How to find a story

In the first of a series of pieces from Times journalists, editors and contributors, Katie Gibbons explains one thing that you might find important on the day.

More than once at Build the News you’ll think, ‘if only we had more time’. More time to plan, to build and to work out what the story is you want to tell.

Think about how best to engage with the reader and how you convey the information at your disposal. Be innovative, but not for the sake of it — the simplest, cleanest way of getting your message to your audience is almost always the best. To me, the story is always the most important thing, not the method you use to convey it.

Finding a story

If starting from nothing, the simplest thing to remember is that if you think something is happening, it probably is. Friends, family, colleagues, strangers in shops or people posting on Twitter — they could all say something that forms the basis of a story.

The next step is finding evidence. Too many people see the internet and social media as the most important resource. Yes, it can be invaluable, but picking up the phone or knocking on a door are still two of the simplest, and most exciting, ways of getting information. So many brilliant stories come from being in the right place at the right time, and that rarely happens in front of a screen.

To back up anecdotal information use facts that are already out there. Data obtained through Freedom of Information laws, hidden in annual reports or on government and industry websites can strengthen and generate stories.

Other media outlets can be great starting points, particularly international and local papers, smaller news sites and specialist blogs. Read everything. But always do a quick search to see what’s been written before; there’s nothing more frustrating than putting effort into a story that isn’t already been done in detail.

Access is one of the biggest hurdles when starting out — how can you compete with well-known reporters that just pick up the phone and speak to the country’s most important people? Get in touch with people that want and need your help with exposure. Think-tanks, activist groups, charities, PHD students, trainee professionals — they can all be great contacts. Lean on what you know — issues that are important to you and your friends may be completely unknown to other people. Capitalise on this unique viewpoint.

Return to a story to make a new story. It sounds basic, but going back through old articles, either your own or those written by other journalists, is a great way to find new news lines. Go back through old contacts and get in touch with previous interviewees — just because you’ve moved onto something else doesn’t mean their story is finished. Often, it is even more interesting the second time round.

Think about what the reader needs to know. You will be immersed in your topic by the time Build The News comes round, but your audience won’t be. Be clear, to the point, and let your story do the talking.

Katie is a former graduate trainee at The Times, and is now a reporter, news editor, and one time Build The News staff winner.

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