A colleague recently posted this question to a journalism educators' listserv: How do you help students find fresh ideas for stories?
Here are some tips for finding story ideas:
1. Study bulletin boards. That includes electronic bulletin boards and other places where public notices are posted. Is there a new club on campus? An unusual class? A protest rally coming up? Jot down the contact info and check it out.
2. Read back issues of your newspaper. Keep a particular eye out for stories worth a follow-up. What’s happened since an affirmative action admissions program was discontinued? How has a rape prevention policy instituted five years ago affected sexual crimes on campus? Talk to your predecessor, the person who previously covered your beat, and ask about stories that warrant a second look or ones the reporter never got a chance to write.
3. Set up an informal focus group of your friends or roommates. What would they like to read in the paper? What are they concerned about, excited about, frustrated about?
4. Eavesdrop on conversations. Listen up when you're in the cafeteria, the bookstore, the student union and other places students gather. What are people talking about on campus?
5. Take note of announcements made in class. Your professors—or other students—may be passing on news tips.
6. See everyone as a potential news source. Roommates, friends, professors, service workers are all possible sources for news tips. Listen for trends, campus political developments, policy changes.
7. Read everything you can. Newspapers, magazines, newsletters, fliers, journals are all good sources of stories. Among the publications to pay particular attention to: The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times’ quarterly “Education Life” section. They can be great for news or trend stories that you could localize to your campus. Local newspapers are also news story bonanzas, as are other campus newspapers. As long as you don’t plagiarize and you do your own reporting, there’s nothing wrong with stealing story ideas. (See Newslink’s links to online campus newspapers.)
8. Look for research studies about college students. A Google search on “study,” “college students” and the current year will reveal a host of recent studies on such things as drinking habits and video game use that you could use as a launch pad for a trend story and localize to your campus.
9. Peruse all campus publications. Employee and faculty union newsletters and alumni magazines, as well as press releases issued by your university’s public information office, are all good sources of story ideas. Some PIOs also keep track of university staff and faculty in the news. A quote by a professor in a local or national newspaper or magazine may give you an idea for a deeper story on that person or her research.
10. Open your eyes. Look for changes – buildings being torn down, long lines, new businesses in neighborhoods near your campus. Anything fresh or different could be the beginning of a story.
11. Read display and classified ads. Whether they're in your paper, community publications or on craigslist, classified ads can make for great stories. Are apartment rental prices on the rise? Are those too-good-to-be-true airfares for real? Check out unusual job opportunities—for exotic dancers, models, escort services. And what about those "missed connections" personal ads -- do those people every find each other?
12. Check public records. Stop by the county courthouse and see if your school, the university president or other campus players or institutions have been sued.
13. Use Google news alerts. Register your school for a Google news alert. Whenever your campus comes up in the news you'll get an e-mail update.
(Excepted from The Student Newspaper Survival Guide by Rachele Kanigel)