This piece forms Part One of our Social Media Series

As a student I was taught that when you run out of things to write about, get out of the office, mill around in public places and you’ll soon be buzzing with fresh story ideas.

Constant observation is a definite way to source new topics, and listening to what your friends talk about – what concerns, angers or excites them – can spark off new ideas. Even exploring dimensions of your own interests could result in an original piece of writing. If you’re interested in something, other people are likely to be interested in it too. Compulsive reading doesn’t hurt either. Anything from newspapers, magazines and books, to brochures, flyers and the classifieds will give you some clues about what makes the world tick.

We all know that a good journalist is someone who always challenges the truth, someone who reads between the lines. Traditionally, this is what creates zingers in journalism. A journalist’s curious nature, or ‘nose for news’, is usually what brings in the best news pieces, rather than an intellectual brainstorming session.

Keeping your eyes and ears open – online

Your chances of finding original content have increased exponentially because of the Internet; you just need to know where to look. In the same way that milling around observing the public arena is sure to generate ideas, so too is milling around and observing the online arena. This may seem daunting at first, but look at it this way: The Internet is a frighteningly vast place, but so is the world. Nevertheless, if someone asked you to find the ideal physical location in your area for people-watching, you will probably know where to go, right?

Start locally

You’re not going to spend the afternoon observing society in another part of the world. So when you’re looking for something online that could generate new ideas, start with local content. Follow prominent people in your area who are on Twitter and join the fan pages of local causes or organisations on Facebook. Better yet, pay careful attention to what your friends are discussing online. Whose blogs do they follow? Which discussion groups or forums generate the most traffic? What links are they sharing on Facebook? What are they tweeting about?


Twitter coined the term “trending topics” to indicate subjects that are being tweeted about the most, as well as those people wish to promote. “Hashtags” are used to indicate that something is a trending topic. As a journalist, looking out for #hashtags means that the news comes to you. Even Facebook has latched on to this phenomenon (see here). Looking out for trending topics on social media sites is like eavesdropping on the world’s conversations. Still, it has only a small part to play when it comes to generating news topics and is just one of the tools we can use to figure out what people are interested in and what they will read about.

Do you like this article?

Subscribe to online news publications and register with a variety of social media sites to share content you like. Troll these sites to find information that others find interesting. Look to the icons posted on the right side of this text: Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon – there are countless other social media sites besides Facebook and Twitter. You are free to pick and choose which one serves your interests best. Social media sites and RSS feeds are the park benches from where we observe the online community’s daily movements. But remember, they are the tools we use to source news, not the source of the news itself.

About the Author

Samantha Moolman is a freelance writer and editor who is currently responsible for the Family Life articles in Your Baby magazine.

Samantha also works as an assistant lecturer for the University of Pretoria’s Department of Journalism.

Read Part Two: Using social media for …Gathering Information

Photo credit: BigPresh



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