How to Evaluate Story Ideas in Journalism

By Kristy Horine

I sat at the back table of the women’s ministry organizational meeting. The Christian in me focused on loving my sisters. The writer in me did a constant sweep for story.

And there it was, at the very end of the meeting. A prayer request for a young woman named Morgan who was going on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. She had worked so hard to raise funds. Had even learned how to sew to do it.

My story radar pinged and pinged hard.

After the meeting, I approached Morgan and gathered a little more information. “Would you mind if I pitched the idea of writing an article about your mission trip to the local paper?”

After she assented, I made notes of all her contact information, promised to pitch it to the local editor in the morning, and made sure I could schedule a future interview to get more in-depth information if the editor accepted the pitch.

The next morning, I shot off an email in which I pitched a human interest story, with pictures, in 800 words or less. Within two hours I had a reply: Yes.

How did this work so easily? Because the story was appealing and fit in with the local paper’s flavor and audience.

But how do you make this work in your own writing life?

Pay attention.

  1. Pay attention to your local newspaper. Read the headlines. Look at the photos.

There are typically two kinds of newspapers left in the world: the large syndicated rags, and the small, hometown papers. I’ll be really honest here, larger papers are not so inclined to take freelance writers, and they tend to hoard the good stories for their regular reporters. Most other stories they typically pull ‘off the wire’ in a news service that they pay for. That being said, there is no harm in asking. If you don’t ask, you won’t know, so pitch that story!

For smaller papers, if you don’t subscribe, then subscribe. Walk in to the office and let them see your face. Meet one of the editors or the publisher and ask if they are interested in articles from freelance writers. Again, no harm done in asking. Then, read the paper. All of the paper. Read the articles, the opinion pieces, the obituaries, the homemakers having a good time, the local churches having fish fry dinners, the advertisements, the sports stories even if your favorite sport is reading, and the classifieds. Know what they publish, and think about the audience who is reading what they publish.

  1. Pay attention to the story itself. Evaluate each story on the following attributes: Newsworthiness, Prominence, Timeliness, Proximity, Method, and Human Interest.

A Nose for News in Action

Let’s evaluate the above story about Morgan in terms of what newspapers generally look for in publishable articles.

Newsworthiness

To determine Newsworthiness, ask yourself a few questions: Does this matter? Will it inform how people make decisions?

The answers are yes, and yes. It matters to Morgan. It matters on an international scale. Morgan is a difference maker. That’s important. People make decisions about where and how they will spend their money and their time every single day. If no one knows about Morgan’s fund raising sewing endeavors, they might make an alternate decision about their money. In addition, people like to pray for other people. Give them something worthy to pray about.

Prominence

To determine Prominence, ask yourself a few questions: Who is this article about? Who will be impacted by reading this article?

Morgan is not a community celebrity like a politician might be, but her name and her family members are well known and well loved. That makes a difference. When thinking in terms of impact, the story itself is just inspiring, right? It can impact anyone who is within hearing/reading range of the story.

Timeliness

To determine Timeliness, ask yourself a few questions: Is this something that happened yesterday? Is it happening today? Will it happen tomorrow?

In Morgan’s case, I determined to pitch the idea, write the story and have it published well before her mission trip so that people who read her story would have time to decide if they wanted to help her by ordering a hand-sewn item. I could have waited until after her trip and included pictures of the trip itself. However, by publishing pre-event, this enabled the community to be more actively involved. Since news travels fast and dies fairly young, offering a fresh, timely piece is wise.

Proximity

To determine Proximity, ask yourself a few questions: Is this a local event/person/place? If this is foreign, is there a local connection?

Morgan lives in my home town. She just completed her freshman year at college in the next county over. Her mother is a school teacher at one of the local middle schools. Her grandmother lives here. Her sister lives here. Even though the mission trip was outside the US borders, the local connection is strong and interesting.

Method

To determine Method, ask yourself a few questions: Is this article about the same old same old? Is there a new flavor/spin/approach in this story?

