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Online Ministries Community Blog

Feb 05

How to Write for Web Pages - Part 12 – The Ideation of a Story

Posted by Bill Anderton

Deciding what to publish on a church website is often a gut-wrenching experience for many web teams, particularly for rookie church webmasters. To some, there never seems to be anything to write that would make an interesting story.

Nothing could be further from the truth of the situation.

Many rookies often don’t realize the number of content opportunities that are within all churches and surrounding them … everyday!

Churches using a journalistic approach to building websites must learn how to identify, appraise and select potential high-quality stories within their churches and around their communities. Webmasters must learn how to pick the best of the story opportunities and development them into great stories for their websites.

Again, as I have often mentioned in this tutorial, websites can use the established editorial analogs used in newspapers and magazines for guidance about how to select story ideas for development. There is no better example of this than if websites adopted the same processes that newspapers and magazines use to find stories to write. If so, webmasters would select stories in an intentional process perfected by the editors printed publications. The same craft that publication editors use to select stories for publication can also select stories for any website.

The process of selecting stories to publish on a church website is one of the most important functions performed by a webmaster and is critical to the website’s success. If the content is king, as the homily goes, the selection of stories for content development is a king-maker, the power behind the throne.

Stories come from story ideas. In the best practices of all successful websites, coming up with story ideas is an intentional process. Sources for story ideas within a church environment can be rich and diverse. Web teams have to be able to recognize potential idea sources and develop them into a steady flow of new content.

Websites' editorial staff collects stories ideas from all sources. In some internal process, all story idea are collected and, typically, formed into lists.

However, all ideas put on lists don’t automatically become stories. The selection of which story ideas to develop and publish derives from curation processes that evaluate the potential of each idea. From a list of collected story ideas, the editorial team of the website curates the ideas to select those for development. The curation process separates wheat from the chaff. The curation process allows the always limited resources that can develop ideas into stories to be expended only on the best ideas. The curation process isn’t as subjective as one might initially suppose. There are some widely-accepted objective criteria the editorial team can use to curate story ideas objectively. While one typically uses a certain amount of subjective judgment, stories should always be intelligently curated with sound journalistic criteria.

The stories ideas selected for development in the curation process are then ready for assignment. Once an idea is curated, the editorial team of a website doesn’t assign the story without first preparing the idea for the writer-reporter. In the assignment preparation phase, the editorial staff prepares a set of “givens” for the assignment and passes them along to the writer. The “givens” provide any available background materials as well as insight into the expectations of the editorial team. The givens of an assignment serve to get writers-reporters off to a good start as well as make the writers-reporters aware of the editors’ objectives for the story.

Next, the editorial staff gives the assignment package to writers-reporters or photographers for development of the idea into a story.

Taken together, all of these processes are the ideation phase of a story in the overall editorial lifecycle. In this installment of the tutorial, I will write about the entire ideation phase and how to use it effectively.

Finding Good Stories to Tell

Writers-reporters for websites are storytellers, they are tellers of non-fiction stories that should inspire and inform your readers. They provide hard news and maybe educate their readers. They may evoke emotion by making their readers laugh or cry; they can make their readers feel comforted, sympathetic or angry.

Before writers-reporters can tell a story, they have to have a story to tell!

If there is one single “trick” to being a good writer, it is having a good story to tell. Some stories will be epic in their scope and impact. Some will merely pass along important, but minor information or news that is still important in the totality for stories published on a website. Great stories, large or small in scope and impact, are easy to tell.

Churches just beginning to get serious about their websites often only think about what stories they plan to tell as an afterthought. They will spent all of their initial time and energy focusing on selecting a graphic design or hosting platform and never give any thought to WHAT they are going to publish; what stories to the plan to tell.

I maintain that such an approach is putting the cart before the horse.

While the design of a website and technologies used to serve web pages to users are important (along with the myriad of additional minutia necessary to build and operate a website), these details are of secondary importance to having great stories to tell. These things are the plumbing of websites; the stories you tell are its payload.

First, you have to know what to write. You have to have words to place on the beautiful pages that your design allows, and your web host serves.

Second, the stories you select to publish will tell a lot about you. I’m not only talking about what the words in your individual stories convey but also the numbers, types and editorial slants of all of the stories you publish. There is a macro effect of the whole, a synergy of content determined by all of your stories taken together. Even small websites will contain dozens of stories; large websites will contain thousands. Each will be individually selected and crafted to meet the editorial objectives of each website. Individual stories communicate the content carried on their pages, but the totality of the stories also conveys a macro-message that telegraphs the intent or purpose of the website too.

For example, assume I visited a website that hid its name, page titles and domain name. In reading the site, I could still plainly see, for example, that the vast majority of the stories it carried were about plumbing. As a result, I could reasonably infer that the site was targeting plumbers, either professional plumbers or do-it-yourselfers. Then, by looking more closely at the editorial slant of each of the stories on the site, I could likely further accurately surmise if the website’s targeted audience were professional or DIY plumbers.

I don’t have to read the “About Us” page on the example website because the totality of the stories published makes what the website is about very obvious. Judging the site by its content is also more accurate than the “About Us” page because the content published is the definitive statement about what the website is. The “About Us” page is what the website’s leadership wish and hope the site will be. The stories published are what the website is in reality.

The same dynamics are at work in church websites too.

However, despite their importance, the majority of church websites never give much thought to the process of ideating and selecting the stories they publish. They think, “What do I have that I can put on the website?” rather than, “What SHOULD I put on the website?” The former approach is reactionary and accidental; the later approach is proactive and intentional.

The ideation and selection of stories to publish should be an intentional process, not happen by accident. There are numerous benefits to intentional ideation and selection. First, selecting good stories to tell makes them much easier to write. Writers-reporters with good stories to tell will often say, “The story wrote itself!” Second, intentional ideation and selection of the stories you tell on your website will ensure that you are communicating the overall message you want for the website. Then, you will be deliberate about the overall message about the life and ministry of your church that is being told to the community both inside and outside your church.

Automatic Stories for Your Website

In the life and ministry of all churches, there are inherent naturally-occurring opportunities for content for your website that exist just because you are a church. These stories can (and should) form the basic foundation of church websites. Inclusion of these basic stories is all but automatic.

Your website will need additional stories for broad editorial cover of your church, but the automatic foundational stories will provide important insights into your ministry and can serve as its core.

There are some sources of stories that are almost automatic for church websites:

  • All of the events and other items that you list in your church calendar
  • The news of things happening in your church
  • Informational stories about all church programs and missions
  • Biographies and faith-journey stories of the people of your congregation
  • Upcoming and past sermons
  • Profiles of all Sunday School classes and information about upcoming and past curricula

Most of your automatic foundational stories will touch your church calendar in some way. In most churches, the church calendar is used as the centralized master information center of the life and ministry of the church. By definition, every event that you normally include in your church calendar is newsworthy and should be covered within your website. You should not only list them in your calendar, you should also write short news items about each as discussed in Part 9 of this tutorial.

Also, the more important of the events on your calendar should be developed into full feature stories to run elsewhere in your website, outside of the calendar itself.

Turn Your Foundational Stories into “Beats”

One obvious characteristic shared by many of the list of foundational stories shown above is their recurring nature. These stories don’t occur once, they regularly repeat, serially and continuously throughout the year.

Regularly recurring occurrences aren’t limited to churches. Similar circumstances happen in all communities. The characteristic is historical. Because of the opportunities for content from recurring sources, newspapers have evolved a reporting structure to report on regularly recurring news: the beat reporter.

The term “beat” comes from the noun in the connotation of an assigned regular route or habitual path. Another use of the term is in police departments. One form of policing is to assign a police officer to cover a particular route or area; a police officer “walks the beat” every day. In doing so, the police officer gets to know the beat intimately.

By analogy, the beat assigned to a reporter is a relatively narrow topic, and the same reporter keeps the same beat over a long period. Beat reporters cover the same topic habitually and become specialists on the topics of their beats. Beat reporters aren’t micro-managed, or often given specific writing assignments. Instead, beat reporters are assigned to cover anything and everything that happens within their beat. Beat reporters will collect new information on their assigned specific topics by following the same routes and habitual paths.

Beat reporters regularly collect information from each source that they cultivate on their beats. They routinely and regularly call, visit, e-mail and text sources to obtain any new information on their assigned topic.

Beat reporting is the craft of in-depth reporting on a particular issue, sector, organization or institution over sustained periods of time.

The advantage of a beat reporter is that they gain a history of experience with their assigned beat. Beat reporters build a knowledge base of their topic and gain familiarity. Continuity allows beat reporters to be able to place their topic in a historical context in addition to reporting straight facts.

Beat reporters also build relationships and rapports with sources on their beats that they call or visit over and over. The ongoing familiarity allows building trust among reporters and sources of information. The on-going familiarity of the beat what distinguishes beat reporters from others who might write similar stories only occasionally and has to build relationship and trust with sources from scratch.

Good beat reporters become invested in their beats. Through passion for the subject or sense of professionalism, good beat reporters will master the nuances of their beats.

Take your list of automatic foundation stories and turn them into beats. Assign a writer-reporter to cover each beat. Writers-reporters can handle more than one beat but be careful to not overload them, so they don’t have the time to cover each beat in depth.

For example, turn Sunday Schools and Bible Studies (regularly recurring occurrences) into a beat and assign a dedicated writer-reporter to cover the beat. As a beat reporter, the writer-reporter will regularly contact every Sunday School teacher in the church to find new information. The beat reporter will turn collected information into appropriate stories for the website. Example might include new studies and series, not just that they are occurring and when, but the background on each study, why it is being taught, things people are learning and comments of participants. The beat reporter might also attend a class or two and do some first-person reporting. Other beat information turned into stories might include class parties and news from and about the members of the class.

Another example might be turning your pastor’s sermons into a beat. Upcoming sermons are always good website content. The assigned beat reporter might contact the pastor from time to time to find out the schedule and background of individual sermons and any sermon series. In many cases, your pastor will have written a summary of each sermon to be in the church newsletter or bulletin. The sermons beat reporter can harvest any previously written text than is suitable for re-purposing on the website. By building a relationship between the beat reporter and the pastor, a body of past knowledge accumulates. Also, information can be collected and disseminated very efficiently because of the relationship between the beat reporter and the pastor.

If beat reporting simply reports what is occurring within the normal life and ministry of the church, all of the beats taken collectively will represent a fairly accurate view of the church. The beats report the pulse of the church. If beat reporters cover all of the important occurrences of the church, the website’s editorial staff doesn’t have to plan individual stories, merely report what is happening within the beats.

For this reason, beat reporting should form the core of church websites.

In my opinion, beat reporting should not be the only coverage of a successful church website but certainly does form its foundation. With a strong foundation of good beat reporting, you can build upon the core content with other coverage and feature stories to accent the other important things within the church.

Historical Stories

Another rich source of stories for your website is your church archives. Mine your archives for stories of either broad sweeping story arcs or short blurbs about specific historical occurrences.

Stories of your church history can be another part of the firm foundation of your website. Older churches, with long histories, have a very deep well from which you can regularly draw.

Similarly, if you have been operating a website for a while, look at your web archive of past stories from years back. You may have stories of importance than can we re-developed and re-used. Sometimes, you can re-publish them as a “Blast From the Past.”

For many older churches with long histories and deep church archives (and archivists), you will have built-in beat reporters for historical stories: your church archivist and other volunteers who keep the church history. People who keep the archives are typically passionate about the history of their churches and would love to write regularly about church history if asked.

Don’t Overlook Denominational Stories

Many church webmasters almost always overlook carrying denominational stories on their websites. The oversight isn’t intentional; they just don’t think about it.

Things that happen in your denomination or the churches within your local judicatory are almost inherently newsworthy for your church website.

Collecting denominational stories can be very easy. Most denominations actively push out large amounts of information via various channels, including syndication feeds (RSS) and news releases. Reporting denomination stories typically involves simply gathering the information push out by the denomination, sorting through news and news releases provided by your denomination and selecting the stories that might apply to your congregation.

Since denominational PR sources typically push out fresh information weekly, denominational stores can help to make your website dynamic by providing a regular supply of fresh stories.

Also, consider sending writer-reporters to denominational meetings and conferences for first-hand reporting.

You might also consider assigning a beat reporter to covering your denomination news and occurrences on an on-going basis.

Laying a Strong Foundation to Build Upon

The above-cited approach is journalistically sound because it reports the life and ministry of a church directly. It is also a sound technique for operating a dynamic website; it provides a continuous flow of new information that allows regular updates to a website.

The approach is formalistic which can be a good thing. One simply follows the formula and a website representative of the life and ministry of the church results.

However, a strictly formulaic approach is incomplete; it needs additional elements to fulfill its potential. A strict formulaic approach can also be a bit bland. It needs additional seasoning to bring out the full potential of its coverage.

I prefer to use the cited editorial formula as the foundation of a good and dynamic website. By using the story ideas described above, I can form a solid foundation for a good church website. However, I never stop there. Upon the solid foundation of event news and beat coverage, I like to add more free-form story ideas that come from brainstorming to develop feature stories. The creative spice of the free-form story ideas enliven a formulaic website and complete it.

If you can think of a good idea and it passes an appropriate curation process for being newsworthy, include it on the website! Taken together, the formulaic foundation and feature stories from free-form brainstorming can work together synergistically for a rich picture of the life and ministry of your church.

Story Ideas from Brainstorming

Coming up with good story ideas for content development from non-beat sources typically begins with brainstorming. Story ideas from brainstorming can be anything you can think of that is newsworthy.

In this step, things start getting exciting. Brainstorming can come up with any idea and go in any direction. Story ideas that start with brainstorming can come from anyone; your web team, congregation, clergy and staff.

  • Brainstorming from individual web team members
  • Brainstorming from the web team as a group meeting together collaboratively
  • Brainstorming from your church’s leadership community
  • Brainstorming from individual members of your congregation

Brainstorming Story Ideas

Brainstorming story ideas is an important process for coming up with potential stories. We commonly accept the word “brainstorming”, but few ever train in the art of brainstorming to develop skills and best practices.

It is important to learn some important techniques about how to properly brainstorm.

During brainstorming sessions, dozens of thoughts can run through your mind at the same time. The brainstorming process will help get these ideas out of your head as quickly as possible and written down somehow. Some thoughts will be good, some bad and most will only formed impartially.

There are several ways to make the process of brainstorming more productive and more useful. Brainstorming for story ideas should use tried-and-true methods for getting through the process.

Make a list of all of the raw ideas as they surface. Some ideas might be executed in the near term, other later. However, keep the ideas on written lists. Even ideas initially bypassed might be appropriate for later use.

The objective of brainstorming is coming up with the germ of a story idea. It is the raw product, not a refined final result. Also, when brainstorming, you will be coming up with a lot of ideas, not just one. Don’t get bogged down on only one idea; keep the brainstorming session moving along.

Too often, brainstorming sessions get side-tracked by into delving too deeply into each idea. You get side-tracked by starting the refinement or curation processes too early. When this happens, brainstorming sessions tend to stop producing additional ideas when the sessions focus on refining the one idea.

When brainstorming, it is important to suspend critical judgment, at least in this portion of the whole process. Brainstorming is not the time to curate ideas. Instead, get your ideas identified and recorded.

Good brainstorming typically makes lists of story ideas. Write down all ideas as quickly as possible. Include the base idea as well as any thoughts that come up in the brainstorming sessions.

Also, understand that each idea that comes out isn’t necessarily the final result. A germ of one idea might stimulate another idea from someone else and then another. Brainstorming is often a chain of ideas.

Don’t stop to evaluate proffered ideas critically; that will come later. Don’t stop and possibly break the chain. Make simple notes of the ideas as they spill out.

At this point in the whole ideation process, don’t worry if the ideas seem too far-fetched to execute. Record all ideas that come up in the session no matter how screwball they first appear. Do not ignore any idea that presents itself.

At this point, don’t worry too much about spelling or punctuation when making your notes and lists. Simply note the idea and move on to the next. You can make corrections and fill in the details later when the creativity dies down and things quiet down.

After all ideas are on your list, and the dynamic part of your brainstorming session is over, now turn your attention to refining your list of ideas.

Refinement of your raw ideas into a more polished product should be a discrete second step.

Often, the initial stage of the refinement is merely eliminating the bad ideas. Not everything that come out of your head and you put on your list of ideas will be good ideas. In the heat of the brainstorming sessions, you will naturally think of ideas that won’t make stories. Review your list. Move the obviously bad ideas to a segregated “bad ideas” list. I tend not to throw the bad ideas away but keep them hoping they will trigger a more improved thought later. I don’t destroy the record of any idea too quickly, even the silly ones. I still save all the bad and silly ideas for later reconsideration. What seems silly today might be valid tomorrow.

The initial stage of refinement is a process of separating the wheat from the chaff. You will be concentrating the good ideas.

At this point, you’re not yet doing a full curation process on your ideas, merely striking ideas off your list that are the poor ideas and the silly things.

