Here Are Ways to Find Ideas for Enterprise Stories in Your Hometown

Enterprise reporting involves a reporter digging up stories based on his or her own observation and investigation. These stories typically aren't based on a press release or a news conference, but on the reporter carefully watching for changes or trends on his beat, things that often fall under the radar because they're not always obvious.

For instance, let's say you're the police reporter for a small-town paper and over time you notice that arrests of high school students for possession of cocaine are increasing.

So you talk to your sources in the police department, along with school counselors, students and parents, and come up with a story about how more high school kids are using cocaine in your town because some big-time dealers from the nearest big city are moving into your area.

Again, that's not a story based on someone holding a press conference. It's a story that the reporter dug up on his own, and, like many enterprise stories, it's important. (Enterprise reporting is really just another word for investigative reporting, by the way.)

So here are some ways you can find ideas for enterprise stories in various beats.

1. Crime and Law Enforcement - Talk to a police officer or detective at your local police department. Ask them what trends they've noticed in crime over the last six months or year. Are homicides up? Armed robberies down? Are local business facing a rash or burglaries? Get statistics and perspective from the police on why they think the trend is occurring, then interview those affected by such crimes and write a story based on your reporting.

2. Local Schools - Interview a member of your local school board. Ask them what's happening with the school district in terms of test scores, graduation rates and budget issues. Are test scores up or down? Has the percentage of high school grads going on to college changed much in recent years? Does the district have adequate funds to meet the needs of students and teachers or are programs having to be cut due to budget constraints?

3. Local Government - Interview your local mayor or a member of the city council. Ask them how the town is doing, financially and otherwise. Does then town have enough revenue to maintain services or are some departments and programs facing cutbacks? And are the cuts simply a matter of trimming fat or are important services - like police and fire, for instance - also facing cuts? Get a copy of the town's budget to see the numbers. Interview someone on the city council or town board about the figures.

4. Business and the Economy - Interview some local small business owners to see how they're faring. Is business up or down? Are mom-and-pop businesses being hurt by shopping malls and big-box department stores? How many small businesses on Main Street have been forced to close in recent years? Ask local merchants what it takes to maintain a profitable small business in your town.

5. Environment - Interview someone from the nearest regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency. Find out if local factories are operating cleanly or polluting your community's air, land or water. Are there any Superfund sites in your town? Seek out local environmental groups to find out what's being done to clean up polluted areas.

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