The freedom of information: Extending expertise in news features

Whilst news is constructed around a specific event and follows the criteria relating to the inverted pyramid of news writings who, what, where, when and why, the news feature is something more of a longitude,  wider picture. It is the complete story on a recent topic and while it is written with similar urgency to a typical news story, it is based around the additional facts with provide the reader with more information. This post is looking at what to include and effective examples of news features to illustrate.

A short article by the National Association of Social Workers (2004) explains the criteria needed for an effective news feature. The guide suggests initially writing out one sentence of the topic you have chosen. Being concise is important as it could be easy to stray from your specific topic, especially as you begin to discover more exciting information. It also suggests that you listen to and read as many news features about your topic as you can, trying to find an angle which has not been explored. To differentiate yourself work from countless other pieces on the same topic, chose an angle which is unique. The Long Island Serial Killer has been dominating the news stories since 2010 when the first of 10 subsequent bodies was discovered in Long Island, New York. Over time the news outlets were overflowing with news features about the profiles of the murder victims (mostly female, mostly prostitutes) and the aspect of the internet in the murders (it is suggested that the Long Island Serial Killer used the website Craigslist to arrange meetings with many of him victims.) However, one news feature stood out. IBTimes New York published a news feature in 2011, consulting the criminal profiler Dr. Mary Ellen O’Toole. The feature explored the mind of the serial killer. O’Toole gave her opinion about his habits, his age and his demeanour, suggesting that he has a natural ability to fit into a crowd and that he is probably well-spoken and well-dressed. The thought of a serial killer being unrecognisable in a crowd is a chilling thought and so the news feature did more to extend the knowledge of the crimes by divulging the psychological profile of the serial killer.

Another point in the article by the National Association of Social Workers explains the need to “fill in the blanks”. They suggest that a news feature starts out as hard news, like a news story in the newspaper. You start with the event, the quotes by those involved and the information of exactly what is known – your who, what, when, where and why- and the news feature elaborates this into a piece of non-fictional, creative writing. A news feature gives a writer the freedom to conduct their own interviews, do their own research and include the relevant pieces of information which help shape their story and a full picture starts to emerge. A news feature by the New Yorker today helps illustrate the news feature and its full story and additional details. ‘Massacre in Kandahar’ by Jon Lee Anderson covers the shooting of 16 Afghan civilians by a rogue US soldier. Anderson writes about the presence of the soldiers and its “toxic” effects on civilians. While he covers the initial incident, he also relates information about the nature and attitude of soldiers, including a 2003 interview he conducted with an American soldier and a 2010 interview with a released Guantanamo Bay inmate living in Afghanistan. Anderson gives a full picture of the political conflict and social angst of American soldiers and Afghanistan civilians. Anderson effectively fills in the blanks of the story with the relevant information gathered by both him and additional sources.

Another aspect of a news feature is the opportunity to present the writer’s opinion. While this is dependent on the type of news feature and the type of readership, the news feature offers the writer a chance to subtly voice his or her opinion in relation to the topic. As the news feature includes more additional research and a larger picture, it is more ethical for the writer to include their opinion. Using the ‘Massacre in Kandahar’ by Jon Lee Anderson as an example again, he subtly looks at the attitudes of soldiers, suggesting a changing psychological view of killing. He finishes off his story: “War has a way of making all kinds of killings possible.” While the piece is not overflowing with personal opinion similar to an opinion column, writers can put their own view-point within their writing. Obviously you would need to check with your editor first.

A news feature gives a writer the chance to become an expert at a given topic. With the research and interviews they become writers of the bigger picture on a topic. While news stories feature current and specific events, the news feature divulges more information. The questions of what, who, when, where and why become broader in their explanations and offer relevant information to an interested audience.

One Comment to “The freedom of information: Extending expertise in news features”

  1. Impressive article post on the blog, I share the same views. I wonder why this particular country totally does not think like me and additionally the web publication master 🙂

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