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Generate story ideas using business silo analysis

November 27, 2017

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Reacting to breaking topics is one way to generate stories. But it does have some weaknesses:

• If things slow in the industry you cover, even seasonally, you can be left frustrated and brainstorming for material.

• Hot stories beget hot coverage, which means a lot of competition for topics and space.

• The flip side of a coverage rush is that publications can’t risk being a one-trick pony. They need other topics as well.

• Concentrating on breaking news makes it difficult to plan and execute a more extensive look at a topic.

One tool that businesses provide to help reporters develop new story ideas: the silo structure. A company’s departments are often considered functional silos, as they are responsible for only one activity, whether it’s finance, marketing, logistics, customer support, sales, manufacturing or design.

The structure gives you a way to think about a company as a collection of actions that must be performed, each of which has potential for stories. As an example, here is how you might look at the silos of a carrier in the airline industry.

Air transportation is a heavily regulated industry, both the manufacture of and use of aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation both keep copious records that are available for analysis. There are also lawsuits after disasters or claims of poor treatment by passengers. Remember the public outcry over passengers being kicked off flights earlier this year? The legal issues behind the practice is a story in itself.


Airlines run services such as crew management, aircraft maintenance and call centers that depend on logistics and planning. You could examine the math behind the algorithms that run airline systems, and look at the interaction of airlines and service providers (including airports). Some airlines in Europe are looking to join forces to combat budget competitors.


Accounting can be a tricky subject, particularly in areas like revenue and expense recognition or depreciation. There are rules for how quickly an airline can depreciate the cost of aircraft, for example. A possible story could be how the costs are spread out over years, affecting how much profit the company appears to make. The results of an audit recently sent one airline looking for a new audit firm.

Human Resources

Look at which employees are represented by unions and which aren’t. You might compare the success of unions in negotiating contracts. You could look at how an airline will allow unions to choose new uniforms, and why. One important area for virtually any type of company is how well pension funds are maintained or if contributions might be insufficient to meet future obligations.


Research and development seems the province of airplane manufacturers, but the airlines are involved as well. Here’s a story about how airlines are embracing artificial intelligence. R&D also could include such topics as new ways to track baggage or seat configurations that add comfort, or diminish it.


Understanding pricing and promotion by airlines is difficult but important. Some U.S. senators asked the Department of Transportation to investigate whether carriers indulged in price gouging during Hurricane Irma, even as JetBlue dropped prices and positioned itself in a positive light.

This type of analysis can work for any type of company and any industry. The specifics will vary, but the principles remain the same.


  • Erik Sherman

    Erik is an independent journalist and author who primarily covers business, economics, finance, technology, politics, and legal/regulatory, while elegantly expressing the complex and often incorporating data analysis.

    View all posts

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