Feature Writing Essay
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The term “feature article” is quite general and can include many different forms, such as profile features, news features, expose’s, and many others. Feature journalism can also have numerous purposes, for example to inform, to educate, or to simply entertain. While ‘feature article’ is certainly a broad term, features do come with their own set of defining characteristics which make them different to a news article.
Feature articles are distinguished from regular news reports because they give the reader more than a ‘facts-only’ account of an issue; they explore themes and concepts more deeply than a ‘hard’ news article.
While feature articles usually have elements of news worthiness (for example, a profile of a politician in the lead up to an election), they are often timeless to some degree, because the underlying themes of features are usually universal. Although not always the case, feature articles are usually longer than news articles.
Structurally, this gives the author more freedom. Unlike news articles, features do not adhere to the ‘inverted pyramid’ structure – an effective feature will often show the gradual development of the author’s ideas in a way that is described in the Week 1 lecture (McHugh, 2013) as a “slow burn”. No matter the purpose of a feature article, they always aim to give the reader more than ‘just the news’. Because features don’t rely on pure newsworthiness to engage their audience, they must have good writing, solid research and relatable themes. Features are often more colourfully written than news articles, and the writer has the opportunity to display creativity and flair. However, this does not mean that clear writing is less important in features than in any other form of journalism.
As stated in the Week 1 lecture (McHugh 2013), features “aren’t an excuse for literary pyrotechnics”. The basics of good journalism (and good writing in general) all apply to feature writing. While opinion pieces can qualify as feature articles, features in general are certainly not a mere outlet for the writer to express their opinions, or to speculate on an issue – factual information and research are the foundations of all forms of journalism, including feature articles. However, features do give room for the writer to discuss context and provide commentary on an issue. The Aerobic Art of Interviews
Interviews undertaken by the author are a major part of all feature articles. This is most prominent in profile features, which use interviews as the basis of the article, although interviews can be used for a range of different purposes across all types of features. For example, an author might quote an expert in a field and quote or paraphrase their words to add credibility to an informative piece, or quote members of the public to gauge popular opinions on an issue. An interview is not merely a conversation, but rather a structured, focused dialogue (McHugh 2013).
However, often interviews are conducted in a conversational or colloquial manner – this way, the interviewee (and journalist) will be more relaxed, leading to more interesting and honest responses. The demeanour of the journalist conducting the interview influences the subject’s responses to some extent. Along the same lines, the subject will also be more relaxed and less distracted if the interview takes place in a quiet, comfortable place. In preparing for an interview, it is important to research the subject and prepare a thoughtful and relevant set of questions. These types of questions are more likely to elicit responses useful for a feature.
This doesn’t mean that journalists need to stick to a predetermined set of questions – there are situations during which they are required to be flexible and willing to take the interview in directions which they may not have prepared for. The journalists role is to ask questions that will provoke interesting, detailed responses (like a moving anecdote or an entertaining quote). For this reason, closed questions (those which encourage a short or single word answer) should be avoided in favour of open ended questions.
If the interviewee is not a high profile person, it will be difficult to research information about them – an interview is often the journalist’s only chance to get to know their subject. In this case, the only way to acquire general knowledge about the subject’s background is to include some questions about their everyday life, for example, what they do for a living or where they grew up. Even if these questions don’t directly relate to the premise of the article, this factual information needs to be established. Asking these non-threatening questions first is also a good way of avoiding more personal questions until trust has been built.
It is usually necessary to cast judgements aside and remain neutral during an interview. If the subject feels that they are being judged, it may foster a sense of uneasiness or animosity between the journalist and subject, leading to the subject becoming more guarded with their responses, or less cooperative with the journalists needs in general. On the other hand, a judgement free, “safe” environment during the interview can lead to the subject being more open and honest with their responses. To remain neutral, interview questions must be carefully worded. For example, when interviewing an author, a journalist would be more wise to say “Why do you think people were critical of your last novel?” rather than “Why does everybody hate your novel?”
