When a story breaks in today’s 24-hour news cycle, journalists often find themselves playing catch up. How can you get ahead of the curve and be the first to tell the story?

At my first job in a television newsroom, my editor would watch every major channel’s broadcast at the same time. When I asked her why she did this, she said she wanted to see if we were telling the same stories as everyone else, or if we were missing something big.

Journalism is deeply cyclical, as media outlets these days are always on edge about what their rivals are doing. So how can they break free and tell a unique story with real traction, instead of just running with the rest of the pack?

For Starters, Be Curious

One of the more popular examples of pure journalistic curiosity paying off is DNAinfo‘s investigation into one smelly Midtown puddle. All reporter and producer Jill Colvin did was walk by the puddle (bordering on the size of a small pond) on West 33rd Street in New York City, then ask the most important question in journalism: why?

Local business owners and residents gave interviews, and reported calling the city several times with no success. Soon, this hyper-localized and previously unreported story had the attention of the 34th Street Partnership, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Environmental Protection. After several months of persistent reporting, the puddle was fixed (read: mopped up and filled in).

According to the Pew Research Center, ratings for local television news is up 3% this year, which suggests that audiences are more likely to watch news programming that includes stories specific to their area. Local news offers great potential for unique and unconventional stories that break the mold.

The key to getting it right is returning to the fundamentals of journalism, including the who, what, when, where, and why.

Get Outside the Box

A painter on a beech.



Everyone in the modern newsroom tends to get trapped inside of their own bubbles. The Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology published a study in 2014 that correlates creativity outside of work with creative problem-solving inside the office.

Sure enough, the study found that those who spend their free time engaging in creative activities scored 15% to 30% higher on a given performance test than their non-creative colleagues.

Holding onto compelling outside interests not only makes you a more dynamic person, but it also provides a fresh perspective that may lead to a new angle on a story. Just as it pays to have journalists report on a specific beat or neighborhood they’re familiar with, it’s worth hiring journalists with strong personal interests outside of journalism.

Take a Unique Angle

None of this means you should stop reporting on national, groundbreaking stories. But you can rethink how you drive readers to your news outlet. That starts with answering the question, what will set you apart from the rest? Coming up with a unique angle can be well worth it, even if it takes longer than a cut-and-dry, fact-driven piece would.

Take, for example, the upcoming 2016 presidential election. The American people are getting bombarded with endless facts and tidbits about the various candidates, campaigns, faux pas, and politics. Maybe it’s time a news outlet worked on a more local scale and interviewed a specific neighborhood’s residents about the candidates.

The choice in how to make your content more dynamic is yours, but no matter what, make sure that you’re striving for something unique. If your content isn’t redefining the conventional narrative, you’ll always be chasing the story.

Longneck and Thunderfoot offer digital strategy services, including website branding, style guides, persona development, and audience segmentation. We’re a partner in making content work for your business. Learn more about digital strategy here.

(Main image credit: Kevin Harber/flickr)