Tips of the trainer - HUMAN INTEREST STORIES

Where to find human interest stories

There is no doubting the public’s thirst for human interest stories these days. Soap operas such as EastEnders and Coronation Street are simply a series of human interest stories woven around one another.

Women’s magazines are full of features like “My True Story”, confessions and true life dramas. And many successful TV programmes such as Wife Swap and Holiday Showdown are all based on human interest stories: ordinary people with a story to tell.

This is why a good reporter will be digging out as many human interest stories as he/she can. Let’s look at the kinds of subjects that make good human interest stories: Triumph over adversity: How I Beat Cancer; how I Overcame a Cot Death; how I battled back from bankruptcy.

One Year On: A good reporter will enter story ideas in his/her diary 12 months ahead, to see how the people are getting on one year after – a road accident, a divorce, a major operation or a bereavement.

People who help the needy: For instance, the terminal cancer victim who is raising money for cancer research or the husband whose wife died of a heart attack who is now raising thousands of pounds for the British Heart Foundation.

Human achievement: The dyslexic boy who has just passed his proofreading exams, or the woman with a terrible fear of flying who has just become an air hostess.

Bravery: Acts of courage make great reading. The annual Children of Courage Awards provide many stories that fall into this category: the boy who saved his sister from drowning.

People who show compassion: The children who gave away half of their Christmas presents to needy children, or the woman who sold her antique collection so that a little girl across the road could have an eye operation that would save her sight.

People and their pets: The woman who took in so many stray cats that her husband ended up living in a caravan in the garden… or the cat who walked 70 miles to find his old home when the family moved.

Reunions: The 70-year-old man who has just been reunited with his twin brother after they were separated at birth and fostered out.

Always be on the lookout in the personal columns for people trying to find old friends, family or school friends.

Eccentrics: People love reading about eccentrics: the man who has invented a device that straightens bananas, or the man who is crossing the English Channel in a bath tub to get in the Guinness Book of Records.

Victims: These are the “weepy” stories – tales of real sadness: the mum who lost her baby twins to cot death… the young couple who got married in hospital two days before the bride died of cancer.

Unsung heroes: The 83-year-old who has served dinners at a day centre for 20 years because he likes to do his bit for the “old folk”.

How to write human interest stories

Your approach when writing a human interest story will be different: Remember, the story is about the person, so it’s good to name them in the introduction – something you would not normally do in a news story.

Your aim is to create mood, emotion and atmosphere, so it is acceptable to use adjectives (brave, heartbroken, plucky), without going over the top.

Try to enable the reader to experience the emotion of the story: if it’s sad, your reader should feel sad; if it’s funny, your reader should laugh.

Use plenty of quotes. Let the person tell the story themselves with as little interruption as possible.

Use the delayed drop: spend two or three pars painting the picture, building suspense, before revealing the angle in the fourth paragraph.

Cleland Thom runs Journalism Training Services ( He can be contacted at

compiled by Cleland Thom


3 thoughts on “Tips of the trainer - HUMAN INTEREST STORIES”

  1. Dear Sir,

    As a Widower since 2014, this will be my 5th Christmas alone because im without my lovely lady wife Pamela to enjoy the festive season with, Pamela and I shared 22 wonderful Christmases together. I still find it hard to believe how the years have gone in a flash. My Pamela passed away from Bowel cancer in September 2014.

    I am very aware that the South West has the highest proportion of elderly people in the country, many of whom are alone due to their husband or wife passing away, so I hope my letter if printed, and read, will resonate with them particularly.

    At Christmas Time I miss the way Pamela always put her heart and soul into making a good Christmas for both of us, as I did for her, we always had a visit from the spirit, sparkle, and magic of Santa Clause, my Pamela was a kind and lovely soul who would have been happy with a chocolate bar from me, and as it happens, amongst the gifts I always gave her, she got a stocking full of different coloured chocolates every Christmas day, plus other goodies, and a special Christmas present down by the tree, with Pamela it was always the thought behind the gift…

    Our main film viewing every Christmas was the Frank Capra directed gem, It?s a Wonderful Life, followed by the Charles Dickens story A Christmas Carol, with Scrooge played by Alastair Sim, and the musical version with Albert Finney playing the old miser, plus any other Christmas film I could find. Pamela loved Christmas films…She loved Christmas..

    Now I am alone, but I dont think Im lonely because I dont crave company, I dont want charity workers coming to see me, making tea and making small talk, with the best of their intentions, I would find it all so pretentious and shallow, and when they leave, im right back in an empty home, surrounded by those same four walls, and when I go out, I still have to return to those same four walls, it is very sad and depressing for all in my situation, but there is literally nothing me or anybody else can fundamentally do about it..

