Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds Hello. It’s important that we remind ourselves what the key differences between news articles and feature articles are. This will help us understand how the topics and the approach to writing them often vary quite remarkably. News is often about a current event or closely related to a recent event. That means if something is happening of importance it will feature in a news report. The structure is arranged in a news report in an Inverted Pyramid. The most important details start the report. And these are followed by the least important. Towards the end, if there is some time, some additional information will be provided. But often there is little background or weight of context in news articles.
Skip to 0 minutes and 54 seconds A feature article, however, by design is very different in both content, style, and form. Features are often not tied to current events, for example. They also focus more on human stories. And that can mean looking closely at individuals who a journalist feels is worthy of the reader’s attention. A lot more in-depth research usually is required for features as well. The journalist also gets an opportunity to use far more creative skills in structure and style in features. Powerful use of photography, for example, can tie in with original visual images. This delivers a complete feature package which can have enormous impact if it’s done well. Some examples from my own library output will illustrate some key important points.
Skip to 1 minute and 44 seconds They’ll show how a feature can assist in looking at topics in a different way. Digging deeper into a subject can also be a core component in features. Using strong photography with features can really lift an article to a more powerful level. In-depth profiles from a first-hand meeting can form the basis of a great and memorable profile piece about an individual as well. And using creative writing approaches to journalism can inject vibrancy and energy into a feature piece.
Skip to 2 minutes and 18 seconds Links to each article will feature in the slides. Follow them to my library and review the article for yourselves. The first example lays out the challenge I faced when I was asked to come up with a new way of telling an old story. In this instance it was about the latest James Bond film. Could I come up with a fresh way of taking readers into the whole subject? This is actually quite a common challenge faced by feature writers every day. And they have to ask themselves questions like, can I come up with a new way of looking at a familiar subject? Can I tell readers something they might not already know?
Skip to 2 minutes and 56 seconds What could I research and impart that is challenging and maybe even a little offbeat? My solution to the Bond problem was to tell the story of his creator, Ian Fleming. Here’s a link to the article. The article itself, as you will see, took us inside Bond by taking us inside Fleming’s life. By visiting Jamaica and staying at Goldeneye, the name of the home Fleming had there and where he wrote all 14 Bond books, I was able to gain insight into his creative process and life. It’s a dramatic and certainly an expensive example. But it shows how approaching a topic from a singular angle can help us write something a little bit different. The next example is a news feature.
Skip to 3 minutes and 39 seconds This is a shorter feature from a broadsheet newspaper, in this case, from the Guardian, which links the feature’s topic to a subject in the news headlines. This illustrates how feature writing can dig deeper into a news story. In this particular instance, I was looking at allegations that a high-ranking cardinal in the Vatican close to the Pope was linked to the disturbing topic of child abuse. The challenge was to tell one story against a massive global backdrop to dig deeper and maybe deliver something that was new about an individual many people probably hadn’t even heard of before.
Skip to 4 minutes and 17 seconds Now, the way I did that was by basing the feature around an exclusive interview I had secured with a man who’d been at the heart of the scandal in its earliest days, a former lawyer from Louisiana who was now based in France. The link to the article is here. Feature articles are also excellent platforms for big investigative stories. There is more space, more opportunities for writer research, a chance to map out a more detailed context. And there’s more creative opportunities. Here’s one miscarriage of justice case, for example, from the front page of the Guardian G2 section, which I did on a policewoman from Scotland accused of perjury by her colleagues. It’s a harrowing story, which can be accessed here.
Skip to 5 minutes and 7 seconds Profile pieces are really just long feature articles about an individual. The subject can be famous or unknown. They have to be all interesting, however. It’s the feature writer’s job to tell their story, to present them to the reader in a fresh and revelatory way, and to deliver a finished piece that makes us question assumptions about the individual we may have held or wonder why we’d never met them in this form before. They can also take the readers behind the news or well-known public persona of that individual. Profiles can explain, contextualise, and reveal. First-hand encounters and interviews act as a way into the hidden persona. Good profiles can therefore challenge or reinforce the public image of the individual.
Skip to 5 minutes and 59 seconds Here’s an article I did on the famous former conservative MP and bestselling popular fiction author, Jeffrey Archer. It was based on an interview I did with him in his infamous and famous and very expensive 14th floor penthouse office apartment overlooking the Palace of Westminster across the Thames in central London, widely recognised as one of the best views on the market. It was my second meeting with Jeffrey Archer. We’d met a decade before when I was working in television. And since then, he’d served several years in prison for perjury. I tried to convey the sense of the man I met now with the person I’d met before his fall. Meeting him in person therefore was absolutely vital for this project.
Skip to 6 minutes and 47 seconds You can see if I succeeded by reading the article here and making your own minds up. Features allow the writer to try out different writing styles. Here’s one article where I had to be very flexible in approach and writing style. It’s the story of meeting and interviewing a man who was imprisoned on suspected terrorism in Guantanamo Bay by the US authorities. His name is Jamal Al-Harith. And he is from Manchester. I interviewed him shortly after he was released from Guantanamo Bay. It was a difficult meeting. The atmosphere was tense and strained. And I had to halt the interview at one point because it wasn’t going well. That could have spelled disaster.
Skip to 7 minutes and 26 seconds Instead, I used the challenge to my advantage by writing them into the article. So in effect, the story of the meeting became the story of the article. Here’s the link. You can again decide for yourself whether I managed to impart the obstacles and hidden facts from the encounter into the finished piece. The key lessons for features are that features require lots of preparation, research, and information gathering. You need to plan in advance of writing. You need to research deeply and widely before you do any interviews. You’ve got to be flexible and willing to change your approach journalistically as you proceed through the process. You’ve got to read widely to see what other feature writers are doing as well.
Skip to 8 minutes and 14 seconds You can also reverse-engineer previous work. What style, approach, technique did your colleagues employ previously? Does it work? Why? Could it work for you? You’ve got to avoid cliches like the plague. Tell your readers something new. Don’t be too predictable. Surprise yourself with questions. And you’ve got to prepare for interviews studiously. Take notes. Challenge assumptions. And act on your curiosity. Finally, remember you must plan your articles in advance. Structure them in sections. Tell each part of the story in a new block of text. Change tenses to add power, for example using the first person present tense to add edge and currency. Use engaging descriptive terms. Tell an internal story within the piece, for example the story of the interview.
Skip to 9 minutes and 10 seconds And begin and end memorably. Make your features matter. Thanks.
Differences between news and features
Watch Dr O’Neill’s video above describing the difference between news and features.
Are these two areas compatible? How do they differ in terms of structure and style? Dr O’Neill answers such questions by examining different components of feature writing discussing effective and not-so-effective examples. These should prove useful to you as the week goes on.
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