SideLines: I'll let you in on a newspaper secret

It's one of the great mysteries of mankind, one which I will try my humble best to answer.

Wherever I go, people are always asking me where we get our story ideas. It's a perplexing question that apparently haunts millions.

Some stories are obvious, like Corn Fest or Pumpkin Fest or major holidays like Memorial Day, which is coming up. Those we can't miss even if we tried. The challenge there is finding a different angle from past years' stories to make it fresh. It may be the same event every year, but who wants to read about the same things?

As far as coming up with other stories, there's a very complicated and true formula that journalists have been using, and honing, for centuries, dating back to Benjamin Franklin. It may go back even farther than him; I don't know for sure. I've heard whispers it's an ancient Chinese secret, but who really knows? Like all great mysteries, no one knows for sure, which adds to its mystique.

The best answer I can give is this:

Most of our stories come from ideas readers have suggested. We can't use them all, of course, but you might be surprised how many eventually end up in print.

For some reason, a lot of people seem to assume that newspapers automatically know what's going on, like we have these giant radars tuned in to everything that moves. The truth is, If people don't tell us about interesting people or upcoming events, we often don't know about them. I joke that sometimes newspaper reporters are the last to know what's happening.

A lot of story ideas come from something we've read. The other day, for instance, I was reading a police report that mentioned Suzy Street in Sandwich. My first reaction was: Who the heck was Suzy, and why did she get a street named after her? Was she famous, or maybe even infamous? That led to an office discussion about how streets are named, which we thought interesting enough to make this week's cover story.

That's the key to any story we do. If something interests us, hopefully it will interest those who read the paper, whether the topic is thought-provoking or a little quirky.

Of course, that doesn't answer my question about Suzy. Not even Rick Olson, the mayor of Sandwich, could say where the name comes from, although he did seem intrigued.

At an educated guess, she was probably the wife or the daughter of whoever was developing that portion of town. Personally, I like to think it was the name of a beloved family pet.

And that's what I'm going to tell people, at least until this appears in print and someone contacts me – and I'm pretty sure someone will – to suggest otherwise.

That's also part of the newspaper business.

Loading more