By Derrick Hinds, RTDNA
Assignment editors dread the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. Newsrooms are down to skeleton staffing, most of the usual news sources have vanished to spend time with their families, and when you open the file folders for news stories, moths fly out. Along with the usual between-the-holiday stories like gift return lines and new year's resolutions, here are a few promotable story ideas you can use. They'll work in any size market and most don't require any "official" sources who are probably on vacation.
Hometown celebrities: These are not actual celebrities, but regular folks who live in your area who share famous names. In one small town with fewer than a thousand people, we found a Bette Davis and a Steve Martin living on the same block. Check your local phone book!
Post Office Box 1: Somebody's gotta have it, right? Who has the prestigious box number one at your local post office? It could be a local business or it might be a regular person. Try a Google search first, and if you come up empty, write a letter to the person, asking for an interview. They're probably proud to have that box and may have held onto it for years.
School janitors: While all of the students are off for the holiday break, school janitors are taking advantage of the empty classrooms to do maintenance. Follow around a custodian at your local elementary school, doing repairs on lockers, replacing lights or running that fancy floor buffer down the hallways. It's a different way to show how people are working at your school to build a great learning environment for your kids.
New businesses in town: Every month, new businesses are coming to your town, and they have to apply for business licenses to do it. Stop by city hall, or check your city's website to see who has filed paperwork. Maybe a national chain is planning to open a store, or you may find an interesting mom-and-pop operation just getting started. Many cities require licenses for everything from auto dealerships and restaurants, to bed-and-breakfasts and tattoo parlors. Some cities (or states) require permits for movie companies to film. Is anyone shooting the next big blockbuster in your backyard?
Amateur artists: Stop by your local art supply store, photo printing shop or lumber yard. Chances are the people behind the counter know the best artists in your area. They can point you to painters, photographers and woodworkers who would be proud to show off their work.
Abandoned airfields: When the hobby of flying private airplanes got started in the 1920's, there were literally thousands of small airports across the country. Many of them are no longer being used, but traces of them remain, with interesting history attached. Check out this website, which has photos and details of abandoned airports in every state. There's probably one near you!
Your county's health: A new online resource called countyhealthrankings.org features health data gathered over the past four years and offers county-by-county details and comparisons to track public health issues in your area. Produced by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and backed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the site includes data on smoking, obesity rates, violent crime rates, poverty and more, with data from 2010 to the present. Using the rankings, you can compare your county to statewide and nationwide averages, track trends and download the data to create additional customized graphics. Included on each page breaking down individual county rankings are contact details for health officials and press contacts in your state who are familiar with the data.
Tourist in your own town: Unless you have relatives coming to town for a visit, it's easy to overlook great attractions in and around the places we live. Suspend your local knowledge for a moment and think like a tourist. If you were coming to visit the area for the first time, what would interest you? Even if you've been there before, how long has it been? What does the AAA guidebook say are the best attractions in your area? Page through the guest books at local hotspots to see how far visitors travel to see your town.
Hometown YouTube tour: Have you ever typed in the name of towns in your market into YouTube and see what comes up? You might be surprised what people are photographing all around you. Sort through them and pick out a few of the best to highlight in a newscast and on your website. You may have a viral hit on your hands!
Have any more ideas for promotable features for that dreaded week between holidays? Let us know in the comments below.
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