Get Out of Your House: A Simple Way Non-Reporter Journalists Can Develop Sources & Good Stories

By: Mike Brannen

I’ve always maintained that the hardest part of a journalist’s job is enterprising original stories. It’s even more difficult if you have to do it five days a week. I do not envy the reporters at my TV station.

Presenting new stories daily is part of their job description. I am a newscast producer, so I’m not expected to offer my own original story each day. I feel I do get another pass because I work overnights. Come on, who am I supposed to call at 3:00 a.m. to develop good stories? However, I like to contribute something here and there.

When I talk about original stories, I think of a few things:

1. It’s not from a press release
2.  It’s a follow to a story that people might have forgotten about
3. It’s something no one else has even mentioned yet

Despite my work schedule, I do maintain a social life outside of work, especially when I wake up in the early evenings (you read that part right).

Recently, the Minnesota chapter of SPJ had a trivia night, and teamed up with the members of the Minnesota Public Relations Society of America. The first five minutes were tough; I didn’t know anybody and didn’t recognize anyone. I put my coat down near a group, and just said hello.

They were all PR folk. Minutes after the standard “where do you work, where are you from” questions, it was already time to announce the trivia teams. A trivia night was an excellent idea, because every team had a least one journo and one PR rep.

In between questions, our team learned more about each other, exchanged business cards, and had a good time (it helped that we took 2nd place). Afterwards, I caught up with the first group from that night, chatted more, and traded more cards.

I have at least three new story ideas from that night. Granted, look at who was there: PR reps. Their job is to GIVE you stories. It’s a match made in heaven. You need stories, they have ones they want you to cover.

I’m sure someone reading this will say, “those PR reps will send your newsroom a press release anyway, so why butter them up?” I argue that the personal connection with these people will give you an edge later. You’ve got a foot in the door and they’ll scratch your back a bit more. Your interaction with them gives them validation for what they are doing, and makes their efforts worthwhile. When you do something for someone, they’ll return the favor (at least, that’s the way it should be).

What I learned from that night is that an easy way to find good stories is to meet with the people who are ready to have a story to tell. Networking events (especially ones with PR) are packed with people who are trying to sell themselves. They WANT to talk to you.

Give them an ear, and see what you find.

Mike Brannen is a morning newscast producer for KSTP, the ABC affiliate in Minneapolis-St.Paul. Before that, he was a producer at KIRO7 in Seattle, where he led the 4:30 a.m. show to a #1 share in the U.S. He received an MA in Broadcast Management from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2010 and received his Bachelor of Journalism degree the year before. He shares more about his life at mikebrannen.com and on Twitter: @MikeBrannen.

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