"Writing Powerful Narratives," which was held at the Reynolds Journalism Institute March 4, 2013, featured several speakers throughout the day who talked about reporting and writing long-form nonfiction.

One of the speakers was Missouri School of Journalism alumnus Tony Rehagen who is a three-time finalist for the City and Regional Magazine Association Writer of the Year (CRMA) Award. Rehagen shared some of his thoughts on what makes a story and how to find stories.

Tony Rehagen“Ideas are the currency of what we do,” said Tony Rehagen, senior editor of Atlanta Magazine. If you don’t have an idea, none of the rest of it matters, said Rehagen during the workshop.


  • Freelancers, your ideas are what sell you. Before you pitch an idea to an editor, do some reporting first. Invest yourself in your topic so you know enough to sell something to an editor.
  • Newspapers don’t have a lot of money to spend on investigative reporting so there are stories that can be expanded and grown. Look for stories that are unfinished.
  • Get out and observe your surroundings. Listen to people talk.
  • Find a topic and then narrow the topic down to a narrative — what is it about this person that I want to write about?
  • Get rid of any preconceived notions you have about a person before reporting.
  • When assigned a story that doesn’t seem that interesting on the surface, dig for what the story is really about. What will make this story resonate with readers?
    • Is this story about shrimping or something else?
      • Rehagen learned that “The Last Trawlers,” would become a business story. Shrimping is a dying industry along the coast of Georgia.
      • He also learned that the shrimping business went back four generations in this family.
  • Try to glean a quote that can become the heart of a story. Rehagen shared this example from his article.                                
    • “Twenty years ago, this was a city.” — There used to be so many lights on the horizon from the fishing boats that it looked like a city skyline. Now there were only a few lights.
  • Have a story that’s been reported over and over? Look for a way to make the story relevant to the time. Make it new and fresh.


"Writing Powerful Narratives," was sponsored by Meredith Corporation, Missouri School of Journalism's Magazine Faculty and the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. The workshop was coordinated by John Fennell, an associate professor and a Meredith Chair in service journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Jennifer Nelson-Pallikkathayil  
Senior Information Specialist


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