June 11, 2009 / Coverage

Spice up how you brainstorm story ideas

Written by Kristina Smekens

At the beginning of the school year, have all staff members work together to generate a list of all the clubs, groups, sports and organizations within your school. Then, generate a corresponding list if one or two people within each group that would be key contact people in regards to activities, events and updates of their happenings. These people become BEAT CONTACTS.

After divvying up the list of beats among all staff members, the assignment becomes simple. As the writer, you will become the liaison between that organization and the yearbook. You will meet regularly for interviews and explanations, but more importantly, if the relationship is trusted and comfortable, you will be able to feel this person out for story ideas.

They can let you know things that are going on “behind the scenes.” Instead of covering just the same Homecoming dance and football game story, the student council president could let you know the inside scoop on the stuff-the-ballot situation that was so hush-hush. Now, of course, he trusts you to report this professionally and tactfully, but at least he gave you the inside details.

Each staff member should set a goal of 2-3 ideas generated from BEAT CONTACTS for every brainstorming session. This, plus the timely stories everyone knows about, would give a great selection of stories for your yearbook and continue broad coverage for all your readers.

What are people talking about? What’s new in town? What movies, TV shows, music groups, sports activities are popular? As a writer, you can snoop on other people’s conversations and call it research.

Index Card File
On the first day of school, alert all staff members that they will need a supply of 3 x 5 index cards. The assignment–EACH DAY every staff member must submit one card that contains the following information:

  • Staff member’s name
  • Subject of the story
  • Specific potential angle of the story
  • Name of the primary source

This emphasizes the need to do more than just to “do a story on varsity baseball.” It shows them angles and perspectives. It gets them to utilize all the different kinds of stories. They begin to look at personality profiles and personal accounts, in-depth features etc.

Each card is graded for credit; this alone will make it work. One point a day isn’t a big deal, but 180 points after the entire school year can make a major dent in a student’s grade. The point is earned if the story idea is valid; the adviser determines that.

One staff member is in charge of collecting and organizing these cards by topic in some fashion that is understandable for you individual staff.

The daily structure to the class forces the kids to look at the daily newspaper in the area and pay more attention to what’s going on during the school year and around them. This may not be something to do every year because the quantity of story ideas that pour in. Your staff will have a great wealth of ideas to fall back on for years to come. But it does guarantee brand-new story scopes and angles to the same old story topics–something all yearbooks could use–in addition to give completely different story coverage.

Shopping List
Keep a shopping list. In a folder or notebook, keep a list of topics you’d like to write about. Include copies of articles, press releases, even advertisements, anything that could help you start to write your own story. When you have to submit an idea, use the list to jump start your brain.

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Kristina Smekens