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Feature and Magazine Writing

Chapter 1


A feature story is a journalistic article that is typically both original and descriptive Some features showcase entertainment with little information. Other features inform, but do not entertain. The best features combines both aspects

Why original?

Not as rigid as the inverted pyramid style (a style that evolved during the Civil War when disruptive telegraph lines were used) More fluid: have distinct beginnings, middles and ends Must be read completely, edited carefully throughout the text Can be about non-newsworthy events

Why descriptive?

News stories are supposed to be objective, which precludes description. News writer would rarely describe subject by height, weight, hair color, and kind and type of clothing, unless that description were vital to the story. This kind of descriptive, evoking imagery is encouraged in a feature story

Feature writing style

Journalistic. Uniform approach to punctuation, capitalization, abbreviation, titles, and in some cases, spelling

Feature types

News feature Timeless story

News feature

Usually tied to a breaking news event, is placed in the same general location as breaking story, often written under pressure. This type of news feature is called a sidebar, in that it is a side article. Accompanies main news story. Variation is a follow-up story that is often called a second-day feature

Timeless story

Does not have to be used immediately Can sometimes be written leisurely

Feature categories

Business story, Commemorative story, Explanatory story, First-person story, Historical story, Hobbyist story, How-to story, Invention story, Medical story, Number story, Odd-Occupation story, Overview story, Participatory story, Profile story, Unfamiliar Visitor story

Business story

Focus on employee/ owner. If business has competition, look for timely/ unusual angle reason for writing the story about that particular business at that particular time and then try to concentrate on an individual. Also mention the competition to avoid appearance of free advertising space. If no competition, explain why owner started business/ obstacles faced

Commemorative story

News features pegged to the anniversary of an earlier news event. Depending on the event, interview people who originally were involved in the story, or, if the individuals are deceased or unavailable, write an article capturing the mood of the anniversary

Explanatory story

If you are going to tell readers how electricity reaches consumers homes, first saturate your research. You have to know almost as much about the process as does the experts in your story

First-person story

Something dramatic happens to the writer that is so personal that nothing less than the first person singular (I) is appropriate.

Historical story

Loosely pegged to a breaking news event, which gives the feature writer an excuse to do some research in the library and to show readers how their community or world has changed

Hobbyist story

Your job is to make certain that you are writing about the right collector the one with the biggest, best, or most unusual collection in your area. Check this out by talking to other collectors who can identify dealers, who in turn can lead you to national publications that provide a clearinghouse for collectors nationwide

How-To Story

Interview with experts who advise the reader is tricky because they make a living charging customers for such information. They are often reluctant to give much free advice in an interview. You may have to call several professionals before you are able to piece together a coherent account

Invention Story

Although inventors are good feature material, they will usually not give interviews until they have formally applied for a patent to protect their ideas, and conservative inventors will not discuss their ideas until a patent has actually been granted, a process that often takes years. Timing is the key

Medical Story

Strong stories, but difficult to research/ write because of emotional toll. Can either focus on inadequate medical insurance or struggle to find treatment, or battle to overcome illness Medical breakthrough story often focuses on a doctor who has successfully

Number Story

Uses interviews with experts and a familiar number, such as 10, to put a problem and sometimes a solution in perspective

Odd-Occupation Story

Dangerous, unappealing, or simply strange Dont confuse with traditional role jobs Ask person why he chose it, enjoys, it, how he performs it

Overview Story

Supported with voluminous statistics from various official sources. These statistics can be used to provide the reader with an informational overview of the problem, in addition to emotional, humanistic qualities

Participatory Story

Nothing intrinsically wrong writh living a role in order to write about it, unless you misrepresent yourself to write about the intimate details of other people. Some investigative reporters have no other means to investigate serious social problems

Profile Story

Usually written about people, with their cooperation. Pick someone of interest, ask the subject for an interview, research/ interview subject, then talk to other people who know subject If uncooperative subject, talk to people who know him, write story based on views

Unfamiliar Visitor Story

A visitor often offers a unique perspective on a local problem, culture, or event. If the visitor is available for an interview, his or her perspective can often help readers understand their world better

Traits of successful writers

Get along with various kinds of people, even if you do not like them. Do not generalize about people in a pluralistic society, dont predict peoples attitudes Be curious: editors prefer receiving ideas to delegating stories


Observe surroundings keenly, describe in detail Describe carefully, what is clearly observable, what is obvious Have solid knowledge of language, fine appreciation of power of printed word, varied meanings of words that seem similar but have subtle differences

Classic feature article style

Five-part dramatic unity

Introduction (Situation, Setting, Characters) Rising action (Complication) Climax (Turning point) Falling action (Opposing forces) Catastrophe (Resolution or explanation)

Why feature writers are needed

Economic struggle for newspapers (immediacy of TV and Internet news) Advantage: Newspapers have power of depth and permanent written word, can provide details, have space to rip open underbelly of complex issues Exhaustively researched, brilliantly written, well-illustrated features are a weapon

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