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1 Million Story Ideas & Writing Prompts for Student Journalists [Updated Regularly]

Posted by College Media Matters on Friday, November 15, 2013 · Leave a Comment 

Over the past decade, digital tools and mobile platforms have rocketed journalism to a universe of innovation, interactivity and immediacy once unimaginable. Yet, without stellar content, journalism 2.0 is not worth the effort to read, watch, click on, scroll through, contribute to or connect with. Everything journalism was, is and will be rests on our ability to tell a story. And every story starts with an idea.

So let’s brainstorm. To help get you started, below is a quick-hit, unending, hopefully indispensable, fun, fun, fun digital story ideas fountain. It is aimed at inspiring student journalists to localize, adapt and reinvent a range of stories — quirky and mainstream, text-based and visual, interactive and investigatory. Many ideas come from your student press peers. Others originate with the professional press. And still others are pulled from independent journalists, viral videos and social media mavericks that catch my eye.

Along with providing a barebones blueprint and some links for specific stories and features, the larger goal is one also found in my book Journalism of Ideas: Brainstorming, Developing, and Selling Stories in the Digital Age. I want to ensure j-students the world over have the confidence to come across any person, place, thing, event, trend, viewpoint, document, law, word or even a single letter and respond with an idea — a good one, a newsworthy one, one worth reporting.

I will update the list in (somewhat) real-time, as cool ideas cross my path. I’ll add to the top, so fresh ideas will always be the first thing you see. I picked 1 million as a nice round target number because it is insanely large but more concrete than “a gazillion” or “endless.” If I ever actually reach 1 million, I’ll throw a party.

Have an idea for the list?Email or tweet at me ASAP.

New Ideas Added at the Top

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Time to See the Counselor. In a visually impacting front-page report, The Telescope at California’s Palomar College looked at the work routines, caseloads and general responsibilities undertaken by academic counselors. How stretched is your own school’s counseling staff? What is a typical workday like for counselors serving various roles — in academics, health and other areas? And what are they specifically tasked with helping students and staff to cope with, avoid or overcome? Separately, building on the Telescope piece, how have their jobs changed in recent years with the implementation or transformation of state, federal and school rules and regulations? (The Telescope, Palomar College)

65 Questions. The Daily Gamecock at the University of South Carolina has implemented a fun adaptation of the Vogue “73 Questions” trope by turning the camera on their own staffers. For example, in the interview below, online editor Katie Cole responds to 65 rapid-fire questions on topics ranging from favorite drink to least favorite fashion trend. It’s a fun way to humanize the editorial board, make your newsroom more of a news hub, engage audiences with trendy videos and provide an ego boost to staffers (who will undoubtedly be excited to share the vid featuring them with family and friends). (The Daily Gamecock, University of South Carolina)  Check out my related idea on this page “73 Questions.”

The 82 Percent Problem. In its 2015 Answers Issue, Time Magazine cited a study that states 82 percent of recent college alumni said they cheated in some way during their undergrad days. 82 percent?! Cheating is an evergreen issue (meaning an always-timely, oft-reported story) within college media. But this stat compels me to a call to action: Let’s take a fresh, honest look at unethical academic behavior. How, and how often, are students cheating on your campus? What are the more innovative, new media ways in which they are subverting the system? How are schools or profs attempting to catch cheating students? And what does the high percentage of cheating students possibly say about the need for reform in how classes are taught and how students are evaluated?

“Adding a Little Hoo-ah! to Your Lifestyle.” A MilSo is the colloquial term for an individual who has a significant other in the military, including of course someone actively serving overseas. As Ferris State University student Sarah Force writes in The Ferris State Torch, “Being a MilSo … is like having a long distance relationship on steroids.” In her words, “Soldiers are government property, meaning they can be torn from their families and deployed wherever and whenever they are needed for months or even years at a time. While phone use is allowed, military spouses often alter their sleep schedules just to be able to talk to their soldiers because they never really know for sure when the next time they’ll be able to. There is a constant reminder that their soldier might never return home. If that isn’t emotionally taxing, I don’t know what is.” Tell the stories of student, alumni, faculty or staff MilSos at your school — either those who are legally married or simply in long-term relationships. Outline both the taxing and positive parts of their lives and relationships and possibly the resources available to them on campus and in your community. (The Ferris State Torch, Ferris State University)  Check out my related idea on this page “The Weed Issue.”

