How You Can Develop Ideas for Follow-up Stories

It’s a scene common in newsrooms everywhere: A reporter covers a big breaking news event, basks in the satisfaction of a job well done, only to have the city editor shout out a few hours later, “We’ll need a follow-up on that story.”

But while covering breaking news is pretty straightforward – simply go to the event and write about it – developing follow-up stories can be more challenging. Elsewhere on this site you can read about writing follow-up stories.

But here we’ll discuss ways you can develop ideas for follow-ups.

Let’s define our terms first.

What Are Follow-up Stories?

Follow-up stories are articles that reporters write in the days and weeks following a major news event. Such stories may focus on certain aspects of the event, or simply update readers on the latest developments surrounding the event.

Reporters don’t do follow-ups for every event they cover, but follow-ups are often necessary. That’s because many of the events reporters cover unfold over a period of days, weeks or even months, or have implications and consequences that can’t be adequately covered in a single story.

Developing Ideas: Causes and Consequences

Follow-up stories start with ideas. Obviously, the trick is to come up with those ideas. One way to do this is to observe and then investigate, a method used for enterprise reporting.

Another way to develop follow-up story ideas is to think about the causes and consequences of the story you’re following.

An Example: A House Fire

Let’s say you’ve covered a house fire in which several members of a family died and several more were injured. The house was gutted. Now you need to do one or more follow-ups. Make a list of both the possible causes and consequences of the event:

Causes: arson, faulty wiring, smoking in bed, space heater, etc.

Consequences: a family has lost loved ones; several people are hospitalized; a family is left homeless.

Now that we have our list of causes and consequences it’s easy to develop several story ideas. What caused the fire? If it was arson, who did it? If it was a space heater, was it a product that had been recalled? Who was killed? Who was injured? What will the family do now? Where will they live? These are all questions that can be answered in follow-up stories.

Ask Why?

Another question to ask when pursuing follow-ups is why? Why is the most effective question in any reporter’s arsenal and it’s especially helpful in developing follow-up stories.

Apply why to the house fire. Why did the fire start? Why didn’t the family get out in time? Did the house have smoke detectors? If not, why not?

More questions, more story ideas. Not every idea will pan out, but some will. As with every story a reporter does, the key to developing follow-ups is asking questions – lots of them.

Another Example: An Election

Let's say there's just been a statewide election in which there was a Republican landslide. Your state now has a Republican governor and the GOP has taken control of both houses of your state's legislature.

What are the causes and consequences?

Cause: Voter dissatisfaction with the Democrats, probably due a variety of factors, including the economy.

Consequences: Republicans are likely to get their legislative agenda passed more easily. The GOP generally favors cutting taxes and government services, including funding for things like higher education. Let's say you're working at a college newspaper. How might such cuts affect your readers? If the GOP-controlled statehouse cuts corporate taxes, might this attract more business to your state? If you work at a paper in a factory town, how could this affect your readers?

When the dust has settled after you've covered a big breaking news event, thinking about causes and consequences is a way of developing story ideas so that you can continue to do meaningful, in-depth coverage in the weeks and months to come.

Return to 10 Steps For Producing The Perfect News Story

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Your Citation
Rogers, Tony. "How You Can Develop Ideas for Follow-up Stories." ThoughtCo, Nov. 21, 2014, Rogers, Tony. (2014, November 21). How You Can Develop Ideas for Follow-up Stories. Retrieved from Rogers, Tony. "How You Can Develop Ideas for Follow-up Stories." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 17, 2017).