A couple of weeks back, I was talking about how novelists are unaccustomed to writing to deadline. Journalists, on the other hand, are not only used to it, but embrace it.
Of course, most journalists learn this at college, on courses such as DCU’s BA in Journalism. Most of the world’s journalists are in fact, degree qualified and the cruel truth is that we certainly need that degree to get into the higher echelons of the profession.
Feature-writing, however, is one area of journalism that doesn’t require a degree, or any qualification. A feature is a stand-alone article which does not break news but is designed to add depth, perspective and an original slant to a subject, often focussing on its background or history. Although some publications commission their on-staff journalists to write features, they are also often written by a lay-person who has an interest, insight, or specific knowledge in a subject.
If we know where to look, there’s a wealth of opportunity to get features published, even for someone starting out. The internet, of course, is a relative smorgasbord, offering us endless chance to stretch our feature-writing limbs. Many websites, such as writing.ie for example, want to publish our feature and if it’s relevant to the website’s content, is well written and tackles an original issue or offers an original take on an existing issue, there’s a good chance that it will get published. There are also general news and local news websites which will consider your original, informative and entertaining feature.
There are opportunities in the traditional print media too, with newspapers such as The Evening Herald inviting feature-idea proposals from us, the non-journalist general public. We’re also at the point where every industry, hobby and special-interest has its own monthly magazine (Crochet World, anyone?) and, if my own favourite Writers’ Forum is anything to go by, these periodicals are always on the look-out for features.
But before we delve headlong into five-thousand words on ‘Which is the Best Crochet Hook, Addi Comfort Grip or Kollage Square?’, there is some imparted wisdom we should embrace.
Anthony Curtis, Professor of Mass Communication at University of North Carolina, knows a thing or two about feature-writing. He takes us through the purpose of a feature, the different types we can write and what characteristics a feature should have. He also reminds us that a feature is not an editorial, that it should not merely be a writer’s opinion. It should be a perspective on the subject, definitely, but it should be based on fact.
Over on LoveToKnow.com, Dana Hinders takes us through general rules for feature writing. Importantly, she advised us to, as much as possible, write in the active voice – a good tip for all writing in fact – and to think short, use short sentences and short paragraph to maximise impact. She also reminds us that, unlike other types of journalism where the purpose is to relay news, feature articles, which might include a lot of facts and statistics, should be written using storytelling techniques to grab the reader’s attention.
The Freelance Writing Solutions website breaks down the art of feature writing into five basic tips, suggesting that, even if we’re writing about a subject because it changed our lives, we should be careful not to make the feature just about us – it should be as relatable to as broad a readership as possible.
The Guardian Newspaper runs an International Journalist competition every year and invites submissions from non-professional and freelance writers. They also offer some great advice on starting off as a feature writer, telling us that we should plan what we are going to say and cover all the essential elements of the subject (who, what, when, where, how, why). We should also imagine the questions that might be asked on the subject and attempt to answer them.
Freelance.org is an invaluable resource for any of us interested in getting a feature article published. It’s an Irish website which provides all the information relevant to freelance journalists, holds discussions on issues affecting freelancers and offers occasional events for information sharing and networking.
One such event is coming up in Dublin on the 21st of October. The NUJ (National Union of Journalists) Freelance Forum takes place in Buswells’ Hotel and it features, most importantly, commissioning editors telling us what they’re looking for and how to pitch our ideas. I attended this event this time last year and received great insight from the commissioning editor of the Evening Herald, creator of local News website www.clontarf.ie and journalist and editor of the Irish Times online edition, Hugh Linehan.
“It’s all storytelling, you know. That’s what journalism is all about.” – Tom Brokaw
He knows A Thing or Two.
Professor of Mass Communication Anthony Curtis tells us all there is about the Feature.
“Writers of features have the space and time to evoke imagery in their stories and fill in details of the circumstances and atmosphere.”
Yes, There Are Some…Guidelines (Rules).
Dana Hinders takes us through general rules for feature writing.
“Keeping in mind the rules for writing feature articles will help you craft stories that editors are eager to publish.”
This Week, Five Is The Magic Number.
The Freelance Writing Solutions website breaks down the art of feature writing into five key tips.
“Picture the reader in your mind, not just as a broad category but as a real, living, breathing person.”
A Bit Of Healthy Competition.
The Guardian newspaper’s advice on writing Features alongside its annual International Journalist competition.
“Don’t worry if you have never written an article before, read some top tips for people who are brand new to feature writing.”
Our First (Local) Port Of Call.
Freelance.org is an invaluable Irish resource for all freelance journalist and Feature writers.
“This forum is intended for the use of freelance journalists throughout Ireland.”
Not To Be Missed.
The NUJ (National Union of Journalists) Freelance Forum takes place on the 21st of October in Buswells’ Hotel in Dublin.
“The Forum will cover the always popular staple, commissioning editors talking about what they are looking for when you pitch.”
Writing.ie also has a great article on how to pitch a feature article by ex Fashion Editor Georgina Heffernan