“Living with Roommates Who Smoke Weed.” Secondhand smoke is almost always linked to cigarettes. But what if you are constantly “greeted by the stale smell of weed”? In a piece for The A&T Register at North Carolina A&T State University, a student writes about living with roommates who are heavy marijuana users. In her words, “At first it didn’t bother me. But then the smell began to get in my room and my bathroom, and that’s when the problem evolved.” What are the experiences of individuals on your campus who have a roomie, close friend, family member or significant other who smokes weed — or uses another drug — regularly? And beyond the living-arrangement-etiquette factor, what are the more complex ways the substance impacts their relationships? (The A&T Register, North Carolina A&T State University)

DIGITAL AWESOMENESS ALERT: Science Scene. A smile-inducing video series crafted by Daily Texan staffers features rundowns on significant and quirky issues from a science and technology perspective. It’s called “Science Scene.” Among the topics tackled in recent semesters: skin cancer detection, peeing in the pool, e-cigarettes, CPR, cyberbullying, sexual attraction and albino squirrels. The best part of the Scene is its presentation style — voiceovers meshed with a rapid run-through of hand-drawn images aimed at visualizing the staffers’ explanations or commentaries. Bottom line, it’s a great example of how to utilize new media storytelling and a fresh POV to make more complicated or ‘boring’ topics palatable for your student peers. (The Daily Texan, University of Texas at Austin)

Ghosting. When you break up with someone, do you sit them down, call them up or text them to let them know it’s over? If so, you’re now old school. The hot new method of ending a relationship — so popular it’s even sporting its own name — is ghosting. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a complete disappearing act rather than a proper goodbye. As The New York Times reports, “[I]t’s a verb that refers to ending a romantic relationship by cutting off all contact and ignoring the former partner’s attempts to reach out. The term has already entered the polling lexicon: In October 2014, a YouGov/Huffington Post poll of 1,000 adults showed that 11 percent of Americans had ‘ghosted’ someone.” How many of your fellow students fall within that 11 percent? What’s their take as to why this is trending as a way to end a romance? And how about students who have been ghosted? There’s even a larger news-culture story lurking here about millennial couple communication rules and rituals. For example, how often and for how long is it OK to go off the grid and not be in contact with a partner?

REGULAR SERIES ALERT: “That Time I…” A new series in The Chronicle at Duke University details students’ stories beginning with the phrase “That Time I…” On spec, it’s a fun, quirky way to nab compelling narratives about offbeat or momentous experiences undertaken by staffers or readers. For example, in what appears to be the second installment, student Carleigh Stiehm details her trip to a paid cuddling service — kinda sorta like a massage parlor, I guess. As she writes: “My experience was comforting and pleasant. We tried out all five of the approved positions, and chatted happily through the first 50 minutes of my hour-long session. I am a listener by nature, so I enjoyed asking Jule’ questions about her daughters, dog and former life as a librarian. … Would I do it again? I just don’t know, but it’s certainly an experience I would recommend to seasoned cuddlers and novices alike.” (The Chronicle, Duke University)

“Pregnant at Harvard?”In a powerfully raw first-person essay for The Harvard Crimson, an anonymous Harvard University student writes about Ivy League life, love, a break-up and an unexpected pregnancy. In the student’s words: “This isn’t Mean Girls — I’m not going to tell you, ‘Don’t have sex. You will get pregnant, and you will die.’ But what I will say is that, yes, there are nights when I wish I could die, when I look in the mirror and hate myself with every fiber of my being. There are nights where I stay up holding the locket, the one piece I have of both my ex-boyfriend and my child, and just cry hysterically. There are nights where I try so hard to convince myself that life is worthwhile by talking myself to sleep with thoughts of stargazing and dancing and laughter, but no matter what I think about I can’t get rid of an all-encompassing sense of pain.” What are the plights, pains, joys and general experiences of pregnant students (and faculty and staff) at your school? How are they treated by their classmates and profs? And what are the official school policies or unofficial arrangements enabling them to continue with their education? (The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University)

PERSONAL WRITING PROMPT: The Quitters Club. The Washington Post recently profiled members of The Quitters Club, a small group of Washington D.C. residents who get together to debate giving up on their careers and dreams. Why? Because in “a society that values grit and stick-to-itiveness” it can sometimes be hard to stop doing what you’re doing — even if it’s making you unhappy, you’re no good at it or it’s obviously not right for you. In that vein, what jobs, passion projects, relationships and thick books have you quit in your lifetime? What compelled you to give up on them? And looking back now, how do you feel about quitting? In a similar sense, what you do secretly or not-so-secretly desire to quit — or wish you had quit if you were given a second chance?