When most people fund raise, they think bake sale, car wash, GoFundMe. It takes more time and gumption to learn a new skill that adds value to people’s lives, like sewing. That’s what worked with Morgan’s story. In addition to interviewing Morgan, I also interviewed her sewing mentor, Sue Ellen. Sue Ellen also works at the local middle school. By adding a broader sweep to the story, I increase the Proximity, the Prominence and the Newsworthiness. Bam! We have a Titus 2 operation going here. (Hmmm … sounds like an article I could pitch in a local Women’s Missionary Union magazine or website. Double duty for paying attention here.)

Human Interest

To determine Human Interest, ask yourself a few questions: Does this help me connect/reconnect with people? Will it help my readers stop and remember that people are more important than things?

In Morgan’s story, again the answer is yes to both questions. It is a touching story that can encourage and inspire.

And one more thing –

The local newspaper is a secular paper. Yes, the owners call themselves Christians, but a secular newspaper is a secular newspaper is a secular newspaper. As a journalist, no matter the print outlet, I must maintain unbiased journalistic integrity in my writing. I do not interject opinion. I do not use gushing adjectives. But what I can do is sincerely and honestly quote subjects who speak freely about Jesus, which both Morgan and Sue Ellen did.

Before I go into any story – whether it is a story I have found and am pitching, or if it is a story that the newspaper or magazine has assigned to me – I know my boundaries.

I determined long ago:

  • that I would tell the truth,
  • that I would not write a story celebrating sin,
  • that I would not put myself in a situation where I am alone with a male,
  • that I would not change a direct quote unless I had a paper trail of permissions,
  • that I would be teachable in terms of writing and editing, and
  • that I would obey God before ANY publisher or editor, no matter how much they offered to pay me.

The world needs journalists who understand there are things we just don’t compromise. That’s the best evaluation after all.

A week after Morgan’s story ran in the local newspaper, I received an email from the newspaper asking me to call a woman at a phone number. I called. She was from a different church close to our area. She wanted to have Morgan come and speak to her women’s group about the mission trip. Through the article, God opened a door for a kind and generous young woman to tell more of her story.

Click-to-Tweet: Pay attention. Evaluate. Pitch. See what God can do with the words He has created for you to use.

Writing Prompt: Your small town is holding a craft fair next summer. Several area crafters have gained national attention with their art. Brainstorm a human-interest story idea for the local newspaper.

Who You Gonna Call? Ghostwriter!

By Kristy Horine

The Great American Novel. It’s the dream of many a writer, but it’s not the only way to break into publication. During the month of July, the Inspired Prompt Team will bring you other publication options to explore. It is our prayer that you are drawn to just the right one at just the right time! Thanks for reading and write on.

Me? A ghostwriter?

I was nearing the end of a writers conference and I still couldn’t figure out why I was there. After all, I was a journalist, sitting with a bunch of fiction writers.

As I stood at the fringes of the group, a man I hadn’t seen before came up and asked, “So, what do you write?”

I took a deep breath and pushed out air and words, “I’m a freelance journalist.”

He paused. He stared. Then, he smiled.

“Cool,” he said. “I know someone who is interested in telling her story, but she doesn’t really write. Ever thought about ghostwriting?”

Since that providential meeting, I’ve learned much about ghostwriting, about me, and about the way God moves to equip and encourage His writers to work with excellence.

If you are considering ghostwriting, here are some aspects you need to think on:

Prayer

Ghostwriting is an intense endeavor. Cover every aspect in prayer. Pray not only for your writing abilities, but for your client’s storytelling abilities. Pray every day, for every step.

Compatibility

symbiosisIn science, a symbiotic relationship is one where two organisms live really close to one another, sometimes one within the other, in a way that could be beneficial to one or both of the parties involved. This is ghostwriting.

As a ghostwriter, you must be inside your client’s story, mind, and voice. You must be compatible enough – especially in your differences – so you can get the job done. How do you know if you are compatible? Compare your values and your missions. If those two things align, you’re probably going to be okay.

The Story

Ghostwriters can be contracted to work on many different types of writing:

  • Business Writing (web copy, newsletters, press releases, policy & procedures manuals)
  • Full-length non-fiction or fiction
  • Memoirs

No matter what type of writing you will produce, you must decide if you are willing and able to live with the moral, ethical, social, and cultural impact that the writing might have.