Remaining interested and curious during an interview is more than just a matter of courtesy. If a subject feels they are not being listened to, or that their time is not appreciated, they will become uninterested themselves, and probably answer questions minimally. As can be seen in an audio grab from the Week 2 lecture (Bill Moyes), an inquisitive attitude leads to the subject feeling more comfortable with speaking colourfully and in detail. In this case, the genuine curiosity displayed by the interviewer towards the subject, lead to a detailed anecdote and many character revealing quotes.
The journalist conducting the interview should be personable and aim to create some kind of chemistry between him/herself and the subject, and empathise with them. As a journalist, you are not only observing the subject, but being observed yourself. Your demeanour during an interview does influence the responses of the subject. For example, an aggressive demeanour can lead the subject to respond in a guarded way. In saying this, it would be foolish to avoid asking the ‘hard’ questions for fear of offending the subject. The journalist’s role is to report things in the public interest, and often potentially controversial or personal aspects of an article are the most interesting.
Ethical Considerations for Journalists
While there are many ‘black & white’ laws in place to protect journalists from prosecution, the ethical considerations of journalism are often less clear. In their pursuit of a story, journalists must tip-toe a very indistinct line between ethical and unethical practices. The Week 8 lecture (McHugh, 2013) contains some ethical guidelines for journalists. Most importantly, journalists should aim to be fair and impartial, and to strive to report events as truthfully and accurately as possible. Journalists should also be sensitive to those in distress or grieving, and respect requests for privacy.
They should also disclose the fact that they are a journalist so that people know there words and actions may be reported in the press. Many borderline unethical journalistic practices are still widely used in the media. An example of this is a journalist publishing quotes by citizens in an attempt to gauge the opinions of the public on the current government. If the journalist only publishes quotes by people who were critical of the government, and ignores those who were supportive of it, the article is imbalanced while still remaining truthful in a technical sense. Similarly, the use of loaded words with overtly negative or positive connotations to describe somebody may be truthful while still attempting to influence the audience by appealing to their emotions.
Despite the grey areas that exist in the ethics of journalism, there are some practices that are universally agreed upon as unethical. One such practice is the intervention of journalists in such a way as to misrepresent or falsify an event. For example, journalists reporting on conflicts in Northern Ireland paid children to throw rocks at British Troops, the footage of which was then shown on the evening news.
A journalist intervening in such a way is unethical not only because it is disingenuous, but also because it potentially places the vulnerable civilians in danger of violence or prosecution. Journalists must be aware that their articles have a potentially negative effect on the lives of the people involved in an issue (McHugh, 2013). An article such as this is ethical if the negative effect on a person is justifiable.
For example, an expose on a politician taking bribes may destroy said politicians career, but the publishing the article is ethical because journalists have a duty to inform the public of matters that influence them. On the other hand, an article about a politician’s sexual preference would usually be considered unethical to publish, as it merely exposes the person’s private life and could needlessly damage their career. The main point I have taken away from the Week 8 & 9 lectures is that ethics in journalism is not a black & white issue, and ethical dilemmas are common. There are ways journalists can deal with ethical dilemmas – they can ask colleagues (especially those with more experience), consult the MEAA code (and the codes of their employers) and, perhaps most importantly, act in accordance with their own moral compass. Profile Features
A profile feature is a type of feature article that focuses biographically on an individual. They can be about anyone – celebrities, athletes, businessman, politicians, or even ordinary people (provided there is something compelling about them or their story). Profiles are often based around an in-depth interview with the subject. The questions asked during the interview depend on the focus of the interview. When preparing for and conducting an interview, the main aim of the journalist is to elicit detailed responses from the subject which would be beneficial to the article. The key characteristics of a profile article are observations of the subject, anecdotes, direct quotes and descriptive scenes. All of these components give the reader an indication of the subject’s character. In a profile article, the writer usually refers to observations about the subject that they made when meeting or interviewing him.
