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By: Matt Villano

Suggestions From E&P Career Guide

Steve Padilla, assistant political editor at the Los Angeles Times, alleges that one of the skills young journalists lack is the ability to come up with story ideas on their own. To help these reporters develop a ‘nose for news,’ Padilla presents interns in the paper’s METPRO program with a list of tips for generating stories. Here are some suggestions from that list:

1. Assume every story has a follow-up – the next day, the next week, or the next month. Stories beget stories, and you can never write about something too much.
2. When covering city council or school board meetings, read the entire agenda, including the seemingly routine parts. You never know where you might find something of interest. Also, when the meeting is over, work the crowd. If there’s an issue on people’s minds, they’ll be talking about it.
3. Never call 411 or use directory assistance to get the phone numbers you need. Use a phone book, and, chances are, you’ll spot something interesting.
4. Switch the focus of your story. Turn a story on its head. If you’ve written the ‘macro’ view, focus on the ‘micro.’ If you’ve written about the stars, focus on the supporting cast. Write about the right tackle, not the quarterback. Profile the firefighter, not the fire chief.
5. Hand out business cards like candy. You’ll get a lot of calls you don’t want, but one or two of them will lead to something.
6. Drive around your beat. Visit your beat at night. Vary your commute every now and then, and study maps of your area to make sure you’ve visited every neighborhood possible. The best stories are usually the ones that are hardest to find.
7. End interviews with these or similar words: ‘Anything else going on?’


Matt Villano is a New York-based free-lance writer and frequent contributor to E&P.

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