What Is a Story Angle?

Whether local or national, sniff out the good story angle

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
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The angle of a news or feature story is the story's point or theme, most often expressed in the lede of the article. It's the lens through which the writer filters the information he or she has gathered and focuses it to make it meaningful to viewers or readers.

Types of Story Angles

There may be several different angles to a single news event. For instance, if a new law is passed—whether national or local—angles might include the cost of implementing the law and where the money will come from; the agenda of the lawmakers who authored and pushed for the law; and the impacts of the law on the people most closely affected. The impacts of legislation can range from financial to environmental, short term and long term.

While each one of these could be included in one main story, each one also lends itself to a separate and interesting story and depending on the reach of the legislation at hand, each constitutes an angle of its own. Using the inverted-pyramid structure basic to American-style journalism, in which the most important, urgent information is at the top, the reporter threads that angle through the story to tell the reader why it matters to her or to him.

Local or National

Both news and feature stories can also have angles based on geography and range of readership or viewership, depending on your location and the type of outlet you work for. Examples include the national angle and the local angle:

  • The national angle is taken by national media for major stories, trend pieces, and stories about issues that affect the country as a whole: those are the kinds of stories that fill the front pages of major metropolitan dailies. An example would be the passage of President Barack Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and its effect on Americans of different socioeconomic groups on a national scale. Another might be a weather event that strikes a large swath of the country and affects millions of people.
  • The local angle comes when a reporter localizes those stories and focuses on the local or regional impact of those events, making them immediately relevant to the local readers. For example, in the case of a hurricane ravaging shorelines along the East Coast, a news outlet in Florida would focus specifically on the area where its readers or viewers are located. In the case of a law, the paper would assess local impact and reaction.

Occasionally the reverse happens—local stories go national—when, for example, an event in a small town is so impactful as to prompt a national look at an issue or the passage of a national bill; or when a case from a lower court in a small town goes to the U.S. Supreme Court, or a soldier from your town testifies before the U.S. Congress. Those events can shine a light on a small locale (and often a local reporter) quite fittingly.

Beware to not over-localize: While it is appropriate to focus on the small-town high school attended by a Supreme Court nominee (if interesting), it might be a stretch to make a big deal about the little town where he spent a week in summer camp when he was 5. Again, it depends on whether it's interesting and why it matters.

Follow-Up Stories

Straddling the arc of national and local angles are the good stories that come in the aftermath of a big event—the so-called follow-up stories—when the chaos of breaking news has passed and the effects become clearer and more understandable.

Follow-up stories give reporters the opportunity to find and include information that was either not immediately available during the reporting of the event itself or that could not be included for space or time. They also provide the chance to include more background, new details, deeper analysis and perspective, and more in-depth human stories and interviews.

Good News Judgment

Regardless, whether reporters are covering breaking news or features or covering local or national news, to find a story's meaningful angle—the crux of why it matters or why it's interesting—they must cultivate a so-called news sense, or a nose for news: that instinctive feel for what constitutes a good story. It may not always be the most obvious story, and often it's not; often it does not even start as a big story, and it may not even be a big story. But hard work and eventually experience will help reporters figure out where a good story begins.

To start, it helps to read good literature and good journalism. Emulating experienced reporters who have that feel can help us understand what good story ideas are and why. What do top-notch journalists write about? How do they get their stories and develop them? Who do they talk to? What other journalists do they read?

The other key way is to develop contacts in your beat and in your community and to spend time listening to what they have to say. Get out there in the street, the coffee shops, the classrooms, the offices of city hall. Talk to the secretaries, the waitresses, the doormen, and the street cops. Trusting contacts, good questions, and listening are not only the best ways to stay abreast of the news, but they sharpen your ear for good yarns and for what matters to your readers and the community at large.