SPORTS JOURNALISM ALERT: “God of the Playing Field.” An in-depth feature report in The Harvard Crimson at Harvard University details how “some athletes struggle to maintain a balance between faith and the rigorous demands of collegiate athletics.” As Crimson staff writers Caleb Lee, Samuel E. Liu and Ali M. Monfre share, “The religious athletes interviewed for this story, most of whom identify as Christian, say they are lovers of God first, athletes second. The end of their artform is, in their own words, the glorification of God and the display of appreciation for the talents they have been given. But following that path is not always easy.” Break down how student-athletes of faith on your own campus follow that path, the challenges standing in their way and the impact of their faith on their on-the-field and off-the-field activities. (The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University)

Tales of Twin-tasticness. Vanderbilt Hustler staffer Anna Butrico at Vanderbilt University recently doubled down, exploring “the various experiences of twins as they attend college, both together and apart.” For example, as one student tells Butrico about going to school away from her twin sis: “She was the more extroverted one. When I came to college, I had to come out of my shell. I think the weirdest part for us was our first birthday apart … she always picked the place for dinner, what kind of cake [we were having]. This year my friends asked me [what I wanted to do] and it was the weirdest thing in the entire world — now I had to decide.” Tell tales of twin-tasticness at your own school, meshing childhood stories with current collegiate experiences. And along with students sporting doubles, don’t forget faculty and staff — a few of your campus elders might have DNA doppelgangers too. (The Vanderbilt Hustler, Vanderbilt University)

SPORTS JOURNALISM ALERT: Student-Athlete Punishments. What punishments are meted out by coaches and team captains on student-athletes who break the rules or longstanding traditions? Specifically, what physical activities, social stigmas or mental hazings are players forced to undertake for offenses such as, say, forgetting part of a uniform, showing up late to practice, coming up short in a big game or failing to address a coach or upperclassman as sir or ma’am? And when do these punishments cross a line in the eyes of student-athletes or school officials? In respect to the latter, Tulane University recently fired its strength and conditioning coach on charges she allegedly punished student-athletes by requiring them to complete various physical exercises. But some students are fighting back, saying the rolls, bear crawls and other actions are accepted and expected parts of the athletic experience when students disobey official and informal rules. (The Tulane Hullabaloo, Tulane University)


Funny People. The Daily Princetonian recently crafted and shared a set of masterful profiles spotlighting student improv groups at Princeton University. The features collectively offer a nice reminder for student media everywhere: Seek out the “resident jokesters” on your campus — whether they’re dabbling in improv, experimenting with stand-up atop their full course schedule or running a comedy Tumblr site, Twitter feed or YouTube channel. It might also be fun, and funny, to sit down with a professor, administrator or cafeteria worker known for being especially humorous. (The Daily Princetonian, Princeton University)

SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: A Day in the Life. The University Daily Kansan recently dropped a spirited special issue shedding light on a typical day in the lives of some very important and quirky individuals at the University of Kansas — from a design professor with a New York City career background to a Quidditch club vice president. As editor Amie Just shares in the issue’s intro, “Everyone who attends, works at or visits the university has a story to share. This section showcases just a tiny slice of those stories. From a Rock Chalk Dancer who wakes up at 5:15 a.m. to prepare for her day to a rabbi who has seven children and gives back to the Jewish community at KU, every person has a different perspective based on his or her life experiences.” Grab similar slice-of-daily-life stories from the students, faculty, staff and alumni connected to your school. Spotlight those whose days might be a tad more compelling or offbeat than most, such as those who juggle a few jobs, work the night shift or take time out for a funky side passion after classes wrap. (The University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas)

REGULAR FEATURE ALERT: “Toilet Talk.” North by Northwestern has struck gold again. The always innovative, occasionally irreverent online outlet at Northwestern University recently unveiled a new feature it semi-seriously dubs “Toilet Talk.” The related audio interviews focus on student stories set inside campus restroom facilities. After all, as the intro boldly declares, “The number of things that happen in a bathroom goes beyond one and two.” The fun part: After listening to each student’s tale, you can hit a side “Flush” button on the screen to shift to the next “Toilet Talk” segment. (North by Northwestern, Northwestern University)

“A Round of Curse Words.” Cursing, on and off campus, has spurred some raves, rants and reviews in student newspapers recently. An article in The Herald at Arkansas State University, for example, explores how “cursing becomes socially acceptable in college.” Among its benefits, according to ASU student Madison Blancaflor, “Swearing while in pain actually raises pain tolerance. … [C]ursing activates the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, causing a surge in adrenaline levels. This surge can help the body cope with pain levels that it normally couldn’t. Swearing also gives us a sense of power and control. How do you feel after you spout off a round of curse words when you’re upset? Empowered, right? For some reason, cursing brings out that strong, sassy side we all have.” Meanwhile, Collegiate Times columnist Taylor Lewis at Virginia Tech notes, “People my age view cursing as harmless and while at school, in an environment that tolerates foul language, it is harmless. However, this starts to become a problem when it enters certain areas of our environment like the classroom.” What’s the status of swear words nowadays at your school? What are the more popular or recently-trending bad words and phrases entering students’ everyday speak? What are the views of students, faculty and staff about when, where and how cursing should and not should not be carried out? And how often, and in what situations, do you find yourselves tossing out swear words without a second thought — in the real world and in the mobile and digital arenas? (The Herald, Arkansas State University & The Collegiate Times, Virginia Tech)

SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: The Interview Issue. Earlier this month, the Weekend section team at The Yale Daily News unveiled its annual, always-fantastic Interview Issue. It features a series of candid Q&As with big thinkers, academics, politicos, artists and entrepreneurs with Yale University connections and the talent and drive to genuinely leave an imprint on the universe. From a chat with “Ukraine’s #1 pop star” to a tête-à-tête with a Tony-nominated playwright, the issue is a vibrant example of how to present longform (or at least medium-length) interviews that will keep reader attention and do right by the subjects. The recipe for success, on spec: compelling people, powerful pics, bold but not blinding design, some enticing pull-quotes and questions that quickly get to current events and the heart of the individuals’ work and influence. (The Yale Daily News, Yale University)

PERSONAL WRITING PROMPT: Starting to Improve the World. Anne Frank once observed, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Brainstorm one small way you can change the world today or this weekend or on your next free day. Come up with something doable and impacting on a human level — showing support, providing guidance or inspiring a person, group or cause you believe in. In the writing phase, reflect on why that particular individual, enterprise or idea struck you as most worthy of your time and effort — and possibly how it has helped you improve in the past.

REGULAR SERIES ALERT: “An Intern Experience.” Loyola University Chicago junior Tom Dyke is currently enjoying what seems like a very rad internship at the headquarters of Cards Against Humanity, the snarky, vulgar, fun, fun, fun card game that is all the rage among the young and hipster-ish. Loyola Phoenix staffer Erin Kelly focuses on Dyke’s internship ins-and-outs in a cool new feature that frankly doesn’t get replicated enough among student media nationwide. Students’ off-campus jobs and internship gigs deserve much more column inches and air time, especially when the work is fascinating or quirky. For example, “Dyke said the 30 hours he puts in at Cards every week aren’t completely devoted to emails or setting up play tests. Playing Killer Queen, a 10-player strategy arcade game, eats up an hour or two every day. Dyke said his boss will often have all five interns play Killer Queen with her. They also play Slap .45, a game made by one of the creators of Cards.” (Loyola Phoenix, Loyola University Chicago)

PERSONAL WRITING PROMPT: Sketch Everything. The artist John Singer Sargent once declared, “You can’t do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh.” Bring out your inner artist, even if your illustrative skills are amateurish or downright awful. Create a sketch, any sketch, one that attempts to capture this moment in your life, the scene around you or a dream or feeling you cannot shake.

SPORTS JOURNALISM ALERT: “Wage Wars.” At the start of a new investigative feature, University Press sports editor Josue Simplice at Florida Atlantic University immediately lays out an intriguing, all-too-common scenario in the collegiate sports world: “Two coaches have the same responsibilities, the same contracts, about the same level of coaching pedigree and are employed by the same school, but one coach makes almost twice as much as the other.” Can you guess the gender of the individual making more? Simplice subsequently supplies a well-written rundown of the salary differentials among male and female sports coaches at FAU and beyond. At times, the amounts are negligible. At other times, they are extreme. And Simplice earns kudos for exploring the general workplace glass ceilings across the U.S. that have surely contributed to these on-the-court gender pay gaps. (University Press, Florida Atlantic University)
DIGITAL JOURNALISM ALERT: Anonymous Online Communities. Brown Daily Herald staff writer Grace Yoon explores the diverse set of increasingly popular social media feeds, forums and pages devoted solely to chatting, gossiping and visualizing student life at Brown University. Considering almost every school sports these digital and mobile communities — containing titles with buzzwords like confessions, crushes, memes and compliments — it’s a report worth emulating. As Yoon writes: “Anonymous online pages such as Brown Confessions are part of a growing trend among the Brown community and nationwide over the past couple of years. Many contributors choose these forums as places to divulge their innermost thoughts without facing the potential repercussions of expressing them in public. … And because the nature of each page is shaped by the content submitted and chosen for publication, moderators of these pages are faced with the challenge of creating a space that balances the freedom of expression with the safety and comfort of students.” (The Brown Daily Herald, Brown University)

PERSONAL WRITING PROMPT: More of Your Faults. The famed writer and politician Edward Bulwer-Lytton once remarked, “If you wish to be loved, show more of your faults than your virtues.” Consider the faults you most regularly or purposefully hide from the public and even the people closest to you. Why are you so self-conscious about them? And what is one fault you might be willing to display and discuss more openly as a start? Also consider asking others about their faults, uncovering how they first became something people felt sheepish about and how they hide them from the world. Go the virtue route as well: Reflect on a virtuous trait or skill others say you possess. What is your first memory of displaying it or when do you first recall others pointing it out to you? And in what situations do you feel constrained by this supposed strength instead of empowered?

