By Prof. Mark Grabowski
The first part of writing a good story is
coming up with a good story idea. In my
journalism classes, students choose their
story topics. Let’s discuss some of the
variables that makes something or
If something is happening NOW, it is more newsworthy
than if it happened yesterday or last week or two weeks
ago. Oftentimes the most newsworthy element in the
story is the most recent happening, the latest thing in a
series of happenings which relate to the news event.
New stories are breaking every day in the NFL. First,
it was Ray Rice. Then Roger Goodell. Now, it’s Adrian
Peterson’s turn for the limelight. Who knows who the
spotlight will be on next?
A profile of the star baseball player would be
much more timely in the Spring semester than
a profile of a soccer player, since baseball is
in season and soccer is out of season. Focus
on things that are ongoing, happening now or
in the future rather than things that happened
several weeks or more in the past. So, write
about someone doing something interesting
NOW (or very recently or in the near future),
not someone who accomplished something a
Keep in mind, though, that being a
member of a school sports team takes
talent but it is not newsworthy by itself.
However, if the athlete set a school record
for points scored or got drafted by a
professional team, that’s newsworthy.
How close to your readers is this event taking place? All
other things being equal, something that is happening in
or near their location is much more meaningful to them
than something taking place across town or across the
… but not
A student in last year’s class profiled a student
who was making a name for himself as a
musician. The musician was from Syosset –
and has even won a Battle of the Bands at
Syosset High when he was a student there – so
the Syosset Patch was interested in the story. It
could have also been a nice story for the
school newspaper, since it involved a student.
Students often propose stories about musicians. The
issue is, can you convince your readers s/he's
newsworthy? Keep in mind, there are lots of talented
musicians out there. But in order to set this person
apart from all the other garage-band wannabes out
there, you need concrete details and evidence to
provide credibility. Does this person have a record
deal? Has s/he performed in large music venues? Been
a contestant on a reality talent show? Won awards? etc.
Absent things like that, it will be difficult to establish
him/her as being newsworthy. Your story will basically
amount to, "He's really awesome - trust me!"
Is a well-known person part of the story? Or did someone
achieve prominence? Readers like to read about people they
know. If a person is well-known or did something
noteworthy, more readers will be interested than if a person
who is mentioned is not known.
Half of all
in divorce, so
it’s not news
Zachary Borst, a Communications
major who graduated from Adelphi
University in 2007, won the Chevrolet
Route 66 advertising competition. In
addition to winning the $25,000 prize,
his commercial aired during last year’s
Super Bowl. Newsday ran a cover story
Keep in mind:
Writing about someone famous is by itself not
newsworthy. You need to tell readers something they
don’t already know. Consequently, profile stories
about professional athletes or other celebrities
generally aren’t a good route to go for this class.
Chances are that person has already been profiled
several times in major media outlets. And your profile
story will likely just read like a Wikipedia entry. So,
please don’t try to impress me by interviewing that
Mets player your uncle knows.
If something is out of the ordinary, it may be newsworthy
just because of that fact. The strange or unusual is
fascinating to many readers.
A student in last year’s class profiled an
Adelphi student who was a quadruplet
and made commercials with his brothers
and even appeared on the Oprah
How will this event impact your readers? How important is it?
Something that is more important will be more newsworthy
than something that is of little importance, all other things
A student a couple years ago did an
enterprise story on sexual activity on
campus, conducted an extensive survey,
and found Adelphi students were on
average much more sexually active than
others campuses. Another student wrote an
op-ed about banning smoking everywhere
on campus. Issues like these affect many
Is there a conflict between persons in the story? A
rivalry? A misunderstanding? People are naturally drawn
to conflict and find it fascinating.
in the Mideast
War, elections, sports. Any time
there is a struggle. In an election
year a lot of stories about the
election are news. The conflict in
Afghanistan is news. A student in
last semester’s class wrote a story
about the Student Government
Association’s transparency (or
alleged lack of).
Anything that appeals to the reader’s emotions…makes him
laugh, cry, get angry, feel sympathy, etc….has the potential
for human interest.
Michael Sam’s NFL
dream is much more
than just a sports
Last year, a student profiled an Adelphi
nursing student who overcame cancer.
So, it was a good human interest story
about this her health struggles and
perseverance. The story was published
in The Massapequa Observer.
Three goals of
What is NOT newsworthy:
•If another reporter has already published a
story about your subject, s/he's not newsworthy.
The person is old news. Choose someone else.
Be sure to research your subject to ensure
someone hasn’t already published a story about
him/her. I will penalize you if I discover your
subject has already been profiled.
•Don’t write about dead people – that’s an
obituary, not a profile. Remember, you must be
able to interview the person you are writing
Some more tips:
•Pick something newsworthy to many people, not just
•Being in a sorority, doing community service, and
playing the cello while working and maintaining a B-plus
average is impressive. But it’s not newsworthy.
Many students successfully juggle many tasks.
•However, if the same student was the only person to
win a national award for community service or just
got signed by a professional orchestra, that would be
Some more tips:
•Similarly, being a member of a school
sports team takes talent but it is not
newsworthy. However, if the athlete set a
school record for points scored or got
drafted by a professional team, that’s
• Avoid writing about close friends,
significant others, family members and
anyone who has authority over you (e.g., a
boss, a professor, etc.). This is a conflict of
interest and will result in a grade of F.
• Choose someone you have access to and
whom you can interview (several times, if
necessary). Make sure the person is OK
with being written about in a story that may
potentially be published.
•You must be willing to share your work with
the public – i.e. willing to publish it in the
school newspaper or elsewhere. (Make sure
your subject also knows the story might be
•This is journalism, not journal writing.
Journalists write for others, not for
Presentation by Diane Smith Harper,
Student Publications Adviser at Travis