These ideas are not new and you probably have heard them before but sometimes we all reach a dry spell where we need a little nudge. Something to get the creative juices flowing again. This list will get you started and you can take it from there.
1. Read—newspapers, want ads, phone books—everything and anything. Even the smallest item can trigger a big idea.
2. Cruise—drive around town without agenda. Venture into unfamiliar areas and just look with an open mind and see what you see.
3. Talk with people—take the time to chat everywhere you go, especially on routine assignments. You’ll be surprised what people will tell you if you take the time to listen.
4. Eavesdrop—in restaurants, while standing in line, everywhere…
5. Listen to the scanner—not everything will be exciting enough to run right out to immediately, but it may trigger an idea to follow up on later.
6. Keep a notepad with you all the time—it’s a cliché, I know, but I get many great ideas in the middle of the night or when I’m driving.
7. Get involved in the community—you hear of many things while at church or club meetings.
8. Network—make friends with police, firefighters, jailers, doctors—anyone who will keep you plugged in to what is going on in their world. Hand out your card and encourage them to call you if they hear of anything photo or story worthy.
A police friend called me at home to tell me about this mentally ill woman. She had been arrested 3 times in the past month alone for wandering into neighbor's homes looking for milk. The police were frustrated by outdated laws that required them to arrest the mentally ill instead of taking them directly to a mental hospital. Here the officer was trying to find someone to help her before finally cuffing her and taking her to jail.
9. Steal ideas from old contest and other papers—I'm not talking about plagiarism, academic style. Just peruse other papers and magazines for ideas that can be recycled and changed enough to make them your own.
10. Localize a national news story—the obvious thing is to watch the national news but don’t overlook publications like the Wall Street Journal which is known for spotting upcoming trends.
11. Check the calendar—you can find “on this day in history” calendars online. Look far enough ahead and find an idea to work on and have ready for publication at the appropriate time.
12. Make a tree—by this I mean brainstorm. Start with a universal theme like Love as the trunk of the tree. One branch might be Romantic Love, another might be Parental Love, etc. Smaller branches would break it down further and further until you come up with a more specific, usable idea.
13. Newsletters—get yourself on lots of mailing lists. The junk you have to wade through is a pain but worth it when you find a good idea.
14. Piggyback—many stories you may be working on have another life or two or possibly more. Check in with past story subjects and see if there is anything worth following up on.