapidian and check out our weekly digest. Look for trends. Look for unanswered questions. If a newspaper is devoting a lot of resources to a big event, what's the story that's not being covered? Whose voice is being highlighted in a story and whose isn't? If a story is being covered with a wide-angle lens, is there a way you can cover it with a microscope?
Become well known
Walk around your community. Get to know your neighbors and local shop owners. They might be the first ones to clue you into possible story ideas. A lot of communities have a different nightlife than day life. Try to get out at different times and see how things change or what patterns emerge.
Become an Internet socialite
If you read or contribute to The Rapidian, you've no doubt head of the Internet. If you've got an account on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, read blogs or surf local sites, you've no doubt seen chatter on upcoming events, local issues or trends. Some see a feed of static. A keen reporter sees story leads. Use this to keep an eye on what's going on around town. It might even be the comments on an event invitation page or blog post that generate a story idea. It's to a reporter's advantage to keep these lines of communication open and in use.
Become a Rapidian user
The Rapidian's storybank is a great way for contributors, publicists and local residents with story ideas to interface. The process is simple: A story pitch is posted in the storybank and then contributors browse it for interesting leads. Public hours are held at The Rapidian office, 1110 Wealthy St. SE, from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and 1 to 4 p.m. Thursdays, during which anyone is welcome to stop in and talk to staff. Monthly Press Pits focus on journalism, interesting ideas from Rapidian contributors and how we can better our content. Informal chats with staff members are also held occasionally and posted on Twitter and Facebook.
If you still have trouble finding a feasible news lead, you are more than welcome to contact us by phone at (616) 459-4788 x.124, or e-mail Content Facilitator Matthew Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I like to ride bikes, make cookies and feed the homeless peanut butter sandwiches. I really like Grand Rapids.