Where do feature writers get their ideas? From everything around us. Sources are everywhere.
‘They include the local newsagent, the barmaid, the bus driver, parents waiting at the school gate, the vicar, assistants scanning goods at the supermarket checkout, patients in waiting rooms – in other words, sources are wherever you find people.’
It is important to be known in your local community, to go and search out stories rather than waiting for them to knock at your door. Contacts are important.
However, you may also find ideas by reading other newspapers. You’re not going to copy their stories but you may find something worth developing. Check the sections that no one thinks of: the jobs section, the letters pages, listings and ads.
As a feature writer, you’re going to conduct a lot of research, a lot that you’ll not actually use. It’s important to learn how to select your information to keep your piece interesting and concise, making sure not to confuse the reader and to stick to your main story angle.
Off-diary sources are the ones that we can find anywhere and everywhere. These tend to be less predictable, whereas on-diary sources are more predictable. They include sources that reporters contact regularly or sources that are contacted to provide information on an event listed in the office diary.
Off-diary sources include: adverts, cuttings, reference books, encyclopaedies, yearbooks, directories, experts, the media, members of the public, notice boards, political parties, news agencies, press officers, victims, whistleblowers and witnesses. On-diary sources include: emergency services, places of worship, councils, courts, newsroom diary, press conferences, schools, educational institutions (schools, colleges, universities) and reports from public bodies.
The Contacts Book
It’s important to have a healthy contacts book. It will save you time when you need sources for stories. You should treat your contacts book as a store for names of people and organisations. You should include a list of essential local numbers, such as: airports, big name organisations, bus and rail companies, places of worship, community groups, councils, councillors and MPs, courts, coastguards, emergency services, environment agencies, government departments, hospitals and health authorities, prisons, media organisations, schools, colleges and universities, theatres, tourist attractions, sports grounds and leisure centres, and trade unions.
The types of people you want are: academics, actors, artists, astrologers, astronomers, authors, business people, celebrities, councillors, doctors, financial experts, media pundits, solicitors, teachers, public relation officers, vicars, and victims. Ensure to write the person’s interest or job when writing them as a contact, especially if they are not well known figures.
Remember that for a really good feature you’ll need a source with an authoritative voice to give the story some gravity.