After the first really icy snowstorm of this year, but before our local cities were really able to get it all cleaned up, I found myself gliding across an intersection in Pine River, watching the light turn from yellow to red just before my locked up wheels crossed the crosswalk and I thought to myself, "Maybe I should write a story on this."
You see, I have known for some time that the stoplight in Pine River seems to have a special, vexing quality to it. It's genuinely the only light that stresses me when it turns yellow, because this is the only light I recall ever encountering where you seem to have to choose between slamming on your brakes versus running the red light if you see the light turn yellow.
I'm not that great at estimates and math, so when something as simple as a traffic signal makes me calculate the likelihood of being rear-ended versus the likelihood of being T-boned with the likelihood of being able to safely cross or stop before an intersection, it causes me a little stress.
If you have ever wondered where your local reporters get their ideas for stories, look no further. A lot of them come from real life.
Like the above example, I've come up with many story ideas simply from personal experience. I drive on Highway 371 near Backus regularly, so a few years ago I thought it might be a good idea to do a story about alternate routes to access any business on the highway during road construction.
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When I'm going about my regular life, it is fairly common for someone to stop me, whether they know me personally or not, and say, "Have I got a story for you!" This is my favorite way to learn about story ideas because it is more personal.
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Of course, I've used my own epicurean experiences to write food columns and opinion columns, but some of the best stories are the ones where I'm wandering along with my day and something catches my attention and causes me to think, "I bet other people would want to know about this."
I used to spend a lot of time at a coffee shop in Pine River. Perhaps more than I was welcome to, given my small budget. If you are reading this, thank you, Dwight, for always being gracious, and sorry for taking up space so often. This was one place to interact with readers, non-readers and, of course, a business owner with his finger on the pulse of some of the city's goings on. I got some stories from Dark Cravings.
I get a lot of ideas from tangents at local government meetings. By tangents, I mean the little things that maybe don't actually require council action, but they get put on the agenda as a "just so you are aware" sort of notice for the council members. At the school board, these items come in the form of bullet points or are part of a discussion during the "spotlight on education" portion of the board meeting. At council meetings, some ideas come from community commentary or even discussions council members have in the minutes before the meeting starts.
I would never have guessed how many ideas I get from social media. It's not surprising, if you think about it. Social media allows you to really keep tabs on hundreds of people or keep your thumb on the pulse of entire communities. Thanks to social media, I wrote a well read story on a deer with an arrow in its head this past year. I wrote about several people who had donated kidneys. I have learned about the passing of local influential individuals and bizarre goings on like the man who died following an encounter with a bear.
Social media, surprisingly, has some very good stories hidden among the memes. Some of our best read stories over the past several years started as posts on social media that I came across while browsing at home. I generally take a screen capture and send those posts to myself so I can check them out in the morning.
Finally, there's my favorite way to get story ideas. When I'm going about my regular life, it is fairly common for someone to stop me, whether they know me personally or not, and say, "Have I got a story for you!" This is my favorite way to learn about story ideas because it is more personal. The person relating the story to me is passionate about the story, and that makes a difference.
Don't get me wrong, we don't write stories from all the tips we are given while wandering the street, but that doesn't change the fact that it is often the most fun way to learn about a story idea.
Now that you know some of the method to our madness, I have to ask: Is there any reader out there who wonders where we got an idea for any of our recent stories? Feel free to ask.
Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.