How To Write An Enterprise Story
An enterprise story is an in-depth news story on a topic that is unusual, interesting or surprising.
For example, you could identify a controversial issue that would be of interest to your college or community. Do background research on the issue to find out what the facts are. Interview several people with different opinions and try to accurately represent their opinions and experiences, using direct quotes. Also try to use at least one written source. Go beyond “he said, she said” to present multiple perspectives with insight, but be careful not to put your own opinions in the story.
Another option: Write a story about people either in your community or at your college campus who are usually not covered much in the news -- someone whose race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, culture, or disability might be stereotyped or misunderstood by others. Use that person as an example to illustrate a larger issue.
Enterprise stories usually run longer than a typical news story. Aim for 1,000 to 1,500 words, unless a different amount is specified by your editor. In addition, you should have a sidebar item to complement your story. Sidebar items may include: a chart with survey results, a timeline of important events in your story, a diagram explaining something in your story, a checklist or a step-by-step guide for something.
It is important that you begin work on this assignment immediately because it will require much more work than a typical news story. Additionally, your sources may not be able to set aside time to interview, if you wait until the last moment. If you attempt to put an enterprise story together at the last moment, it will be obvious to your editor and to readers.
This slideshow provides a step-by-step on writing an enterprise story:
This slideshow provides a step-by-step on writing an enterprise story:
How to Write an Enterprise Story
To a good reporter, many stories are obviously important to cover – a house fire, a homicide, an election, a new state budget.
But what about those slow news days when breaking news is sparse and there aren’t any interesting press releases worth checking out?
Those are the days when good reporters are working on what they call “enterprise stories.” They’re the kind of stories that many reporters find the most rewarding to do. They are they kinds of stories that usually win reporters awards. And they are the kinds of stories that newspapers and magazines tend to tell best, which helps distinguish them from radio and television newscasts.
What is Enterprise Reporting?
Enterprise reporting involves stories not based on press releases or news conferences. Instead, enterprise reporting is all about the stories a reporter digs up on his or her own, what many people call “scoops.” Enterprise reporting goes beyond merely covering events. It explores the forces shaping those events. It provides in-depth examinations of people and issues.
For instance, coverage of a murder is not enterprise reporting; a story that addresses why the murder rate is higher in one particular area over others is.
Finding Ideas for Enterprise Stories
So how can you develop your own enterprise stories? Most reporters will tell you that uncovering such stories involves two key journalistic skills: observation and investigation.
Observation, obviously, involves seeing the world around you. But while we all observe things, reporters take observation one step further by using their observations to generate story ideas. In other words, a reporter who sees something interesting almost invariably asks himself, “could this be a story?”
Let’s say you stop at the college bookstore to buy your textbooks for class. You see your bill is higher and higher every semester, well beyond the normal inflation rates. Most students would grumble about it, but a reporter might ask, “Why is the price rising?”
Here’s another example: You’re sitting in class and notice that a few of the students look old enough to be your father. The college used to have mostly 18-to-22-year-olds populating its student body. Now the college seems to have hundreds of non-traditional students. Again, most of us would take little notice of this, but a good reporter would ask, “Why are so many older students attending this college?”
Changes and Trends
Notice that both examples involve change – in the price of textbooks and in the student body demographics. Changes are something reporters always look for. A change, after all, is something new, and new developments are what reporters write about.
Enterprise reporters also look for changes that occur over time - trends, in other words. Discovering a trend is often a great way to start an enterprise story. For example, maybe you’re walking around campus and, now that the weather is warmer and people are wearing less, you notice that lots of people have tattoos. When you were a freshman, you only knew one person with a tattoo. Now, everyone in your sorority has a tattoo. Could this be a new trend? What percentage of students have tattoos? What types of tattoos do they have? Are they visible? What are people’s opinions of them? Are they cool? Do they turn off employers? There are all sorts of questions you could explore within that issue.
Why Ask Why?
You’ll notice that both examples involve the reporter asking “why” something was happening. “Why” is probably the most important word in any reporter’s vocabulary. A reporter who asks why something is happening is beginning the next step of enterprise reporting: investigation.
Investigation is really just a fancy word for reporting. It involves doing the interviews and digging up the information to develop an enterprise story. An enterprise reporter’s first task is to do some initial reporting to see if there really is an interesting story to be written about (not all interesting observations turn out to be interesting news stories.) The next step is to gather the material needed to produce a solid story.
So the reporter investigating the rise in textbook might discover that textbooks are more expensive because of the recent popularity of the used textbook market. The problem is not due to students selling to each other, but to the massive buying of textbooks by used book wholesalers who then ship the book to another campus where it will be used next year. The textbook wholesalers, some of which own the bookstore, buy textbooks from students at a small fraction of the price that the students pay and then sell the books back to the next batch of students at an inflated “used book” price.
Example: A Story About Underage Drinking
Let's take one more example, this one involving a trend. Let's say you're the police reporter in your hometown. Every day you're in police headquarters, checking the arrest log. Over a period of several months, you notice a spike in arrests for underage drinking among students from the local high school.
You interview the cops to see if beefed-up enforcement is responsible for the increase. They say no. So you interview the principal of the high school as well as teachers and counselors. You also talk to students and parents and discover that, for a variety of reasons, underage drinking is increasing. So you write a story about the problems of underage drinking and how it's on the rise in your hometown.
What you've produced is an enterprise story, one not based on a press release or a news conference, but on your own observation and investigation.
Enterprise reporting can encompass everything from feature stories (the one about tattoos would probably fit that category) to more serious investigative pieces, like steroid use among college athletes.
Where to Look?
Get out of your dorm room or house. Look around and see if you notice anything interesting, unusual or surprising – for example, is everyone wearing a nose earring?
Chat up strangers. Strive to talk to someone new everyday. Go beyond the usual suspects, like the mayor and police or the vice president of student affairs and campus security director.
Also, eavesdrop. What are people talking about at parties, in the school cafeteria, in dorm hallways? There’s probably at least one thing you’ve overheard this past week that could make a good story.
Click here to see a list of "50 places to shop for story ideas."
Sample Enterprise Stories By My Former Students