feature writing


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for DACE print journalism module week 2

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  • feature writing

    1. 1. Writing Features Print Journalism John Williamson 25th January 2007
    2. 2. Key discussions <ul><li>What is a feature / definitions </li></ul><ul><li>Key characteristics of features writing </li></ul><ul><li>Different types of features - newspapers, magazines, online </li></ul><ul><li>How to structure and organise features </li></ul><ul><li>Examples & Initial Planning </li></ul>
    3. 3. What is a feature: some definitions <ul><li>Similarities and differences to news reporting. </li></ul><ul><li>Underpinned by factual detail and news sense - but </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Longer, more expansive and more personal than news reporting </li></ul></ul><ul><li>More freedom to use own voice, personal experience. </li></ul><ul><li>More sources, background and context </li></ul>
    4. 4. What is a feature: some definitions <ul><li>Balance of fact against (self) indulgence </li></ul><ul><li>Mencher identifies some of the key characteristics of feature writing: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Activity : showing people doing things </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Talk : let the subjects speak at length </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Underwriting : let action and dialogue drive feature </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Motion : keep piece moving forward </li></ul></ul>
    5. 5. What is a feature: some definitions <ul><li>“ features have more comment, analysis, colour, background and a greater diversity of sources than news stories and explore a number of issues at greater depth.” (Keeble, 2001: 141) </li></ul>
    6. 6. Key characteristics <ul><li>Features writing is often marked out by: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Colour : small details adding life to writing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Observation : description of people/ events </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Opinion / slant: writer or publication’s worldview </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Quotes: most features draw on original material/ sources </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Narrative: story telling </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Dialogue / Debate: discussion / argument </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Context: scene setting </li></ul></ul>
    7. 7. Other considerations <ul><li>Not news story, though may be built around it. </li></ul><ul><li>Idea of ‘going behind / underneath the news’ </li></ul><ul><li>“ fluff” - often dismissed as such. </li></ul><ul><li>Importance of knowing the style, content of the newspaper/ magazine you are aiming at/ writing for. </li></ul><ul><li>Visual dimension: feature writers have ‘the biggest eyes in journalism’ </li></ul><ul><li>Time : there is usually a much longer deadline for longer features due to production schedules, etc. </li></ul>
    8. 8. Some types of feature writing <ul><li>Issue based : canvassing views on one particular aspect of a subject. </li></ul><ul><li>Human interest : based on people, their (life) stories. Not necessarily famous/ personalities. </li></ul><ul><li>Eye witness reporting: embedded journalism - being part of an event - detailing it. </li></ul><ul><li>Personality/ Celebrity Journalism: choice of subject down to their status, public awareness. </li></ul><ul><li>Profiles : detailed article on well-known/ interesting characters in the field. </li></ul><ul><li>Trends: food/ restaurants, jobs, music, fashion etc </li></ul>
    9. 9. Some types of feature writing <ul><li>All of these types of feature work across different areas of newspaper coverage: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>News / Politics / Leaders / Columns </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Arts </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sport </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Business </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Technology </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Travel </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Features writers tend to specialise - though good writers can move between different fields (e.g. Richard Williams, Charles Shaar Murray, etc) </li></ul><ul><li>Recent moves by (broadsheet) newspapers to compartmentalise much of their features writing in supplements, magazines, etc </li></ul>
    10. 10. Example: Eyewitness Features <ul><li>Journalist takes on role of an outsider looking into another world. </li></ul><ul><li>Difference between attending an event as a member of the public and a journalist. (e.g. festivals) </li></ul><ul><li>Feature will not necessarily be written in a chronological order, but will pay close attention to details, quotes, and be based around observations of events and behaviour. </li></ul>
    11. 11. Example: Eyewitness Features <ul><li>Often aimed at non-specialist readers, may have to include extra detail to accommodate. </li></ul><ul><li>Usually subjective - though danger of becoming self-indulgent. </li></ul><ul><li>Need to be true to the feelings of the writer. Problem of how to write creatively about dull /tedious events. </li></ul><ul><li>Problems associated with being an ‘outsider’ vs ‘insider.’ </li></ul>
    12. 12. Example: Profile Writing <ul><li>Popular form of feature in newspapers and magazines. Not always of individuals. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Readers are curious about other people and their lifestyles, opinions, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Journalists find them fun to write and can be useful way of building contacts </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Editors and publishers find them regular, cost-effective space-fillers. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Subjects often flattered by attention. </li></ul></ul>