These could be about the subject’s appearance, mannerisms, or the way they interact with people. For example, in the Good Weekend profile on Bob Katter referenced in the Week 6 lecture, the author notes Katter’s cowboy hat and suede boots, as well as the fact that he knows the names of the waiters at the café where the interview took place. All of these observations assist the reader in forming an impression of Katter. Also common in profile articles are anecdotes. Anecdotes are short, interesting accounts of real incidents. In a profile article, an anecdote may be a childhood story about the subject, or an amusing account of their first day on the job. They are often amusing or entertaining – to again refer to the Good Weekend article from Week 6, the author talks about Katter getting in fights at school because his mother would make him wear shoes and socks. Factual information about the subject can be established during preliminary research or during interviews.
These facts are woven into the article to provide context about the person and there life. The Katter profile goes into some detail about his rural upbringing – while these facts aren’t substantial enough to carry the whole article, the do give the reader some indication of where his values come from and how he became who he is. When writing a profile, the journalist must maintain an open mind, remaining aware of the fact all humans are infinitely complex. It is therefore necessary to keep an open mind and avoid unfair stereotypes. The writer should be aware of when to include a direct quote from the subject, and when to rephrase their main point.
A good quote will usually stick out for any of a number of reasons; perhaps it’s funny, or particularly eloquent, or revealing of the subject’s character. In cases such as these, it is more appropriate to quote the subject directly. However there is no point including less interesting quotes in an article – if the writer feels he can say the same thing more effectively, he/she should paraphrase the quote. In addition to the main subject of the profile, a journalist usually conducts interviews with several other sources to add depth to the article.
These secondary sources could be a friend, colleague or family member of the main subject, but they don’t have to be – if they can add valuable insight into the subject’s life or work, then they can be considered appropriate or relevant to include as a secondary source. For example, a secondary source for a profile of a classical musician might be an expert on classical music, or their high school music teacher. One common trap profile writers fall into include overtly writing about themselves or their own opinions on an issue during an article. As stated in the Week 5 lecture (McHugh 2013), “you are just the conduit to your subject”.
Another practice to be avoided is the overuse of cliché’s such as “a hushed silence” – most readers have encountered these phrases so many times that they have lost all meaning and potency. Structurally, profile features give the writer a great deal of freedom. However, there are some techniques and conventions that are employed in most profiles. The most effective openings for a profile interview are usually one of the following – an anecdotal lead, a descriptive scene, a good quote from the subject or a suspenseful lead. The paragraphs in the body of the article include transitions and tee-ups to make them flow in a logical way. Profiles usually end in a reflective tone, in a cyclical way (tying up loose ends or referencing something that was foreshadowed earlier in the text), or with a quote from the subject. References
McHugh, S 2013, Introduction to Features, Lecture notes distributed in JOUR202 at the University of Wollongong on 5 March 2013 McHugh, S 2013, Interviews and Research Pt 1, Lecture notes distributed in JOUR202 at the University of Wollongong on 12 March 2013 McHugh, S 2013, P is for Profile, Lecture notes distributed in JOUR202 at the University of Wollongong on 19 March 2013 McHugh, S 2013, Interviews and Research Pt 2, Lecture notes dist ributed in JOUR202 at the University of Wollongong on 26 March 2013 McHugh, S 2013, Structure & Style, Lecture notes distributed in JOUR202 at the University of Wollongong on 2 April 2013 McHugh, S 2013, Observation: description and detail, Lecture notes distributed in JOUR202 at the University of Wollongong on 9 April 2013 McHugh, S 2013, Ethics, Lecture notes distributed in JOUR202 at the University of Wollongong on 16 April 2013 McHugh, S 2013, I Know What I like: reviewing the arts, Lecture notes distributed in JOUR202 at the University of Wollongong on 30 April 2013