Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e.V.

Chapter 2 – Generating story ideas

“We were motivated by the need to clarify … the vast difference between electoral promises and the actual exercise of power” – Eric Mwamba, Ivory Coast

“I began my story because a World Bank press release did not ‘feel’ right” – Joe Hanlon, UK/Mozambique

“I heard more about this from a colleague whose cousin had been involved. I thought: I’d better go and have another look” – Henry Nxumalo, South Africa

Story ideas come from a range of sources, including some that might appear routine or unexciting. Don’t neglect:

  • Your own experience and that of friends and neighbours
  • Follow-ups on previous stories
  • Reading and the Internet
  • Street, café and taxi gossip
  • Routine checks of public information and with contacts

Keep an ideas book to record issues you come across.

But in every case, evaluate these ideas for their currency and public interest, and for any biases or lack of representivity related to their source.

Tip-offs can produce dramatic stories, but should be handled very carefully.

  • Evaluate their worth. Story tips about corruption have the most value when they can be used to shed light on some important aspect of public life; merely crucifying an individual is not always the best use of reporting resources.
  • Evaluate their truthfulness and the possible motives of sources.

Investigative journalism sets its own agenda, and uses sources and tips to uncover important truths. When sources and tips use the journalist, this is called ‘leak journalism’, not investigation.

Wherever a story idea comes from, journalists should start with their own and their community’s real concerns:

  • Analyse those concerns
  • Boil the story idea down to a clear ‘headline’ to focus the investigation
  • Source map the story
  • Data map the information as it is uncovered

Read the whole chapter: