Where do you get all your stories from?
The ideas for features come from various sources—including readers
NOTE: Underlined, bold text in this article provide links to past stories—FYI.
This question arises every so often, so I figured with a small pause in writing, this would be the right time to address the query: where do you get all your stories from?
The answer is as varied as the subject matter in the items I have written over the last six months—yes, it has been six months since I began this journey.
Most of the story ideas come from my own brain. Yes, I make a note about the anniversary of this or that, and when the time is right, I jump on it. Many times I will contact sources well in advance of the story to be sure I have someone to talk to about it. Call it learned paranoia. Other stories come from talking with folks about what they are doing these days with their lives. Some are more complex than others. Sometimes it is simple: former South Salem and Portland State basketballer Jeremiah Dominguez is still working in basketball. Other times, more complex: former North Salem and Oregon State baseball catcher Cole Hamilton moving from the diamond to the hospital, working and pursuing course work to become an orthopedic surgeon.
On a related note, making story plans guarantee nothing. Exhibit A is the case of longtime official Millard Bates. I knew he was still mentally sharp when I made initial contact with his daughter, who was taking care of him. We made plans for me to come and see Mr. Bates, then I left on a short family vacation to Tucson, Arizona. When I returned home and called to confirm my time with my old school teacher, I learned he had died—just days before.
So the story of Millard Bates became a tribute—to a man I had stayed in contact with since my days as a student at Leslie Junior High. The resulting feature became one of the most read items published to date. I was even asked to speak at his funeral. It was an emotional twist of fate.
Also on a related note, the most-read items from my work are tributes to a person who has passed away. Millard Bates, and more recently, long time North Salem teacher and coach Kenny Slack, and all-state and McNary basketball player Phil Nelson have garnered the highest readership numbers. The loss of a beloved figure from our shared pasts can produce such a response.
Other story ideas are “news” type sports stories. The move of former West Salem football standout Holden Whipple from Northern Arizona to the University of Oregon popped up on social media. His dad was a willing interview for the piece. Former South Salem principal Lara Tiffin being named to the Salem-Keizer School District’s Coordinator of Athletics and Activities was something that I got word of in advance of any release coming from the district itself. So I ran with it. I also scheduled a time with Lara to talk when she felt ready to chat about priorities and goals for district sports and activities into the future.
Follow up stories have also been part of the story ideas. This goes back to my days as a radio news director. A “futures” file involves knowing when deadlines for work/issues are coming—annual events you can count on are approaching—you get the idea. I did a story about adding shot clocks to Oregon high school basketball in May, complete with the details about how it would work. The follow-up came in September, when the OSAA Executive Board voted to approve it for use next year. A selective historical review of the ground breaking Title IX rules making equal access to sports for men and women the “law of the land.” McNary’s 1992 state championship baseball team was holding a celebration in August, and I was invited. So my wife and I showed up for several minutes at the big event, and the story—waiting on the backburner so to speak—was published shortly thereafter.
Some story items are very personal. On the first Mother’s Day after the passing of my own Mom, and wrote about her life as a football coach’s wife—which she embraced and endured for more than three decades. When I received a personal honor for years as a sports broadcaster, I saluted my father, who was my partner for 30 years. In fact, today marks two years since my dad passed away.
Finally, I want to thank readers who have offered up story ideas—either directly or indirectly. A family member tipped me to a former Keizer resident who had been named as the soccer coach of the year for the entire state of California. Friends who cued me in on the cancer battle involving former Sprague football coach Robin Hill. These are the stories that may not be shared any other way. I thank all of you who have contributed to my work in this way.
I am always interested in hearing from you readers—about stories or just your words of support or correction. Example: I had to adjust my story on Ken Slack, sharing he had worked at Central Catholic High School for eight years. I knew he had worked there for a time, but never was told eight years until after the story was first published. I am happy to make those sort of changes. Getting it right is my top priority.
And for you who write things in the comment section at the bottom like “beautifully done,” “or keep it up,” those are tidbits that make me smile and keep me determined to tell more stories.
Thanks for reading.