Story Ideas: How Do They Come About?

While I'm on the subject of things I'm asked by people wondering about property journalism (see my most recent blog on how most stories are published in the first half of the year), I'm often asked: 'How do you come up with story ideas?'

There are three ways:

1. I come up with an idea myself, often based on observation or conversation with property people, and send the idea to editors. This is usually in the form of a brief email (after 12 years freelancing in residential property, editors know the sort of story I will produce without an extensive 'pitch' on my part.) About 60 per cent or more of the stories I write come from my own ideas, submitted to editors and agreed by them as solid commissions. Here's an idea I sent to the FT's property editor a few months ago which ended up as a story in the paper in June:

ST ALBANS - This is one of the classic London commuter markets, but also popular with some international buyers and corporate tenants who want good access to the M25 and Heathrow, but also want to take advantage of the excellent public and private education for which the area is renowned. The local market is strong, benefitting from a mild 'ripple' from central London, popularity with those who take the 20 minute train journey to King's Cross. There is a good mix of properties - many period homes, some from as far back as the 17th century, as well as modern ones on the outskirts. (I lived in St Albans for several years, in three different parts, so know it quite well).

WINDSOR - This may be a timely piece with the Diamond Jubilee celebrations beginning. The location is internationally known because of its proximity to London, the castle, and its Royal connections yet it surprises many who visit - it is noisy because of the proximity of Heathrow, it has both Old Windsor and the more modern parts, its education is dominated by the presence of Eton nearby, and its tourism driven by modern attractions like Legoland and Windsor Safari Park as well as the Royal connections.

2. Sometimes an editor will come to me with an idea. The editor will have generated the idea themselves, or perhaps will have been to an event or presentation prompting the Idea. They then allocate it, in the form of a commission, to the journalist they feel best able to write the story most authoritatively, in the appropriate style and to the deadline they set. About 30 per cent of my stories come this way.

3. A minority of stories - 10 per cent or less - come from ideas given to me by PRs. Some journalists spend a lot of time asking PRs for stories (which makes the journalists a bit lazy, in my opinion) but I'm wary of this as if you get a story from a PR you are effectively obliged to use their client in the story as a gesture of thanks - and sometimes the client may not actually be the best or most authoritative estate agent, developer of other proper professional to quote. Very occasionally, an idea will come from a PR but with absolutely no research to back it up...and if I then pitch that to an editor, I'm the one who looks the fool when asked to support the idea with evidence.

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