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Ask Michael

Please post your questions for this week in the comments section below. Please ‘like’ questions posted by other learners if you are also interested in having these answered.

Graham Connolly and a few others have asked about the “subbing” (or sub-editing) of feature pieces. This varies between news organisations and depends on the resources available. Subbing is certainly less scrupulous a process than in the past, especially in smaller newspapers and websites. While copy is often checked for house-style and readability by colleagues – sometimes they are designated “subs”, although more often they are not – it is now best practice to assume that copy needs to submitted ready for publication, in terms of its style, grammar and readability. Where subbing takes place, however, changes should never be taken as a criticism and you should always try to understand the rationale behind them.

Stefan Danisovsky asks whether it is necessary to actually meet with the subject a feature article. It is certainly an advantage to meet a subject face-to-face, but email, telephone or skype can be used as well. We have to make the fullest use of the resources available, and also use opportunities to deal with subjects we might not ordinarily have ready access to. Indeed, the accomplished feature writer will use all the communication platforms at their disposal, and will use that diversity of experiences to produce a variety of types of feature.

Cristinita India asks the difference between a feature writer and an investigative writer. There is some measure of overlap at times. However, investigative journalism involves gathering evidence on an issue or event than others wish to conceal from public view, and that has some appreciable public interest or impact in law. Our colleague Dr O’Neill talks about investigative journalism more fully later.

A number of you have asked for advice on the various structures of feature writing. There are a number of varieties of feature writing, including news colour, columns, reviews, interviews, profiles, investigations; and the key to keeping each of these interesting is to vary the structure and approach as much as possible. In terms of understanding which approaches and structures are the most appropriate, I’d recommend looking at some of the best available writers and assessing how they undertake their task. To offer a few UK-based examples past and present, Simon Hattenstone’s work is an excellent case study in combining personal narrative with the main elements of the story. Also, a look back at the work of Jeffrey Bernard will illustrate the role of the journalist’s own personality in structuring feature writing. Thirdly, Caitlin Moran’s work will help illustrate how feature journalist can operate in a multi-modal platform such as the Internet and the opportunities this presents for variability.

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Journalism

University of Strathclyde