Once the bad ideas have been eliminated, review the remaining ideas to determine ideas that would make good main stories and which would be good sidebars. Make notes on your list of ideas about how you visualize each idea’s use.

In this phase of the refinement of your brainstorm, you are still not performing a full curation process yet. That will come in the next phase. Now, you are merely expanding your initial thought in order to complete them, getting the full thought onto paper.

Once refined and fully documented, the full list of final story ideas should then go through the full curation process. The curation process for story ideas will be discussed in depth in the next section.

Brainstorming in Groups

You can brainstorm individually or gather the web team to brainstorm together as a group.

Group brainstorming sessions can be very productive because the members of your team still the stimulated by ideas as the come out in a group environment. However, your team will have to learn how to brainstorm together. It is very easy for the group dynamic to get off-track unless the team uses some training and discipline in brainstorming sessions.

Everyone participating in brainstorming sessions should review the best-practice techniques for brainstorming described above. Establish some ground rules for the group and be committed to sticking to them.

Also, for a new team just learning to brainstorm together, effective leadership is important. Good leadership can make the session more productive and keep the ideas flowing while also keeping the team on track.

Try starting a brainstorming session by posing some questions to direct the team’s brainstorming. Design the questions you formulate to stimulate thinking and brainstorming. The answer to the question will be story ideas.

In some cases, it may be appropriate to pose the questions to your team in an e-mail in advance of the brainstorming session to provide some time to think about the possible answers to the questions. Perhaps give everybody a day or so to reflect on the questions. Then, get together as a team so everyone can present their answers.

Some members of the brainstorming session may come to the session with a list of ideas. Compiling a list of ideas from team members is good, but also brainstorm together for new and unique ideas rather than just aggregating individual sets is a better idea. The group dynamics will take hold and each idea posed by each member will cause other members to think about other things or improvements, to spin off in new creative directions. Ideas voiced in the session will begin to play off of each other.

The biggest challenge to overcome will be having the right type of discussion as a team. Remember this is brainstorming. The point is not to debate each idea in any great depth as initially presented. Just get the idea out and noted.

Then, take a bit of time to reflect on the group’s resulting list. Get the editorial team together again to review after reflection. See who agrees with the ideas.

If the list of story ideas from brainstorming is weak, bolster the list with ideas from other sources.

Go Outside the Web Team for Ideas

For most websites, their web teams and editors are expected to be the fountainhead for the vast majority of story ideas. However, that is not to say that isolating web teams from story ideas that originate from the outside is a good idea, it rarely is. Don’t be parochial, reach outside of the web team as widely as possible for your story ideas.

Going beyond the web team for story ideas is a particularly good idea for church websites. There will be many stakeholders outside of the web team that will have important voices that you should hear. Make a concerted effort to seek out these important sources for story ideas and engage them.

Going outside the web teams does require both effort and structure to be effective. Stakeholders will often say that they want to contribute ideas but often don’t follow through without direct engagement to stimulate their participation.

Establish a framework with your outside stakeholders by brainstorming themes for your upcoming editorial coverage. Once a year, try conducting a half-day workshop with the leadership of the church, stakeholders, and any interest congregants to determine editorial themes for the coming year.

Begin with briefing the participants of the workshop about your overall vision for the website and your current editorial approach. In these workshops you’re not necessarily looking for a new vision for the website but, instead, you are looking for new suggestions for general content themes to use within your existing vision.

Seed the beginning of the workshop with some initial ideas for themes to get things started. Let your workshop participants know the ideas being considered by the web team. Encourage people to refine your team’s existing ideas. You will likely end the workshop with possibly totally different ideas and better ideas.

Question the workshop participants to stimulate their thoughts. Also, consider developing one or more questionnaires come up with good themes.

The questions should encourage the group to look at the whole life and ministry of the church; what they want to present on the website to both the congregation inside the church and the public outside the church.

Help them understand the importance of the theme they are creating.

Document everything that comes out of these workshops. Consider deputizing a “recording secretary” to make good notes of the session.

Once the workshop has created one or more themes, review the resulting notes and documents with the web team. Do additional brainstorming with the web team to come up with story ideas that are in keeping with the theme.

In working with the outside group, try to discover the various mini-cultures within the life of the church and the importance of each. Determine if each of those cultures is represented appropriately in any resulting planned theme.

It is natural that the process of develop themes also comes up with significant story ideas. The act of brainstorming themes naturally lead to new and important story ideas.

