Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Finding story ideas: Tip #1

with 2 comments

My notebooks. Moleskine. I use the little one for to-do lists, jotting down story ideas and reporting. I use the larger one to write out drafts, diagram article structures, and make long-term plans. And make notes obvs.

As a freelance journalist, your entire existence is dependent on coming up with story ideas.

Some of the stories that I find most interesting to report and write about are trend stories — pieces on new social and cultural phenomena.

Once is a freak; twice is a coincidence; three times is a trend

It’s often about noticing the patterns that might be lurking in the environment (are more people wearing funny hats? Why?), or in your social circles.

For example, I noticed that among my Chinese female friends in Beijing, who are in their 20s and tend to be well educated, with high salaries, several seemed to be working as secretaries for their (male) bosses. I wondered whether they were happy with this, if they wanted positions with more executive opportunity, or whether they were in fact happy with their lot. I sent off a pitch outlining why I wanted to explore this. It was rejected (the editor explained that they had already done a lot on the glass ceiling in China), but it was a worthwhile exercise.

The point is, if you happen to notice something, then that noticement (yes, “noticement”), could be spotting a wider trend.

From my reading and from noticing an increasing interest among friends, I successfully pitched a piece about how Chinese people are increasingly becoming Buddhist again. It’s that kind of cultural phenomena I find fascinating. (The piece is here, if you’re interested).

A lot of pitch-able story ideas are about these new changes. It’s interesting, kind of newsy, and importantly helps to capture the zeitgeist.

For the freelance journalist, it almost doesn’t matter if the trend or culture is actually changing. You need only ask the question: is it changing? Then you’re 50% toward a story idea.

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Written by Lu-Hai Liang

May 13, 2015 at 8:17 am

2 Responses

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  1. good post, more like this please!

    shan5742

    June 13, 2015 at 7:35 pm


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