How to generate article ideas like a journalist

Apr 20, 2016
Content Copywriting

There’s a weird thing that happens when you tell a stranger at a party that you’re a journalist; you always get asked the same two questions.

The first is ‘who do you write for? ’ It doesn’t matter what answer you give here; the person will invariably succumb to an uncontrollable desire to tell you everything they think is wrong with the publication, right down to its poor absorbency qualities in the bottom of their budgie’s cage.

The second question is ‘where do you get all your ideas for articles? ’ This is an infinitely preferable question to answer. Generating story ideas is a reporter’s bread and butter. These days it’s also an essential skill for the content marketer, so here’s my cheat sheet for how to generate article ideas like a journalist. (It’s not exhaustive, but it’s the list I’d give if you cornered me at a party.)

1. Curiosity

So here’s the first thing: Talk to your clients and understand their goals. It seems obvious but you need to understand whom their audience is. Now put yourself in the shoes of this audience. What do they want to know? What are they interested in? It’s basic curiosity. You should be able to generate dozens of article ideas just by talking to your clients. Get hands-on. Take a walk with them around their factory or farm.

Interrogate third-party curiosity, too. Ask your friends and family what they would ask your client if they got stuck with them at a networking event (or that party). Get scientific and ask Google Trends.

2. Contacts

Make contact with the key people in the industry and ask them for story ideas. Attend industry events. Get people bringing their story ideas to you. Be approachable. Be helpful. Be easy to find. Get yourself on media lists. Get press releases. Make regular phone calls.

[tweet]Put yourself in the shoes of this audience. What do they want to know? What are they interested in?[/tweet]

3. On-Calendar

Know what’s coming up in the industry. Are there any big monthly reports released? What big conferences are there? Can you attend? What are the speakers talking about? What angle can you take on President’s Day, Easter, Hanukkah, the end of the financial year?

4. Off-Calendar

Be reactive to what’s going on in the world. Stock market plummets? How does that affect your readers? A Trump presidency? What does that mean for your industry? Oil price spike, new legislation, a major climate-change report, Kim Kardashian’s latest selfie — it could be anything. Ask yourself ‘what is the angle we can get on this that our readers will find interesting’?

5. Value-add

Take the story further. Dig deeper. This is a tactic I apply to a brand newsroom I edit. Our competitors’ news websites in the space often just take a company’s press release, give it a tickle, and slap it up online. There’s no point in running the same story as everyone else, so our strategy is to go back and ask some more questions — to get the bigger story, to give our readers a little extra information. That’s the kind of strategy that quickly builds a good reputation.

6. Commission

Can you commission some research? Do a study? Or dig into some data your client already has at their disposal? This is such easy content and, crucially, it’s original — your audience won’t get it anywhere else. Commissioning original content means you’re turning yourself into both a destination and a leader.


If you need help with your content marketing strategy, contact Lush – The Content Agency. We have an international team of professional journalists ready to share their expertise (when they’re not being cornered at parties, that is.)