Besides workshops, you can also “go broad” with a questionnaire. For example, develop a 10-question online survey for the whole congregation. Promote the use of the questionnaire through each of your Sunday School classes in your church. Ask survey participants to identify themselves with contact information but tell them that their answers will be confidential (and make it so.) However, ask them for permission to be contacted by the web team for follow-up and possibly interviewed for a story.

The answers submitted on the survey will be of great benefit to the web team. They will be a wealth of story ideas as well as validate the direction of the theme.

The survey will let you know that you have a story and know where to go to get it if you have a self-declared source. You will likely also automatically get a broad cross section of the church. You will likely get new stories you normally wouldn’t think of and meet new people.

A broad survey can provide more of a defined structure for story ideas as well as a purpose for participants contributing ideas.

You can also use multiple outside groups for brainstorming. For example, you can use a group for each of the mini-cultures discovered to brainstorm ideas that specifically address each mini-culture.

Also, if you have a large website, consider forming a brainstorming team for each major section of the website. Each team should make a brainstorming list of the ideas for their section as a beat on a newspaper would do. By focusing their attention only on story ideas from within their subject, the teams responsible for special sections of a website can cover their subject in greater depth and with more clarity.

The multiple teams approach can work well, but each team has to buy into the idea that it is part of a whole for it to work well. Each team is a small group and should be able to work within the larger team.

Inspiration for Story Ideas

Gathering story ideas should be a continuous process by the entire web team. Always be on the lookout for a good and timely idea. Think about story ideas by using your experiences in your church. Don’t just brainstorm potential ideas but also think about what makes your idea for stories interesting and important.

Listen to everyone around you: family, friends, co-workers, small talk at parties and gatherings. Start conversations with the staff of stores and business you frequent. Many will have a story to tell you that can inspire a story idea.

Read published interviews in magazines and newspapers with experts in their field. Find the big challenges they face. Look for experts from educators, police, medical workers, policy makers.

Always have a look at the bulletin boards in your community, such as  colleges, libraries, coffee shops, etc.

Keep the season in mind. All publications publish holiday stories. However, seasonal stories can easily get into a rut. Look for a unique angle for up-coming holiday stories. Search the web for fact sheets for each holiday on the calendar and see it they can stimulate a new angle of a holiday.

Obviously, don’t overlook the events on the liturgical calendar events too.

Look for seasonal weather-related stories and make the unique by relating them to your congregations and missions.

Look for new business in your community.

Localize a national topic. Take a national story and make it relevant to your church or community. Use quotes from local people and other relevant information from local sources.

Read as many publications as you can, including newspapers, magazines, popular websites, neighborhood newsletters. Each will have a topics or story idea you can also use. However, be sure to put a different slant on the story so you can make the story your own.

Pay close attention to the op-ed and letters-to-the-editor section of all of your local newspapers, including neighborhood newspapers. These are a direct line to interesting community issues.

Check out religious news sources from national, denominational or regional sources.

Read the newsletters that also cater to your audience.

Browse social media sites, online forums and blogs. Start threads and ask questions that spark discussions and give insights.

Look for obscure news that might be of general interest.

Keep track of all important anniversary dates, not just within your church but the community as well. Of course, include dates of national importance. Look for important historical milestones.

Browse college course catalogs from the institutions around you. Look for anything unusual or interesting.

Consider reviewing a product or service, particularly those from local sources.

Keep an eye on the social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Crowdsource your story ideas and let ideas come to you. In addition to proactively developing story ideas, ask your congregation and others to contribute ideas.

Set up Google Alerts on specific topics you should follow so you are alerted when something important happens in the news.

Use personal experiences to inspire story ideas. These can be the big thing like weddings, retirement, birth of children, illnesses, etc.

Use the hobbies of you congregants for story ideas.

Follow thought leaders in social media as a great way to keep up with possible topics topic. On Twitter, follow the most influential people you know of such as authors, church consultants, theologians. Refer to these tweets and see if any new story ideas come up. It also helps to speak with these individuals too. You shouldn’t only read their postings. Make a comment on their blogs, Facebook or tweet your thoughts. You may be surprised by direct responses. You can start meaningful discussions.

Be sure to subscribe to the alumni newsletter of your university and the newsletters from the college in your community.

Talk with your church archivist and go through old church records.

