If you’re anything like me you probably follow a bunch of journalists on Twitter and every time they share their latest work you find yourself thinking ‘Where on earth do you get all these ideas from?’. Idea generation is hard at the best of times, never mind in the midst of a global pandemic where you haven’t left the house in two weeks. So how do you generate ideas for original stories, when there is a limit to what you can go out and see or do? Here are some of my top tips:
Read, read, then read some more
It sounds obvious, but when I started writing articles as a teenager, I didn’t read anywhere near as widely as I do now. It’s only through reading work by others that you can identify the sort of niches that interest you and also learn what makes good writing.
Especially at the moment, it can feel exhausting to try and keep on top of the news so don’t feel that you have to read the papers daily. I tend to bookmark anything of note on Twitter during the week, and I also keep a Google Doc filled with links to intriguing articles I see on other social media apps. Then, on the weekend I sit down and read it all. Off the back of all that reading, I usually have 3–4 ideas that I develop into pitches, which I schedule with Gmail to go out the following week (to stop them getting lost in editors’ inboxes over the weekend). Oh also, share work you like on social media!
Watch films and television shows-as close to their release as possible
There are so many new films and television shows coming out all the time, and keeping abreast of the media slate is a great way to generate pitch ideas. If people on Twitter or your friends are all talking about a programme like Bridgerton, then don’t miss out on potential commissions because you started watching it too late. There are also stories to be found about the streaming providers themselves-see Luke Walpole’s Guardian piece ‘ Netflix’s staggering slate of new films escalates the streaming wars ‘.
You can even find ideas in (admittedly rather dry) quarterly earnings reports. I wrote this piece for Streaming Wars back in 2019 after reading one of Netflix’s letter to shareholders. It was my first ever paid commission, for £100. There are also loads of sites you can write for that can arrange screeners for things not yet out: The Indiependent is just one of them. That means you can get ahead of the curve with your take.
Set up Google Alerts
I do this for my day job rather than my journalism, but I think it’s a useful way of keeping on top of all the latest news in your interest area(s). You can set up ‘keyword’ alerts, and then redirect these automatically into a folder so that your inbox doesn’t get overwhelmed. So whenever there’s a big ‘Audio’ or ‘Music Industry’ event, Google sends me an email with links to the biggest stories on the web.
Reddit, Facebook groups and TikTok
If you’re interested in digital culture like me then Reddit and niche Facebook groups are a goldmine for story ideas. Especially when we can’t go out into the world and meet actual human people, these spaces are great forums for meeting and engaging with people you might not otherwise encounter. TikTok is also good, but your feed will be more custom-tailored to your interests considering the algorithm uses AI to determine what you’d like to see.
Research anniversaries and awareness days
Anniversary features are a great way to talk about your favourite things by making them ‘newsworthy’ again-this can be your hook when pitching. Search for ‘albums released in 2011’ or ‘films that came out in 2016’.
Think about looking at these artefacts through the lens of today-what has changed? Is there anything troubling about this piece of media? Are there themes or issues at its core still relevant? Awareness days are also a great way to hook your stories to the news agenda and there are plenty of calendars for these readily available online. Just check you’re pitching to a UK publication if it’s a UK-specific awareness day, rather than an international one.
… in editing
Kat Smith is back with her fortnightly ‘Introducing’ column-I enjoyed editing her piece on Alfie Indra.
Brenna Cooper interviewed The Howlers, and I especially loved this line: “People have this idea of the music industry that’s still like how Hollywood projects it — that is, champagne and cocaine — when actually it’s pot noodles or a cup of tea.”
… in writing
Commissions: 1 (~2000 words for £600)
Articles written: 0
Articles published: 0
I’m currently working on the big commission I landed before Christmas so I’m taking my foot off the pedal somewhat when it comes to pitching other pieces.
… in listening/watching
I met up with a girl I went to secondary school with last Sunday. We haven’t spoken in years, but we’ve both found ourselves back in Sheffield after a breakup and she reached out after reading my piece: ‘ Newspapers and orange juice: what do you do when someone says they don’t want to marry you? ‘. We went on a walk and spoke about so much, from our experiences at school to our ambitions for 2021. She’s launched two businesses and has a background in start-ups and she recommended the ‘Women On Top’ podcast (soon to change its name to ‘Raise The Bar’). I started listening to it this week and it’s really inspiring.
… in reading
- I read David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs which was an eviscerating but thought-provoking read about the rise of pointless work and what we can do about it
- Charlotte Colombo’s The Independent piece was great: ‘ Now Trump has gone, let’s stop comparing politics to popular culture like 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale’
- News Associates included The Peak District in their list of the ‘ Best journalism newsletters to subscribe to’ — we’re honoured to have been included alongside some great newsletters like Journo Resources and Sian Meades-Williams’ ‘ Freelance Writing Jobs’
- Ed West’s piece for UnHerd ‘ Can Twitter exist in a democracy?’ was thought-provoking: “Tech monopolies, after all, aren’t like ordinary websites; they have the sort of media power that just didn’t exist before the 21st century, the ability to overthrow governments, to shape the news agenda, to curate our views not just of current affairs but of history, too.”
- Bella Mackie for Vogue on ‘ Why ‘Grand Designs’ is the escapist TV we need’ is a MOOD
- Laura Snapes is brilliant as ever with’ ‘ Phil Spector defined the toxic music svengali — a figure that persists today’
- Loved Madison Feller and Rose Minutaglio’s ELLE piece where they spoke to America’s best female political reporters about what it was like covering Trump’s America
- I liked Lola Christina Alao’s VICE piece where Gen Z freelancer kids asked their parents what they think they do for work. Me every time I say anything about Twitter to my parents.
- If you’re sick of 2021 already then I recommend this Huck piece on ‘ The Facebook group where it’s always 2009 ‘. Simpler times.
- Emma Wilkes’ piece for The Telegraph on Dave Grohl’s longtime producer Barrett Jones was a great read
- Loved learning about Scottish postie Nathan Evans who has signed a deal with Polydor thanks to his sea shanty antics, courtesy of Alex Taylor for the BBC. Also the puns in this NME piece are a bit fishy, well done Matt Charlton. If you’re not sure sea shanties are ‘here to save us’ then read Rebecca Jennings’ accurate Vox piece: ‘ This week in TikTok: Get me out of sea shanty TikTok’
- Mattathias Schwartz’ ‘ The Last Handoff’ for The New York Times on the transition of power from Obama to Trump was a fascinating read and beautifully illustrated by Leonardo Santamaria, too
- Annie Lord is always brilliant but I liked ‘ Who gets to decide which relationships are worth mourning?’
Originally published at https://thepeakdistrict.substack.com.