How to Write a Feature Story for a Newspaper or Magazine
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In Journalism, two types of articles are generally published: the hard-news story and the feature story, both of which appear in newspapers and magazines, as well as in other publications such as newsletters and websites. When, for example, a news source reports on the President coming to town for an event, it’s a hard-news article. It reports on the event, when it occurred, what happened, why and how it happened. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s straightforward and doesn’t seek to entertain the reader, only to inform them. The feature article, on the other hand, is much more fun and interesting to both read and write. It deals with storytelling, the writer's going more in depth with something than a simple regurgitation of boring facts. It provides for an exciting article, like extensive profiles of people and places, human-interest stories that do still inform – or educate – the reader; however, the feature story offers more in terms of offering an entertaining read. But the process of writing the feature article, from start to finish, is no walk in the park. It’s quite challenging to the novice – and even to the seasoned professionals – to write well. However, people craft interesting feature articles every day by following these fairly simple steps.
The first step to crafting anything worth writing is doing the preparation. In the case of the feature article, preparation lies in first understanding the form of the article and what information is needed to write it. Usually, one’s editor (or even a professor, if the assignment is for a journalism course or for a college newspaper) will assign the writer a feature article to write. When it is assigned, it may serve the writer best to start off by reading other feature stories to get an idea of how it should be written. Any magazine is filled with articles written in the feature-story format. If the student or writer knows the angle they are to be taking in their feature story (such as novelist’s new book and why it’s a good read, for example), the writer should then do adequate research on the topic (on the novelist and the book) so they can thoroughly understand what they’re writing about. Research can consist of other articles written on the subject, even online articles; relevant biographical information can be found on websites and other sources, information that can most certainly be incorporated into the feature article.
Secondly, after they have conducted thorough research and taken sufficient notes, the student or writer must prepare questions for their interview, the responses to which will be most effective in the writing of the feature story. These interview questions reveal answers the writer cannot find elsewhere, not on the Internet or in other articles on this subject. Most times, in a feature article, questions are asked how the person being interviewed feels about something in particular. This is where quoted material in an article comes from: the interview. Of course interviewing and preparing for an interview are skills a person will learn overtime; however, the writer in this case will have to use their own curiosities and judgment to create questions for their interview – one that will produce a good deal of quoted material and facts they will incorporate into their feature story to make it stronger, fairer, more entertaining, yet still topical and insightful – and most certainly informative.
Next comes the interview itself, a crucial part of the writer being able to produce a feature article. Without an interview, the writer or student is left with unconfirmed information, which will generally produce a biased article – because it’s only fair if the interviewee said it during the interview. After the writer has contacted the person they are interviewing to schedule the meeting, they must define their subject – either over the phone or in person. It is a challenge to describe how exactly to interview a person; but it usually starts after a rapport has been established and the interviewee and the interviewer are on the same page in understanding the scope or point of the interview. Then the writer begins by asking the interviewee questions, in turn writing down their answers to be used in the writing of the essay. Once the student or writer feels they have enough information – facts, quoted material and other such relevant information – they can bring the interview to a close and begin the writing process of the feature article.
Lastly, from the information taken from the interview, the writer or student must write the story. The seasoned journalist will probably know the exact angle they will take in the story by the time they ask their first few questions, or sometimes even before the interview begins. But the novice may have some challenges in writing their feature story so that it is told well and effectively. This usually comes with experience, years of experience. The novice may want to start the writing process by going through their notes, both from their research and their interview notes, and look for patterns. Maybe it’s how a politician always wanted to be in politics because their parents were; maybe the angle of a feature article can be how an artist had a harrowing experience as a child and art makes them feel confident and safe in the world. It could, for example, be how a postal worker with a mediocre salary has, for over 20 years, saved enough money to help build a center for abused children and why they wanted to do this. It all depends on the interview and the point of telling the story in the first place. In any case, the person writing the feature article can sometimes have a lot of freedom in how they write their feature article, depending on the publication or academic course. They have written a good feature article if they are engaging the reader and using concrete evidence to make a point, or to carry out a theme, much like that of an argumentative essay. Only, they are not making an argument; they are letting carefully arranged facts tell the story for them.
In conclusion, the feature article is quite a bit different than the regular hard-news story. And it’s a lot different to write. In some ways, the feature story can read almost like a short story, with narration, sensory descriptions, facts and dialogue. They are interesting to read and still inform the reader about a particular person, theme, issue or topic – which is the entire point of news journalism. But any journalist knows that producing a good feature article can be a challenge. Nonetheless, by following this set of directions, as enumerated above, any novice with a decent ability to write and craft paragraphs can produce a good feature article. It begins with having respect for their reader, for whatever or whomever they are writing about, as well as for journalism itself – which is essentially a freedom of speech and is meant to uphold Democracy and Fairness and Liberty.
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