"Bird — Cockatiel, grey with white face. St. Pete Beach area. Whistles at toes! Heartbroken. [Phone number]..."
...what better place to find [stories] than in the news.
Begin with the small stories, the ones that play inside the paper. Look for announcements of events you might write about. Scour the classified ads, in the paper and online.
Then I wrote: "It took exactly 30 seconds to find the telephone number of a person who lives on the beach and is heartbroken because her cockatiel — who whistles at toes — is missing. So what are you waiting for? Get to work. Dial that number."
A little later it occurred to me that the bird story deserved more than a mention in a book that might not be published for more than a year. So I sent a message to editor Kelley Benham at the Times. I had confidence that Kelley, who once wrote an epic story about a rogue rooster named Rockadoodle Two, would give it a good look. Not only did we have a lost bird and a heartbroken owner, but the bird apparently had a foot fetish.
Kelley messaged me back that reporter Stephanie Hayes was "all over" the story. And she was, producing a piece that got good play in the paper, and told the sad tale of an old man living on St. Pete Beach, whose beloved bird, named Shadow for its gray feathers, had flown away.
All novice reporters and aspiring journalists and college students working on the editorial desk of their newspaper should read Clark's post to learn what happened next. And to learn how to originate and develop local stories. Because that is the big challenge, isn't it? How do you find stories every day? And how do you write them so that they are good enough for your publication?
Read Roy Peter Clark's post in its entirety: "Need a Story Idea? Check Lost and Found". And then read Clark's superlative column on how to tighten up your writing.
- For some practical tips on finding stories, read "100 places to shop for stories", by Gregg McLachlan, on the News College website.
- And also check out this Reading Room post: "Point your mouse to Poynter" (Poynter Online claims it has "everything you need to be a better journalist". I believe it.).
- Photo courtesy: St. Petersburg Times/ TampaBay.com