Five random story ideas that you could try during your first week back at school

One of the hardest things about reporting on stories that aren’t event based is trying to find things that could lead to neat stories. We’re going to try to throw out some random, story ideas you could look into at your school. Not all of these will apply to everyone’s campus (public schools have open records rules that don’t apply at private institutions), but consider this at least a jumping off point for you.

If you have any ideas you’d like share, feel free to use the contact function or just post your ideas below in the comments. Here we go…

Who has the most unpaid parking tickets and how much do they owe? This might be a fairly pedestrian (pardon the pun) story or it might be a case of a massive scofflaw on your campus. In any case, it’s always interesting to figure out who has the biggest problems finding a legal space and what they have to say about it.

Who is currently suing your university and why? A quick perusal of your local court records might find some people who truly demand justice or a few folks who likely wear tinfoil hats to bed. Former athletes alleging assault and claims of racial discrimination within the administration could lead to some serious coverage while suits because “the president of the university has taken over my brain” could be downright amusing.

Is your school buying or selling wins? One of the more interesting aspects of college sports is the contractual obligations between academic institutions. Some Division I schools with limited resources and lower-caliber teams will sign contracts for “guarantee games,” in which a football or basketball program goes to a major D-I school to get slaughtered. The rub? The major institution “guarantees” the lesser program a certain amount of money for the privilege of getting killed 94-0 on the field or court. In other cases, it could be a simple promise of a free lunch to get the two programs onto the same field. Pull the contracts and find out.

(A word of warning to schools who try this. Sometimes you aren’t guaranteed a win, as Michigan found out in 2007)

Happy (or unhappy) Anniversary! Take a look back in the archives of your school newspaper to find out what was big news 10, 20, 30 or 50 years ago. You might find out that there was a riot on campus or some racial injustice at the time. You could also discover a rare event, a special graduation or an incredible sports event.

How much for that guest speaker at the union? If you are a public institution, any contract between your university and any outside vendor is a public record, so feel free to pull some of them. It might be interesting to find out how much the “Campus Speaker Series” is costing your campus or see who gets paid the most or the least for their speeches. The same is true of concerts, carnivals or other events that cost cash. Pull those records and see how much stuff is costing or if the “super stars” are asking for anything special in the “rider.” (See the world’s most famous “rider” to a contract here: Van Halen’s 1982 “No Brown M&M’s” document)

Happy reporting! Feel free to send us any links to anything you covered on this list. (We’d love to post it.)

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