Great Late Reporting. FiveThirtyEight writer Mona Chalabi recently tackled an annoyed physician’s question about how many patients are late to doctors’ appointments nationwide. Fascinating, but for our purposes, forget the medical focus. The lateness angle is what intrigues me here. Switch the setting from a doctor’s waiting room to a college classroom. While many student press reports have explored absences, late class arrivals are often overlooked. Let’s dive in. From the perspectives of professors and students, how often do undergrads show up late to class sessions at your school? Does it happen more often in the mornings, afternoons or evenings? How about on certain days of the week or during fall or spring semester? And what are profs’ individual syllabus rules and schools’ larger policies surrounding lateness when it comes to grades or enrollment? Beyond those official regulations, what is the unspoken and agreed-upon lateness etiquette on your campus. For example, is it polite to inform an instructor ahead of time? Do you stride in confidently or duck your head and race to a seat? And how late is too late to still show up? Separately, any especially funny or infuriating late-arrival stories? And besides students, what about profs who show up late to their own lectures or seminars?
PERSONAL WRITING PROMPT: A Layer of Scum. The author Edward Abbey once remarked, “Society is like a stew. If you don’t stir it up every once in a while then a layer of scum floats to the top.” What needs stirring up in society at the moment from your perspective? What is being overrun, wheedled out or simply clouded over by, ahem, scum? And how would you go about changing it? Also look for scum in the mirror. What scumminess is present in your own life at the moment that you’d love to stir up or let float away, and why?

SPORTS JOURNALISM ALERT: This Story is So Sick. Stories on student-athlete health and safety are increasingly frequent and well-reported. For this story though, veer from exploring on-the-field-related injuries. Focus instead on how student-athletes cope with simply being sick. I’m talking cold, flu, fever, allergies, sore throats and stomach bugs  Do they soldier through in heroic warrior style — or succumb, whine and complain like the rest of us? How does it impact their practice and play time? And do they seek or avoid treatment in different ways than other students due to their athlete status? For inspiration, check out a student journalism classic from The Daily Pennsylvanian at the University of Pennsylvania. Mimicking a famous Frank Sinatra profile, the profile of an Ivy League basketball star is headlined “Tyler Bernardini Has a Cold.” (The Daily Pennsylvanian, University of Pennsylvania)

PERSONAL WRITING PROMPT: Fashion Panic. The writer P. J. O’Rourke once advised, “Never wear anything that panics the cat.” Feline fear aside, let’s shoot for pure fashion panic — and a smidgen of stunt journalism. Get gussied up in your wackiest outfit and walk around in public. What do you notice about people’s reactions? How do you feel while clothed in more noticeable or out-there garb? And what would you wear, or wear more often, if society’s fashion standards loosened or your own school or workplace rules were relaxed?

VIDEO JOURNALISM FUN: College Cribs. In recent years, MTV’s iconic “Cribs” series featuring celebrity home tours has been joined by a slew of similar shows focused on the home — and home improvement — running across cable and the Interwebs. The Beacon at the University of Portland is building off this sustained home-sweet-home fixation with a video series providing glimpses inside student living spaces. The student residents are the tour guides, speaking uninterrupted and seemingly unedited direct to the camera while walking, pointing and smiling at some of their more eclectic furniture and personal possessions. (The Beacon, University of Portland)

PERSONAL WRITING PROMPT: Sunset, Rise, Revise. Influential poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning once said, “My sun sets to rise again.” Write out your thoughts, feelings, fears and dreams at sunset. Then awaken at sunrise — or as close to it as you can muster. Read over your sunset write-up and, if warranted, revise. What’s changed in your thinking? What was left out that you now want to add? And do things seem more optimistic or cynical at either dusk or dawn? For added emphasis on the passage of time/time of day, let a week or month pass between initial sunset writing session and sunrise read-over/reflection period.

VIDEO JOURNALISM FUN: Mean Tweets: Student Journalist Edition. As all dedicated viral vid watchers know, the mean tweets phenomenon recently went presidential — with President Barack Obama reading some critical 140-character commentaries on his leadership style and large ears as part of a “Jimmy Kimmel Live” appearance. While not entering the zeitgeist quite so massively, The Michigan Daily staff at the University of Michigan also earned kudos and media attention for reading some mean reader comments, tweets and emails on camera. The video — “Daily Writers Share Reader Responses” — is ripe for localization by your own outlet. My two cents: Do it with a smile, come up with some witty responses and share, share, share on social media as a means of showing your audience you have a sense of humor and are clued in to their more on-point critiques. (The Michigan Daily, University of Michigan)


A Day of Questions. Indira Gandhi once said, “The power to question is the basis of all human progress.” Embrace that power by spending a full day or week coming up with questions connected to everyone and everything around you. Focus especially hard on thinking twice and wondering why about the more common routines, items, locations, interactions and individuals you’ve taken for granted or simply accepted as the way things are. Keep a running list of questions. At the end of your designated question-empowerment period, read the list over and reflect on what the exercise compelled you to consider (possibly for the first time). Then, pick one question from the list to answer in-depth via personal reflection or dogged reporting.

