The short answer is...I know one when I see it. It's almost easier to tell you what's not a good story idea. Sweet as she may be, you're grandma's 100th birthday is not a good story idea. Neither is your giant collection of Star Wars action figures. Nor your prize rutabaga. Been there, told that. Also, there's a difference between a good deed and a good story. Someone walking, biking, or even snowshoeing a great distance "to raise awareness" for a particular cause may be a very kind thing - but it doesn't necessarily rise to the level of a national news story. First and foremost, a good feature story idea is unique. For example, if you grandma is celebrating her 100th by getting married to her high school sweetheart...I'm listening. If your giant Star Wars collection gets stolen by someone in a Wookie costume and you've got it on tape...I'm really listening. Or if your prize rutabaga has markings that that make it look like Oprah AND women from across America are flocking to your garden to pay homage AND you've got a Dr. Phil musk melon growing right beside her - done, you've got me!
Probably the easiest way to find a good story idea is to read your local paper. Yes, it's perfectly OK to suggest a really good story that your local media has covered. Don't assume that just because a story makes news in your town that I must know about it. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee I don't. I'm one guy with one producer named Michelle (she's the one who will be reading your suggestions) and there's no way we can read all the major dailies - let alone all the smaller papers, local monthly magazines, and church bulletins where good feature stories like to hide.
Of course, I'm also interested in story ideas that haven't necessarily been in the local paper. But that's a lot harder. I've found when I've asked for story ideas in the past that most people suggest themselves - or a product they're trying to sell. A self-serving story idea is usually a bad story idea. The best ideas usually come from people who aren't related to the subject - they just heard about this person or place or event and thought it was a story all of America should know.
Finally, and most importantly, if it's a story that really caught your interest - if it's something you couldn't wait to tell other people about - chances are I'll feel the same.
Hope this helps. And I look forward to your ideas.
Suggest a story of your own by sending an e-mail to Steve Hartman at Assignment America.