Go out into the world and experience things for yourself. Attend live events in your community or church conferences. Meet people face-to-face and talk with them.

Read the press release news services on the web, particularly for press releases from the institutions and business around you.

Keep track of congregants doing notable or unusual work or with interesting personal and professional stories.

Find out about congregants receiving awards and honors.

Ask your facilities people about any new facilities, equipment or renovations taking place or being planned.

Find out about the death of a current or former congregant is always important. Also include former clergy and staff.

Find out about promotions and appointments of your congregants’ professional lives can be interesting.

Read any news about congregants or clergy elected to a leadership position in a professional society or association.

Read any news about congregants or clergy having speaking engagements.

Find out about congregants or clergy making television or radio appearances.

Many of stories inspirations listed above will be about big things. However, good stories can be about the small things too like meeting a friend for coffee, going to lunch, etc. The resulting story doesn’t have to be about you but can inspire a generalized story. If you have experienced something, other people will likely experience something similar.


Story Pitches

One fantastic source of story ideas is the congregation itself. If you ever suffer editors’ block when coming up with story ideas, ask your congregation what they would like to see!

Here, I’m talking about something slightly different from the congregational questionnaire discussed above, by similar in some ways.

Above, I talked about circulating a questionnaire but assume that you would do a questionnaire only periodically.

Here, I’m suggesting using an ongoing always-available process.

Develop an interactive “story pitch form” and post it to your website so visitors can contribute story ideas. Ask anyone and everyone to contribute story ideas. Ask your writers-reporters; also your clergy.

Go outside of your primary web team. Go to all of the people with relationships with your church or its ministries. All are potential sources for story ideas.

Your story pitch form should contain questions and response fields that will collect such information as:

  • What is the proposed headline for the story?
  • What is the background of this proposed story?
  • What are the significant questions the proposed story should answer?
  • Who are the people who should be included or interviewed for the proposed story?
  • What are the possibilities of pictures or graphics?

Publicize that you are always open to story ideas from everyone. Socialize the fact that the story pitch form is available and ready for use.

Also, let people know that all story pitches will be subject to the same curation process as all stories. However, don’t use the curation process as a roadblock to people proposing story ideas but everyone should understand that the purpose of curation is for quality-assurance.

Many people outside your web team will have ideas for the website. People will often approach members of the web team with story ideas. Having a structured story pitch process will provide a defined way to collect informal ideas for stories. Many of these informal ideas will be very good ideas. If someone approaches you, enthusiastically encourage them to submit their story idea using the online form. Don’t be overly formal about only using the form to collect story pitches. Encourage the use of the pitch form, let people know that it is available and that its use will make the idea visible to the entire web team at the same time.

Story Ideas from Beat Reporters

Beat reporters assigned to cover a beat typically perform their writing and reporting outside of the normal ideation and brainstorming processes. The job of a beat reporter is to cover everything and anything that happens on their beat. Often, the only way the editorial staff finds out something happening on a beat is when the beat reporter reports it.

However, beat reporters often come up with story ideas that arise from the depth of their beat coverage. Story ideas from beat reporters might include more in-depth feature stories beyond what their normal reporting covers.

Because on the familiarity with their beats, beat reporters may see things that others wouldn’t normally recognize in the normal brainstorming processes.

If so, have your beat reporters pitch their story, so they enter the normal curation process. Story pitches from beat reporters are typically fast-tracked through curation because of their status. Develop a healthy respect for good beat reporters. Also, story ideas from beat reporters typical spring from time-sensitive reporting so the editor staff may have to green-light the development of the story quickly.

Almost Impossible To Run Out of Story Ideas

People new to operating websites sometimes erroneously assume you will run out of ideas for new stories to carry on the church website at some point. They assume there will be "slow news days" or run into a wall of idea-fatigue. They assume that if they’re constantly writing about their church, they’re bound to run out of things to say.

First of all, I do not agree with these assumptions! I have never found such a church. Churches are content-rich environments and constantly change to various degrees.

What is happening is that these people don’t know where to look for stories. Or, you might experience writers’ block or editors’ block when brainstorming story ideas. However, there isn’t a lack of stories, just the temporary inability of recognizing them.

Fortunately, there are a number of simple approaches to get out of the no-new-content dilemma.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that there is nothing new to write. There’s always something. You just have to know where to look for story ideas; how to find them or how to let them find you.

Category: (12-14) December 2014   Tag:

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