School Email Rules. Prospective 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton apparently broke the law by using a personal email address during her time as U.S. Secretary of State instead of a required governmental account. Her possible rationale? Nearly all official government emails are subject to archiving and public inspection. Bottom line, it’s a politically polarizing saga with some definite higher ed spin-off potential. For example, what are your school’s email rules? Who has access to the accounts of students, faculty and staff? Under what circumstances are messages using school addresses, or sent via school servers, allowed to be viewed and used — say in an investigation? And how do profs and students flout the rules or simply balance their personal and school accounts?

SPECIAL ISSUE ALERT: College Cool. The name of a recent exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery: “American Cool.” The photos comprising the exhibit collectively attempt to answer the question, “What do we mean when we say someone is cool? To be cool means to exude the aura of something new and uncontainable. Cool is the opposite of innocence or virtue. Someone cool has a charismatic edge and a dark side. Cool is an earned form of individuality.” Let’s deep dive into College Cool. Who or what embodies cool on or near your campus? And why do they occupy that cool perch when so many others do not? Also, has our conception of cool evolved over time or is it similar to what older alumni and longtime faculty and staff remember being cool during their own undergrad days — say, for example, the star quarterback or the local dive bar? In a related sense, what do the the cool kids (and adults) think of their ‘cool’ status? And what do they consider cool in return?

REGULAR SERIES ALERT: Letter of Recommendation. As part of its larger reinvention, The New York Times Magazine has added a regular feature called “Letter of Recommendation.” NYT Mag editor Jake Silverstein describes the weekly segment as “a blast of enthusiasm, a gleeful yawp of praise for something, anything, that the writer feels compelled to endorse.” In that spirit, endorse something, anything, that you feel is especially worthy of wide acclaim or is being overlooked. The key, of course, is not simply the subject of your endorsement, but how well you back it up and win over readers who may not have previously known or cared about your recommended person, place, thing or idea.

Food Waste
. After breakfast, lunch and dinner in the campus dining hall, what happens to the food tossed out, left behind or not eaten? As Nate Harris writes in a report for The Red & Black at the University of Georgia, “Most people probably do not think about what happens to the scrap of food they do not finish eating in the dining halls on campus, about the chicken wing bones, the cupcake wrappers, the little bit of untouched macaroni and those paper straws that come with a Bolton milkshake. Compared to how much food a student consumes, perhaps only a small percentage of it remains on the plate as the tray moves along the conveyor belt and around the corner, out of sight. That small percentage, however, equates to about 10 tons of food waste a week amongst the five dining halls.” 10 tons?! OK, so UGA is huge and students down South are hungry. But even if your school is smaller, the food waste each day or week most likely weighs more than you think and constitutes a clean-up-trash-recycle effort worth documenting. In a related sense, explore the decision-making behind how much and what types of food and drink are purchased and served for each meal. Also, what are students’ favorite and least favorite dining hall foods? And what are the items that dining hall workers admit they personally would not touch? (The Red & Black, University of Georgia)

CROWDSOURCING ALERT: College Life in 2030. Politico recently asked a group of leaders, innovators and big thinkers a simple, loaded question: What will the world be like in 2030? Employ it as a prompt for a related college report. Specifically, what will college life be like in 2030? Gather the perspectives of your fellow students, professors, administrators, local education reporters and, heck, even your parents.

SPORTS JOURNALISM ALERT: Male & Female Coaching Methods. A quartet of current field hockey players at the University of Iowa have filed a Title IX complaint against the school, alleging their coach was wrongfully fired for behavior they say would have been A-OK if she was a man. Specifically, the student-athletes are angry at the possibility that the coach’s tough talk and more intense practice methods may have been investigated differently and held to different standards simply because of her gender. The case provides the perfect launching pad for a localized look at coaching methods and athletic gender issues at your own school. Through interviews and observation, examine how assistant and head coaches in a variety of sports carry out their duties. Assess everything from their general attitude, word choices and body language to the types of physical drills, pep talks and downtime interactions they oversee and carry out. In a related sense, what are the most inspiring and helpful coaching methods current and former student-athletes have come across? And do the athletes and coaches see any gender-based double standards in place in respect to coaching expectations or etiquette?

