Tips for Finding Unique Article Ideas

Saturday, October 09, 2021


A conversation with a historian in my area netted an article about an unsolved murder.

As a magazine editor, I’m responsible for planning the content each month that fits in well with our departments and themes. While I accept pitches from writers and columnists, the job of scouting out timely story ideas mostly falls on me. So where do I find these ideas that we turn into content for our magazine? 

I use press releases if they feature a local person, place, or angle, but I also find a lot of ideas on social media. I’ve pulled numerous ideas for our food and dining section from a Facebook group called Lake Norman Eats, and this past month, we profiled the Facebook group, since it had a unique story behind it (a local realtor started it up during the early months of the pandemic so residents would know which restaurants were serving curbside and carry out). I follow a lot of other area publications and blogs, and bookmark interesting story ideas when I see them for future use. I scout out the calendar pages of the town websites. I try to keep up with small business owners, interior designers, entrepreneurs, etc. because inevitably, I will come across an idea from them that will pique my interest. For example, my favorite independent bookstore shared a post one day talking about their youngest employee, a 17-year-old classmate of my daughter’s who is on track to read 200 books this year. I sent the bookstore a message, they connected me with the employee, and I interviewed her for my monthly column that runs in our magazine called “Renee Wants to Know.” 

You also never know when a simple conversation will lead to an article idea. Last year a city magazine featured an interview with a local historian about some haunted places in the greater Charlotte, N.C. area. I saved a copy of the magazine. Recently, I reached out to that historian to see if he had any ideas I could use for our monthly history column. He saw that I had a missing persons podcast from my e-mail signature, and we set up a call to talk about an unsolved murder of a young bride in a nearby town from 1937. From that conversation, I wrote an article for our most recent issue titled “Who Killed Lue Cree Overcash Westmoreland?” and am sure I can take deeper dive into this topic and others from future conversations with this historian and author. 

Longtime writers are also phenomenal about pitching good stories, too, for which I’m grateful. One of my writers sent me an e-mail a few months ago about a chance meeting she had while visiting a popular coffee shop designed specifically for veterans. She told me the woman, who is the spouse of a Vietnam vet who volunteers at the shop frequently, is known as the unofficial “Sweetheart” of the café. She suggested a profile of the woman for our November issue, as it ties in nicely with Veterans Day. The article is set to run soon and I’m sure it will be a popular piece. 

Ideas for articles and blog posts really are everywhere, you just have to know where to look and keep an organized list in one safe place, like a spreadsheet, notebook, or document on your computer. 

For the freelance writers out there, where do you find a lot of your ideas? 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor for Lake Norman CURRENTS, and also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--Not only are you a gifted writer, a fabulous podcaster and a fierce woman, you are also incredibly resourceful.

I am no freelance writer--not in the strict sense of things--so I cannot offer any tips. But I DID enjoy reading this post. How cool that student probably felt when you interviewed her.

Marcia Peterson said...

This is really interesting and helpful, Renee! It’s strange how it can feel hard to come up with ideas when there’s really, actually an abundance of things to write about (speaking to myself, haha).

Angela Mackintosh said...

I love these ideas, Renee. :) I'm already finding inspiration in my tiny town, and we actually have a local historian and newspaper! There are so many great stories, legends, and rituals involving the sacred mountains here. There's quite an art scene and I'm meeting lots of interesting characters and formulating ideas.

But I'm also trying to create timely stories related to my memoir themes, so I find the best ways to do that is set up Google Alerts for my topics (currently I have one for "new studies: suicide" among others), and I also cruise HARO for journalist queries and possible spins on story ideas.

I love the name of your column, "Renee Wants to Know"! :)

Renee Roberson said...

Sioux--Thank you! Sometimes I feel like it's hard to come up with ideas when I'm under the gun (deadline to assign stories) but it's always exciting when things turn out better than you think. The student was so sweet and happy to be interviewed, so that was fun.

Marcia--Yes, there are so many ideas out there. You just have to know where to look! I have so many journals and post-its with ideas scribbled on them it's ridiculous.

Ang--Sounds like you landed in the perfect place for a whole new batch of inspiration. I love it! I also like your idea about setting up Google Alerts for specific topics--I should do that for missing people in NC and SC.

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