    13. 13. Example: Profile Writing <ul><li>Profiles also fall into a number of categories: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Short, news-story related. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A person’s views on a current issue(s) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Longer overview of a person’s life </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Question and answer profiles </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Angled, special focus profiles. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Profiles of couples, families, friends, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Danger of profiles being too sycophantic/ controlled by PR industry (e.g. celebrity magazines) </li></ul>
    14. 14. How to write a feature: Planning <ul><li>Planning and Research: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Organising interviews - access to subjects often controlled by PR companies </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Accessing background material - press cuttings, other interviews, listening to music, watching films/ programmes, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Deciding on the tone/ angle of piece - often dictated by publication its is for. </li></ul></ul>
    15. 15. Introduction and Conclusion <ul><li>Most important parts of feature are introduction and conclusion. </li></ul><ul><li>Feature must have a clear beginning, middle and end. </li></ul><ul><li>Needs to be focused and thematic. </li></ul><ul><li>Introduction can adopt a number of styles: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>News-report style. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A quote </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A question </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A personal observation or anecdote </li></ul></ul><ul><li>It needs to make reader want to continue and explain what it is about. </li></ul>
    16. 16. Introduction <ul><li>Some other devices: comment, description of a look, phone call, memory/ recollection, journey, arrival, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Adams suggests 5 questions which might help get a feature started: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What is the most interesting fact? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What is the best anecdote? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What is the most sensational quote? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What is/ was the most surprising event? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What is the ‘did you know that . . ‘ factor? </li></ul></ul>
    17. 17. The Substance of the feature <ul><li>Facts </li></ul><ul><li>Quotes </li></ul><ul><li>Description </li></ul><ul><li>Anecdotes </li></ul><ul><li>Opinions </li></ul><ul><li>Analysis </li></ul><ul><li>Pay off / conclusion - reward for reader persevering until the end. </li></ul>
    18. 18. The end (of the feature) <ul><li>The end can be. . . </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A comment </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Arguing a case / drawing a conclusion </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A concluding quote </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A pointed question </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A summary of the article </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Indeed, many of the devices used to start it - BUT it helps to: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Hold something significant back and </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Make a a connection with the introduction </li></ul></ul>
    19. 19. And one last thing. . . <ul><li>Importance of re-reading the article several times </li></ul><ul><li>Check that the style is appropriate for your publication - for example, </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Past or present tense </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Use of first person </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Assumed knowledge </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Length of sentences and paragraphs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Technicalities - abbreviations, numbers, etc </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Don’t be ashamed to use style guide, dictionary and thesaurus. </li></ul>
    20. 20. The next stage <ul><li>Get someone else’s opinion (not another journalist) </li></ul><ul><li>Cenziper talks of re-reading her work 3 times to check: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Flow </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Fairness - how those involved are portrayed </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Facts - making sure that these are accurate </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Submit your article for subbing/ editing! </li></ul><ul><li>Await publication. </li></ul>
    21. 21. Summary <ul><li>Feature writing takes many forms across newspapers and magazines. </li></ul><ul><li>Equally the are a number of approaches - the key is to develop a style of your own that matches the publication you work for. </li></ul><ul><li>Importance of structure, coherence, focus and themes. </li></ul><ul><li>Even greater importance of strong introduction and conclusion. </li></ul><ul><li>Trial and error - it often requires writing bad features to be able to write good ones. </li></ul>