1.1. Reading widely for ideas

If you are serious about journalism reading is a not an option, but a basic professional duty. It does not just improve your writing skills; what you glean from articles and books also gives you a much-needed understanding of how systems and processes are supposed to work, and thus, what it looks like when something goes awry. Do not spend time simply processing the information that happens to come your way, but rather continually seek out new information to broaden your own knowledge base!

Brant Houston, former executive director of the US-based non-profit Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), notes that local newspapers carry within its articles the seeds of many investigative features. There is a story to every paid legal notice, such as a name change, a fire sale or a tender – your job is to be alert and figure out what and why. What journalists do far too infrequently is to follow up on published stories. Reader surveys and focus groups invariably show that readers love follow-ups. They want to know what happens next, why it happened or what the story is behind terse daily news. Look especially for news stories that neglect to ask why or seem to focus on only one aspect of an issue. Keep an eye out for alternative ways of covering obvious or regular stories, such as global or national commemorative days. By reading widely, you can also track the status of, say, a much-vaunted government construction project that has quietly faded in the background.

You should also read official reports from the government or NGOs, dull as they may seem. And while scarce resources or geography might limit your access to overseas publications, do your best to keep up with what’s going on around the world in relation to your beat. Embassies or NGOs should have free libraries or reading rooms you could use to keep abreast of the news.

Another form of routine investigation is regular conversations with contacts in various fields. Establishing a good relationship – one that would let you get first dibs on news before other reporters are alerted – requires regular contact without a set agenda. If you only contact sources when you need them, they will begin to feel used. This is called ‘working’ your contacts. But stories from these sources will not automatically jump out and wave at you. You will have to be creative and inquisitive to find good story ideas.

Finally, social media sites like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter are still a good source for tip-offs and strong viewpoints. Twitter has seen a revival of late following the election of American president Donald Trump in November 2016, but viral statements aside, it can sometimes be a good way to mine basic information and the latest news about a wealth of current issues. Following experts, politicians or other journalists can be beneficial for journalists in rural areas