For example, if you are a vegetarian, you are probably not going to write for a meat packing plant. If you are a devout Christ-follower, you are likely not going to write the memoirs of a person entrenched in witchcraft. These are hyperbolic examples, but they do make good points. Can you live with the entire story that may or may not have your name attached to it?

Anonymity

“Am I willing to spend hours/days/weeks/months on a project that might not ever mention my name?” If the answer to this question is no, you might want to run now. If the answer is yes, then continue reading. Find out what your client has in mind in terms of attribution. Some clients don’t mind sharing the author spotlight and will include the ghostwriter’s name on the cover. Some clients will mention a ghostwriter in the acknowledgements page. Some clients want the world to think they alone are the brilliant writers. Most ghostwriters give up bylines in what is called a nondisclosure agreement.

Understanding where you are in terms of anonymity is very important.

  • If your name is on this story, is it a story you want to be associated with in ten years?
  • If the client doesn’t want anyone to know they hired a ghostwriter, what are the terms of your silence?
  • Will the client be willing to be a reference and acknowledge your work to a future client?

Decide what you are willing to live with and put it in writing.

Method

This is basically how the project will move from your client’s mind, through you, to the page.

  • Will your client hand you a box of papers and say, here are my notes, go at it?
  • Will your client write the bones and you fill in the blanks?
  • Will you transcribe recordings and write from them?

In addition to how you will gather the facts of the story in the first place, you also need to know what your client expects in terms of editing, marketing, revision, and so forth. Writing is a process that involves so much more than scratching words on a paper. Ghostwriting is no different in that respect. Make sure you talk about how your client expects you to gather information, write, and revise.

Fees

This is the hard part, right? Deciding how much your work and time are worth is tricky. To know the best fee scale for your business, and your life, you need to find out what your rhythms are, how good you are at record keeping, and the parameters of each job.

Consider:

  • Will you apply a per word, per hour, or per project fee?
  • Is there travel involved?
  • Will you be required to purchase extra supplies for the project?
  • Will you need to pay an attorney for contract fees?
  • Will you be responsible for marketing? For editing and revising?

Consider, also, that little issue of anonymity. Now, if you are like most people who are writing a book, you want to make sure that you receive every penny people are willing to pay for your work, not just now but in the future. Will you receive royalties? Will you give up royalties? If you ghostwrite a memoir that becomes a smash best seller for six months straight, that’s a lot of royalties to give up. How will you feel about that? What does your contract say about that?

contract

And speaking of contracts, make sure your ghostwriting contract addresses all of these questions according to each project. If you are writing web copy, you won’t mention royalties. But if you are writing a non-fiction book a publisher asks to be re-written or edited in any way, make sure your initial contract makes room for these contingencies.

One day after the writers conference where I first felt the tug of ghostwriting, I received a phone call. The potential client was a very high profile personality. She and I went back and forth. She interviewed several ghostwriters. I did a lot of research and offered a bid, or a proposal, on the project. Yes, she would include my name on the front cover. No, there would be no royalties. Yes, she was willing to pay a tidy sum for my ghostwriting fee. Yes, the book idea had already been accepted by a publisher, with a promise of more books to come.

After a few more weeks of negotiations, I had to write a hard email. I turned the project down, even though it would have meant more than a year’s worth of freelance income for me and my family.

Why?

Because even though the client initially said she wanted to glorify God and lead others to Christ, she didn’t want the names of God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit in the book at all. She wanted to use curse words in the narrative, and she didn’t mind being explicit in glorifying worldly passions and pursuits because she wanted to “be real.”

At the end of my days, I will stand before the Lord. I will make an account for my actions, my inaction, and every single word, even those I write that belong to someone else. When I stand, will the ghosts come back to haunt me?