    Over the years we have became a very shallow nation, we really have turned our backs on our fellow man, with so many people of all ages alone and lonely at a time of the year when loneliness and feeling lonely is keenly felt by so many people, including the homeless who are homeless through no fault of their own, and have to rely on the generosity of the public, and the Salvation Army who offer comfort, food, and a warm drink.

    I obviously crave the company of my late wife, and the marital rapport that Pamela and I shared, but this cannot be so now, so I spend Christmas with our little Yorkie, Tootsie, who gets 3 to 4 walks a day, so we do get out and about ( see picture, Tootsie ) she is the only company I have, she keeps me on my toes, we have our own rapport, she talks to me in her own little way. Ive got Tootsie, just where she wants me!

    Last year 2017, I wrote to Radio Devon about my situation, and recently they contacted me asking me to take part in a Radio phone in about people who are lonely and alone at Christmas, this has been due to a study by the Red Cross saying that almost half of adults in the South West admit to feeling always, often, or sometimes lonely, so the Red Cross is launching a campaign to try and lift the lid on what remains a taboo subject, and to try to do something about it, and tackle it, I said I would go on air knowing that not everybody living alone is lonely, some people are just alone. But some things just need to be put into their proper perspective, brought out into the open, because no charity can truly replace those we love, even for a moment, no matter how well meaning.

    I spoke on air about our society being broken and community spirit gone, I said it starts from the top and infiltrates down, and that we are a broken and very shallow nation today, and that politicians have played a huge part in breaking us up, they have encouraged self interest.

    I said on air that charities, no matter how well meaning, are patronizing, as are those academics who preach charity, I also sad that charities have high overheads, so there are vested interests in befriending people who are alone and lonely.

    I?ll admit to tears filling my eyes as I write this as I remember past Christmases with my Pamela, I?ll admit that this Christmas will be the first Christmas since Pamela died that I will be watching just one of our favourite films, but this time im watching alone. I am trying to conquer and rise above all the sadness and negativity I feel…

    I will probably cry my heart out as I so often do burst into tears particularly at Christmas, evening and night times are the worst for me, grief effects everybody this way who loses a husband or wife after many years together.

    This one person you shared a god part of your life with, who knew you better than anybody else, even family, and so you will always love that one person, he or she was your right arm, you shared a special relationship via the Unity of marriage, you took on the world outside together, you made friends together, and sadly when one person dies in that marriage things change, friends dont know what to say to you, people you know dont know how to react, one thing changes, everything changes, sometimes people lose friends completely.

    And this is what makes a husband or wife the best friend you have, your soul mate, and those vows you give on your wedding day are not to be taken for granted ?Til? death you do part?, because as we get older life passes us by very quickly, and we never know what?s round the corner.

    Im normally a confident, but quiet person who isn?t afraid to step out of his comfort zone if needs be, but losing Pamela has drained my confidence, it is debilitating, ive researched and found that suicides among men who lose their wives, is far higher than among women who lose their husbands…I remain feeling lost and alone.

    I have been told by elderly ladies I meet in my situation when walking Tootsie, that woman handle the practicalities better after their husband dies, I can believe this because my Pamela did literally everything, because she told me it gave her pleasure, so who was I to argue, ive gone to hell about back struggling with the practicalities, plus the mental and emotional manifestations of grief..

    So I would give a bit of advice to all married couples, that if just one person does everything, including the finances, start to share the load to get used to it, because when one of you dies the other will have one hell of a learning curve to adjust to, plus the mental and emotional manifestations of grief and grieving..

    My life has changed beyond belief having lost my wife, my best friend, and my soul mate. I feel nervous, where before I was confident, I feel lost where before where I had purpose.

    This may sound stupid to some people, but my Pamela has been gone 5 years, yet if she walked in through the door now, it would seem like just 5 minutes.

    Till death us do part is not just a marriage vow, it?s a reality sooner or later.

    So I say to all you married couple?s out there, irrespective of age, cherish your marriage, nurture, love, and respect each other, do things with each other and for each other, because as the song goes, you dont know what you?ve got til? it?s gone.

    Charities are a patchwork quilt job for, in my opinion, a nation that?s lost its soul.

    A happy Christmas to all who receive and believe in the true spirit Christmas, of Santa Claus, and the true spirit of giving.

    Yours sincerely
    Michael Thompson & Tootsie.

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