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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Good Story Ideas Also Come From Non-viewers

(Chris_Pluta/ Pixabay)
(Chris_Pluta/ Pixabay)

The night before I helped produce my first newscast for ATVN, I must have checked the L.A. Times, CBS Los Angeles, KTLA and NBC websites at least 20 times. I was trying to make sure I knew about the biggest L.A. stories and how they could possibly develop the following morning.

But in looking for story ideas for a college newscast, I also had to cast a very wide net to ensure our viewers weren't just getting regurgitations of the stories they had already seen on their smartphones. This means I had to go where I knew most of our viewers weren't going: the nooks and crannies of the web and (gasp) real-life conversations with students. 

My go-to source now has become the Los Angeles thread on Reddit. There, I often run into everything from pictures of something funny someone saw on Hollywood Boulevard to the a write-up on the new cancer treatment being tested at UCLA.

Blogs like The Eastsider L.A. have also helped me come up with stories I wouldn't have run into through bigger news organizations.

Before going to bed on Sundays, I make sure I've had at least one in-depth conversation with a member of the student body. The last two have been with friends of mine, but I hope I'll have the guts to talk to a stranger on Trousdale soon. Often, the biggest stories, I've found, are the ones no one's talking about.

By this, I mean that I'll see someone tweeting about something, like the fact that their friend from USC was at Sundance and that was "really cool" to them but not cool enough to become a trending topic worldwide. I will then try to take this tidbit of information and ask my friends if they know of any other USC students who were at Sundance in the hopes of finding a story there.

I also like to take stories that are affecting people in hyperlocal communities like UCLA or Paramount and seeing how we can add coverage by adding the USC or South L.A. angle.

But then comes the hard part: putting them on TV. The other day, I had this package idea about a "Fake Prom," an annual fundraising event that gives adults a second chance at prom. In my head, I had all the elements coming into the perfect package: we would interview the organizer, use video of last year's event, interview someone who's planning to attend this year, an attendee from last year, then someone from Inner City Arts and finally shoot video of the preparations at the warehouse for this year. In the end, only three of these elements came through and the story turned into a voice-over with two soundbites.

While it was unfortunate to see this story shrink from a 90-second package into a 45-second story, it was still a story nonetheless and one I feel proud for pitching. 

I've found that it's easy to get tied up in producing killer packages that whenever a story turns into a "VSV," there's this misconception that it's not as important. That's not true. The format has still changed, and a good story will always be a good story regardless of the format.

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