Click-to-Tweet: No matter what type of writing you will produce, you must decide if you are willing and able to live with the moral, ethical, social, and cultural impact that the writing might have. Who You Gonna Call? Ghostwriter! via @InspiredPrompt

WRITING PROMPT: You are a ghostwriter. Your client is the only granddaughter of an heiress in your small Arkansas town. Before she can receive her inheritance, the granddaughter must find someone who can take an attic full of notes and transform them into a memoir to top all memoirs. You accept the project, are firing on all cylinders, until you find the box that will change the entire town forever. What does the box contain? 

Time to Write with Carlton & Kristy

Carlton Hughes–

Time to write? An interesting phenomenon I haven’t figured out.

My day job is teaching, and I currently teach at three different sites each week, in addition to completing community service and internal service. I serve my church as a children’s pastor, and I am a year-round volunteer with Operation Christmas Child. I am married and have two nearly-grown sons and lots of cats (we are the stray magnet in the neighborhood).

As if that isn’t enough, I am called to be a writer. Many times I’ll plan a day of writing, and here’s how that usually goes:

  • Wake up, do my devotional reading.
  • Quick check of social media—in case I have an important message, of course.
  • Eat breakfast (Can’t write on an empty stomach, can I?)
  • Sit down with my computer, open a Word file.
  • Type a title.
  • Remember there’s an I Love Lucy marathon on, watch an episode or three to jump-start my creativity.
  • Check episode guides online to get information about what I am watching.
  • Back to my computer, type a couple of sentences.
  • Realize I’m hungry, go eat lunch (Need strength for writing!).
  • Come back to my computer, another quick check of social media.
  • Watch a cat video.
  • Return to my computer, type another sentence or two.
  • Decide that’s enough, I’m tired, turn on the latest football or basketball game.

Does your adult ADHD kick in when you try to write? I have learned I make more time to write when I have a deadline. With that hanging over my head, I’ll leave behind the sitcoms, ball games, and social media sites to write.

Let’s open our computers and write! Oh, wait, another cat video . . .


Carlton Hughes

Carlton Hughes wears many hats: husband, father, college professor, children’s pastor, writer. He is a professor of communication at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College and the children’s pastor at Lynch Church of God. He and his wife Kathy have two sons, Noah and Ethan. You’ll find his tongue in his cheek as he contributes humorous inspirational pieces to two blogs and writes for devotions for publication.

 


Kristy Horine – A Peculiar Reveille

One of them started whining at 4:50 a.m. The other joined in with that short, sharp arf! a few minutes later.

I did ask for help with getting up at 5 a.m. to write, didn’t I?

Why, yes. Yes, I did. I asked and God answered.

For several months now, the dogs have sounded off like clockwork. The beauty of this wake-up call is that the dogs don’t have a snooze button I can smack. I actually have to get out of bed, put on a robe, my coat, and my shoes. I must be alert enough to deal with leashes, and then walk in the cold dark and wait while the pooches find that perfect place to … well, you know. By the time I get back into the house, I am completely awake and ready to write.

A peculiar, persistent reveille. Just what I needed. Just when I needed it.


Kristy Horine is a Kentucky writer: freelance journalist by trade; creative by God’s grace. Kristy writes a little bit of everything including poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction. She makes her life in Bourbon County with her husband and is mother to four children. Her professional and creative work has been published in newspapers, magazines and anthologies in Kentucky and beyond. She is the founder of 3rd Letter Christian Writers in Lexington, Kentucky and is a contributing blogger at www.inspiredprompt.com.  Read more of her work at: www.writeonereallife.fistbump.press, and http://www.kentuckymonthly.com/blogs/a-kentuckian-in-paris or follow her on Twitter at @Kwriteone.


[Click to Tweet] Does your adult ADHD kick in when you try to write? Time to Write with Carlton & Kristy via @InspiredPrompt #amwriting #WriteTip

Writing Prompt: Choose one of the three photos above (cat, dogs, or bugler) and come up with a couple of intriguing questions to start a story.

Writing the Rightly Divided

Writing Devotions: Bible Study

by Kristy Horine

“So, what do you want to do next?” my Bible study partner asked me.

“How about the book of Judges? Let’s study actual scripture.”