OP-ED AWESOMENESS ALERT: 100 Word Rant. Collegian contributing writer Rosemary Cook at Saint Mary’s College of California has tackled a number of hot-button and timeless topics in short burst op-eds. She calls the exercise the “100 Word Rant.” One example from last semester was her annoyance at how little the public seemed to know about Ebola. As she writes: “Chances are you’ve heard of the Ebola outbreak. You’ve heard how deadly it is and how rapidly it has been spreading. What many forget is that Ebola does not spread through the air, water or, in general, food. Rather than learning how it spreads, people stoke fears about the virus, pretending it is a magical, elusive disease that can be transmitted without a carrier. Rather than helping those who are suffering and at risk from the disease and supporting medical professionals, people continue spreading misinformation and making rash judgments with zero consideration of reality.” Consider crafting your own 100-word rants about current events or issues taking place on and off campus. It might make for an interesting op-ed series, the foundation for a special issue or even simply serve as a staff exercise to get the brainstorming and writing juices flowing prior to deadline. (The Collegian, Saint Mary’s College of California)

“What It’s Like to Be Handsome.” Philadelphia Weekly columnist Timaree Schmit recently conducted a series of interviews with attractive guys centered on a specific question: What’s it like to be handsome? As Schmit explains, “There are downsides to being really, really, ridiculously good-looking, though most of them overwhelmingly affect women. Females have been denied jobs and fired for being distractingly attractive. Pretty women face more harassment from strangers, social rejection from other females, and their talents and intelligence are often downplayed. Some women’s entire sense of self becomes precariously dependent on external validation, leading to depression, substance abuse and eating disorders. And that’s an area of research that we know a ton about. But there’s surprisingly little information on the subjective experience of being a man whom society considers visually appealing. So I bravely and selflessly conducted qualitative inquiries for the advancement of science by talking to a bunch of hot dudes.” Carry out a similar inquiry at your school, attempting to assess the upsides and downsides of being a “hot dude” in your late teens and early twenties.

AUDIO JOURNALISM ALERT: “Sounds of the Downhill.” Capture the sounds of your campus — focusing on a specific location, event or set of individuals at a specific time. Maybe the cafeteria during the lunchtime rush, the hallway of a major academic building between classes, the a capella club’s warm-up process or the basketball team’s midweek practice. For inspiration, listen to the sounds of World Cup downhill skiing captured by The New York Times — including wind, silence, “start-house beeps” and “chattering skis.”

FEATURE JOURNALISM ALERT: A History of Women. Beacon living editor Cassie Sheridan at the University of Portland has stitched together an intriguing timeline displaying various feats, firsts and significant milestones related to female students, faculty and staff at UP. It spotlights everything from the opening of the first co-ed dorm and the first woman to receive a full professorship to news items about the growth of female student enrollment and the selection of the first woman to the school’s athletic hall of fame. And it’s all presented in an easy-to-read, fun-to-scroll interactive timeline. Start digging into women’s history at your own college or university — tapping into both the bigger and less-known moments, people and groups who helped carve the path toward gender equality and progress. Also assess the current state of women’s rights and visibility at your school in a range of areas — from enrollment, academic programs and athletics to staff pay, the make-up of the administration and related extracurriculars and events. (The Beacon, University of Portland)

REGULAR SERIES ALERT: Beard of the Week. In the grand tradition of the student tattoo profile and the on-the-street fashion rundown, The Appalachian at Appalachian State University delivers a fun, feisty “Beard of the Week” feature. For example, the focus of the video below: an ASU freshman sporting more than two years of facial growth and a wide smile. (The Appalachian, Appalachian State University)

REGULAR SERIES ALERT: Lie Witness News. People lie — especially to journalists. Jimmy Kimmel has proven this via his viral “Lie Witness News” series in which individuals are interviewed on the street about fake bits of information. Instead of admitting ignorance, the people featured on camera almost inevitably pretend to know what the faux interviewer is talking about and even offer related opinions. It’s scary and hilarious at the same time. In the spirit of Kimmel’s antics, the GU Bulldog Blog at Gonzaga University recorded their own “Lie Witness News” — involving students responding to Gonzaga-specific factoids that are partially or entirely fictional. You may not follow all the GU-insider references, but the students’ reactions and perspectives are still priceless, and cringe-inducing. This is screaming for additional school-specific adaptations. What do you think? Can you catch your fellow students in a lie — on camera? (GU Bulldog Blog, Gonzaga University)

