All writers—business journalists, too—prize creativity. Story structure, phrasing, ledes and kickers. No matter how dry the topic, you likely want to make the result as engaging and even artistic as possible.
Creativity is important for your personal satisfaction and the development of a story. You’re also not limited to these elements.
To dig deeper into your beat, you need to dig deeper into creativity. Start with topics. Look at the types of stories common in your area. There will be predictable patterns—sorts of stories that people write, types of topics, angles, and sources. You may find patterns in your own work.
There’s nothing wrong with patterns. Everyone has their own backgrounds, personalities, education, and interests. Following them is a path to developing your own approach to work. But tendencies and inclinations can become a way to being formulaic.
To break out of them, and out of the routine of stories you commonly see, takes creativity. Start with the definition. Psychology researchers say that the essence of creativity is the meeting of dissimilar ideas. By that definition, not all creativity is good. Putting mustard and anchovies on vanilla ice cream sounds like the end of a dinner worth missing.
However, trying different things is where it starts, because while not all ideas are good, some will be. Study areas that are new to you. Eat different foods. Learn a language. Take up a hobby. Read types of writing and topics you normally don’t. Take interest in everything. You’ll start to find you look at the world differently, including your normal beat.
Keep a notebook or some other way of recording thoughts with you. This is critical. A couple of publications I write for use Slack, so I’m on there anyway. I created my own instance of Slack and a number of channels that correspond to the publications. As ideas come to me, I record them in the appropriate channel. If I see something online that catches my interest, I drop the link in Slack as well.
The more you do this, the more you’ll find yourself thinking of potential ideas. Don’t worry about whether they are good or not. You can always drop any in the future if you decide they’re mistakes. Look for unusual angles or story ideas that you see. Maybe you can find ways to adapt them. Or you might be inspired to combine that with other information and concepts to create an entirely new approach.
Then there are questions. You may ask the same questions of different sources. Instead, try getting into an open conversation. Ask each person to discuss the topic you’re covering. Find out how they think about it and connect to it. That will uncover ideas and information you hadn’t considered. Then you can feed that back into other conversations and expand your reporting far more than you would with a list of the same questions. To improve your work, let your entire approach be creative outside of the actual writing.