And just like that, I tied my Bible into the center of my bandana, fastened it to a stick and propped the stick on my shoulder. Like the Pilgrim who made his progress, I began a marvelous journey.

Well, maybe not marvelous. Sometimes, it was frightening, exhilarating, even illuminating. Mostly, though, it was humbling.

As I dug in to each chapter, I gained a more sober conviction of my human depravity, a deeper awe for the absolute sovereignty of God and His plan, and a greater appreciation for the redemptive power of Christ Jesus.

These truths are too good not to share. Too life-altering not to share with excellence.

But how?

When writing a Bible study, we turn to the Bible itself. Within its 66 books, we find answers for every question and instructions for every endeavor.

Here are some tips on getting started with writing a Bible study.

  1. Be in the word. Read 2 Timothy 2:15. We cannot write about that which we have not known, so get to knowing. Begin at the beginning. Begin at chapter one, verse one of a single book. And read several different translations. I love the poetics of the King James Version, but sometimes, it’s hard for me to understand. For a deeper journey into God’s word, explore NKJV, ESV, NIV (I prefer the NIV copyrighted prior to 2011). The Message is a great way to read the Bible in common terms, many people quote from it and God can use it. Keep in mind that books like The Message are considered paraphrases, not translations or transliterations.
  2. Use the right tools. Read Proverbs 11:14. Ever try to hammer a nail with a screwdriver? It can be done, but it’s a lot easier to use the proper tool. Bible study is the same way.
    • Use a trusted Study Bible. I prefer Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible. My husband prefers the Crossway ESV Study Bible. Our Christmas gift this year is an investment in the ESV Reformation Study Bible by Reformation Trust. Do your research on study Bibles and be careful. Pray for discernment and protection. (We should be doing that no matter what we begin.)
    • Let scripture interpret scripture. Most Bibles include a narrow strip of verses that correspond to little letters in the text. These are cross references. They indicate where words, phrases or verse intentions are found in other places. They contain absolute jewels of information.
    • Go to the pros. I often use the BLB app. I dig into biblegateway.com. Both of these online resources are rich depositories of commentaries, concordances, dictionaries, translation comparisons and more cross references. Another online resource is www.gotquestions.org. Hardbound commentaries usually hide out in church libraries. Another book is called Where to Find it In the Bible. It’s like a concordance, but is more topical than a word search resource. (https://www.christianbook.com/where-find-it-in-the-bible/ken-anderson/9780785211570/pd/11578)
    • Context is key. Flathead screwdrivers will sub for a Phillips, but a Phillips is no match (or fit) for a screw that requires a flathead. Now, I can grab an ordinary kitchen knife, but chances are, I’ll end up with a wonky knife tip. The same principle applies to scripture. We can rig something to make it work, but if it’s not the right tool, it’s not the right tool. For good, God-honoring study writing, we must read and use the right scriptures. Look at historical context, the cultural context, and the textual context. Never forget that people have used scripture to justify sinful behavior. Don’t be those people.
  3. Give credit where credit is due. Read Exodus 20:15. Take good notes and cite your sources if an idea, phrase, or sentence is not your own. A simple citation is acceptable for informal written studies, but if you are writing for publication, try to find out the publisher’s guidelines before you begin. Plagiarism is stealing. Plain and simple. Stealing is bad. Do the good and necessary work up front. You will be thankful in the end.
  4. Choose your approach. Read 2 Timothy 3:16. Bible studies can deal with individual books, words, themes, or characters. Keep the study simple and focused. The Bible is complex, but not confusing if handled with prayer and care.
  5. Take off your shoes. Read Deuteronomy 4:2 and Revelation 22:18-19. Be very careful. When we write and share studies on the Bible, we must always remember that we walk on the holy ground of God’s word. Don’t trash the sacred. Bare feet are also good reminders of Romans 10:15. As writers who are Christ followers, we have beautiful feet. Write like our toes are showing. Even in winter.
  6. You will be overwhelmed at times. Read Psalm 119. Read it out loud. At 5 a.m., standing in front of the heater that is trying desperately to warm your little writing space. Make this passage your prayer and your praise. There is nothing you can write that God does not have control over. Trust Him.