FOODIE JOURNALISM ALERT: Memorable Meals. North by Northwestern staffer Meg Killedar recently asked a random Northwestern University student a fun, mouthwateringly intriguing question: What is the most memorable meal you’ve ever had? Considering it revolves around Peruvian Chinese food, the response — shared as a 2-minute audio clip — is surprisingly suspenseful. It is also perfect for adaptation. Gather and construct a similarly appetizing breakdown of students’ culinary delights and disasters. Whether they are focused on homemade cooking attempts gone awry, campus cafeteria shockers, late-night fast food trips or romantic restaurant excursions, the stories will probably be more deliciously candid and entertaining than you might predict. (North by Northwestern, Northwestern University)

PHOTOJOURNALISM ALERT: “Deep Inside Campus Buildings.” In an intriguing photo essay for The Dartmouth student newspaper, staff photographer Katelyn Jones goes for the guts. Specifically, she documents “the spaces deep inside campus buildings.” Join in Jones’ quest by staging a similar deep-dive exploration of the buildings in and around your own school. Capture shots of the boiler rooms, basements, electrical closets, custodial areas and storage facilities that most students, faculty and staff don’t have access to see — or never bother to really look at. Along with capturing the visuals, consider interviewing and profiling the individuals in some way connected to the spaces — sharing with readers the ins-and-outs of their work and the personal and professional journeys that brought them to campus. (The Dartmouth, Dartmouth College)

REGULAR SERIES ALERT: Giving Recovery a Voice. Run by Temple University journalism professor Jillian Bauer, The Rooms Project is a “photo and audio story series on individuals living in recovery from addiction and alcoholism. The goal of this project is to give recovery a voice through the stories of experience, strength and hope often heard in ‘the rooms’ of recovery support groups and meetings.” Latch onto Bauer’s excellent work with a localized project of your own. Feature the stories of individuals on or near your campus who are in various stages of recovery from addiction. One especially powerful part of The Rooms Project to also consider emulating: Each person is interviewed and photographed in a location that is central to their story — providing an extra layer of intimacy and authenticity atop their spoken and written words. (The Temple News, Temple University)
SPORTS JOURNALISM ALERT: Quidditch Chaser. Crazy as it might seem on spec, Quidditch is far and away the fastest growing college sport in the U.S. What type of presence does it currently have on your campus? And what are the stories of the students playing it? Spartan Daily staffer Wesley Moots tracks its popularity and the ins-and-outs of its awesomeness at San Jose State University via a fun profile and complementary video focused on a student muggle playing a key position on the SJSU Quidditch squad. Here’s a classic quote from the featured student: “I love being able to tackle people and them not expecting it because they think I won’t do it. I’m small, but I love doing it.” (The Spartan Daily, San Jose State University)

“Young, Talented & Kinky.” Eagle staffer Jordan-Marie Smith at American University delivers a fascinating, Fifty-Shades-of-Gray-esque glimpse at “[h]ow a sophomore is making waves in the BDSM community.” Any students or, hmm, even organizations at your own school similarly involved in this community? A snippet of Smith’s piece: “There is a range of people who participate in the scene and make it their own. BDSM is a normal part of life for all kinds of people that you wouldn’t expect: Wall Street types, professors, bosses and students. It’s a scene that’s often misunderstood. Despite what a majority of people might think, BDSM is not entirely sexual. Fifty percent is sexual and 50 percent is therapeutic release.” (The Eagle, American University)
MUSIC JOURNALISM ALERT: Music Shaming. Dominique Etzel at the University of Washington is angry about the rise in people “shutting down someone’s music taste” just because it conflicts with their own, seems pre-pubescent or is not en vogue. How, and how often, does this type of “music shaming” take place on your own campus? And what artists, groups and genres tend to bear the brunt of the teasing and taunting? As Etzel writes in a spirited op-ed for The Daily student newspaper: “I can’t count on one hand the amount of times somebody has told me I have the music taste of a 15-year-old girl. It is almost as if once you leave your teen years behind you aren’t allowed to appreciate the most-popular boy-band ballads or the occasional Justin Bieber throwback. Too often I refuse to step out of the house in one of my three One Direction concert shirts for fear that people would roll their eyes and scoff in disapproval. I should not be ashamed to represent a band that brings me joy, and nobody should have to live in fear of getting criticized because of their taste in music.” (The Daily of the University of Washington)

STUNT JOURNALISM ALERT: “Time to Put on that Uniform.”In her State Press column, Arizona State University student Desiree Pharias issues a challenge of sorts to students worldwide: spend some time working a low-level service job. Along with instilling extra appreciation for others who toil in those positions long-term, “working a job in customer service will help you develop strong life skills for your future career and develop stronger personality traits. It’s time to put on that uniform and try to overcome the stress of the job.” It’s a terrific immersion journalism opportunity as well, providing a firsthand glimpse into the rigors and routines of a job many students take on during their college years and most of the public doesn’t respect. (

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