What Makes a Good Story?
Copyright Barbara Nevins Taylor, 2017
Curiosity Pays Off
All kinds of stories make a good report. But some will pan out and others won’t. We all bring personal history, individual interests and perspective to the job of reporting. You can bet that if you’re curious about something, others will find it interesting too.
Once you have a story in your sights, just remember that as journalists we temper what we bring to the table with a strong measure of objectivity, and an even stronger dose of fairness.
Define A Good Story
So how do you define a good story? Think about your day and the challenges that you have. Think about your friends and family and how the commute to school or work affects them, what’s happening in their neighborhoods. How do they juggle kids and work, or kids and school? What does the drama in Washington, and President Trump’s tweets have to with them?
You can turn anything into a story. But the best stories have:
• A little drama
• A little conflict
• Pure joy
• Surprising new facts
• Need-to-know information
• Entertainment value
The stories don’t have to extend beyond your college or community to have meaning and impact. But remember you approach the world as a video storyteller now and that means that the stories require interesting video.
A father races into his family’s burning home to save his children. He dashes through the flames again and again and brings five children out to safety. But neither he nor the firefighters can save the sixth child who is asleep in a room at the back of the house. Although it is grim, it is a true story and breaking news reporters find themselves covering a version of this tragedy again and again.
A community garden is set for demolition to make way for an athletic field. The gardeners and their plants provide a beautiful visual for video, and the conflict is clear. People want to continue to garden and people want to stop them in order to use the land for another, equally valid, purpose.
A young ballerina from your community wins a competition and lands a job with a prestigious ballet company.
The debut of rare Siberian tiger cubs at a local zoo also falls into this category.
Some stories bring smiles to the faces of your viewers and offer opportunities for creative shooting, writing and editing.
4. NEW INFORMATION:
A doctor tries a new medical procedure in which he uses stem cells harvested from fat. He says that injecting one’s own stem cells into arthritic joints can ease pain and improve movement.
5. NEED TO KNOW INFORMATION:
The city council considers a sales tax hike. There’s a meeting where politicians, merchants and consumers will testify. A timetable and the items covered by the tax will be revealed.
6. ENTERTAINING INFORMATION:
Beyonce comes to your community to film music video. You have the opportunity to visit the set and report the story. In this category you’d also include fashion, new restaurant openings, or lifestyle segments that highlight new trends.
Some reporters like to come up with their stories and that’s called enterprise reporting. You might have a lead on an unreported element in breaking news, discover the cutest puppy in the neighborhood, get an exclusive interview with an interesting character, learn from a source about a Ponzi schemer or discover a contractor ripping off homeowners.
News directors value enterprise reporting because it produces unique reporting that they can promote. Original reporting gives an organization bragging rights and allows them to draw in viewers with the promise that they’ll see something special that the competition doesn’t have.
Any reporter can produce enterprise work, but covering a specific beat or area means you can develop the sources and knowledge that tend to trigger new story ideas. Investigative, consumer, political, medical, business, entertainment, environmental, life-style, and technology reporters typically generate enterprise stories.
The list expands or contracts depending upon the size of the newsroom. But people with wide-ranging interests and curiosity have tremendous opportunities. You can report about virtually anything, if you come up with the story.
Competition plays a big role in newsrooms. While producing a news broadcast requires that you work hand in hand with colleagues, and you have to play nice in order to retain your job and succeed, people vie for the best stories and the stories that lead the newscast. General assignment reporters, those who do the important breaking and daily news stories, often view “specialist” reporters suspiciously by daily news reporters.
“What makes them so special? Why do THEY get extra time,” the rank-and file reporters often grumble.
But while enterprise reporters have the opportunity to take control of their daily destiny, they frequently work longer hours to dig deeper than the reporters who pick up an assignment and bolt to“run and gun” to cover a breaking news story.
Enterprise reporters depend upon sources to tip them to news stories. The hardest working reporters have the best sources. They also have the curiosity to follow leads, ask questions and uncover stories, and the tenacity to work at those stories a long time.
You’ll turn some stories around quickly. Others stories will take weeks or even months of research and shooting and editing and writing before they’re ready. But if you realize th importance of face-time on the air, you’ll juggle. You’ll produce other stories that can get you on the air or on the web quickly while you’re working on your blockbuster.