[Click to Tweet] Tips on getting started with writing a Bible study from Kristy Horine via @InspiredPrompt and @Kwriteone. #amwriting #devotionals #HowTo

Writing prompt: Your job is to encourage a complete stranger who is writing a Bible study for the first time. Write him or her a letter explaining how they are not alone. Use the following scriptures in your study: John 14:16; John 16; I Corinthians 12; Galatians 5:22-23.

How to Spell Freelance

by Kristy Horine

He darted through the stream of folks flowing into the sanctuary.

Behind me, the pastor asked a deacon, “You ever see that man before?”

A stranger. Here. In the vestibule of our church.

Normal people would think, “Oh, how nice. A guest. Let’s go make him feel welcome.”

Not me. I’m a writer, with a hyperactive imagination. I breathed a prayer of protection and courage, fast-forwarded active shooter training in my head, then slipped into the sanctuary toward my usual second row seat, ready to worship, ready to move if necessary.

Moments later, the stranger appeared at the end of my pew.

“This seat taken?”

“If you sit in it, it will be.”

I smiled and prayed again. Hard. This was close-range business now. I extended my hand in his direction.

“I’m Kristy, and you are …?”

“John*.”

“Where you from, John?”

“Texas.”

“What brings you to Kentucky?”

“Fort Knox.”

That explained the high and tight hair and the clipped answers. I simply could not stop the interrogation at this point.

“You drove at least two hours this morning to come to church here?”

“No,” John admitted. “I’m going to the library to do some genealogical research.”

“So your family is from here? What’s the name?”

“Smith.”

Seriously. (*Even though I changed his name for anonymity, he did give me one of the top three most common surnames ever.)

The worship service started and the Lord helped to quiet my spirit, but not my curiosity. During the offertory hymn, I googled library hours and discovered the genealogy room was open on Sundays.  Maybe this close-lipped, corduroy-wearing Texan was telling the truth after all.

After service, I learned a little more. John served with a Texas Army ROTC Corps. He came to Fort Knox for training. He came to Paris because this place was the only known connection to his late grandfather. He had a date, he had a name , and he had a heart for his family story.

Story.

I breathed another prayer. Oh, Father, thank you for what you have written in our lives!

You see, over the past 25 years in my writing career, I have learned that you spell freelance like this: S-T-O-R-Y.

Freelance writing is kind of like renting versus buying. Renting gives shelter and opportunity, but without the permanency and obligations of ownership. There are pros and cons to each and I’ve lived under both roofs. No matter which writing house you choose to live in, there is deep responsibility on the writer’s part.

Yes, market research is important. Yes, request an editorial calendar and pay close attention to submission guidelines. Yes, write a query letter with all the excellence you can muster. But a writer’s responsibility is to the story. If you don’t have the story, what will people read?

When I breathed the prayer of gratitude for what God has written into our lives, I realized the wealth of story opportunity that came with meeting our mysterious Mr. Smith.

  • Personal Adventure – What does he find?
  • Genealogy in Kentucky – How do you learn who you really are? What are the best root sniffing places in Kentucky and where do you even begin?
  • The role of ROTC – What does it look like in the Commonwealth? Is there an anniversary coming up? Are there spin-off stories I can find by researching individual university ROTC programs?
  • Faith Over Fear – Does perfect love cast out fear? If so, how do we recover from current events? How do we approach daily life with faith no matter what might happen?
  • The Safe Church – A How-to article considering Nehemiah 4:18 and present day responsibilities in our houses of worship. What is the new role of parishioners, greeters, police in community, and how we are to move with faith in God’s protection?

The Lord gifted me with an inquiring heart and suited me for the gathering and telling of stories. I imagine that on Sunday, He snickered and said, “Oh, my child, trust me. Have I got a story to share with you … Now, go and tell somebody.”

Click to Tweet: The Lord gifted me with an inquiring heart and suited me for the gathering and telling of stories.–Kristy Horine via @InspiredPrompt  #amwriting #Freelance

Writing Prompt: Have a go at Mr. John Smith. What story does he find? What story does he write with his life after he finds it?