From the newsroom
To those outside the profession, ‘journalism’ might evoke images of war reporters or political correspondents, but such stints come after long periods covering less adventurous topics. There are lesser roles a journalist takes on before being assigned ‘bigger’ stories. When a graduate from journalism school enters the newsroom, she confronts some dilemmas early on. She or he is sometimes asked to choose between reporting/ desk or feature writing/ news writing. Each role has its unique challenges.
Broadly speaking, reporters tend to classify themselves as either news reporters or feature writers. There is, of course, no rule stating that a reporter cannot be a feature writer, or vice-versa, but over time, reporters tend to slot themselves into particular categories depending on their beats and the strengths they identify in themselves.
Sometimes, it is important for you to be able to differentiate between a news article and a feature article while writing a piece. If you are blogging about a particular nugget of news, an event, a situation, a development, a person or even a music show for example, how you want to present the article depends on whether you are sharing timely information or whether you want to give out information that can be read leisurely. If there was a drunken brawl at a Rock Show and you are blogging about the event as it happens or has just happened, then use a news story style. If you are writing a general piece about safety measures at such events and why rock shows need to be organized with greater care, you can take the news-feature approach. If your piece is an overview of how people behave at rock shows and why alcohol should be banned at such events, you can use a feature style.
Examples of a news story :
Examples of a feature story:
Writing a news story, as the term suggests, consists in the main of conveying the news in as direct a manner as possible, without leaving any important fact. The most efficient way of doing this is to use the ‘inverted pyramid’ – meaning that the reporter begins by dealing with the 5 W’s and 1 H of the story, before fleshing out the details. It’s a fairly straightforward way of conveying news and is therefore universally popular.
How is one to decide what constitutes a news story?
While there can be no single rule, generally speaking, events that are important to your readers and need to be conveyed as quickly as possible constitute news stories. In a news article, facts are of paramount importance, but other thumb-rules need to be taken into account. News articles are relatively smaller – the average is 300 words, but it might touch 500 if it is a lead article. The opening para, or intro, has to be crisp and to the point. Likewise, the sentences that follow cannot be long-winded; the writer cannot take liberties with ideas or construction. The news article is, therefore, a terse style; emphasis is given on the importance of the content rather than form. The biggest challenge of writing a news story is to get all the important facts and supporting data within the limited time. The ‘deadline’ hovers like a sword over the heads of news reporters, especially if a big story breaks out late at night.
In contrast with this, we have a feature story. The feature writer has some advantages over the news writer – he has more time to write, and he is allowed more words. Since space isn’t as much a constraint as it is for the news reporter, he can take liberties with ideas and form.
But that doesn’t mean his task is any less challenging. He must write an interesting story. A feature is less likely to be read because it is usually relegated to special pages, away from Page 1; and readers are less likely to have patience with it. Although facts are important, dryly stating them won’t do. A feature writer, therefore, seeks to become a craftsman, using his material in ways that catch the attention of readers. There are unlimited ways of doing this. The intro is as important to the feature writer as it is to the news reporter – as the fisherman employs bait with his hook, the feature writer must tempt the reader with his intro.
Consider this intro to ‘A Portrait of Hitler’ written by John Gunther in 1940:
“Adolf Hitler, irrational, contradictory, complex, is an unpredictable character; therein lies his power and his menace. To millions of honest Germans, he is sublime, a figure of adoration; he fills them with love, fear, and nationalist ecstasy. Too many other Germans, he is meager and ridiculous – a charlatan, a lucky hysteric, and a lying demagogue. What are the reasons for this paradox? What are the sources of his extraordinary power?”
Unlike a news reporter, a feature writer is allowed the liberty of being ‘subjective’, that is, being judgmental about what he is writing. Gunther employs this well; he tempts you to keep reading. However, the feature writer, like any good journalist, must remember not to overplay his hand. Merely casting his opinions won’t do. Gunther follows up with some extremely interesting material on Hitler’s personality, and these aren’t just opinions. “…He takes no exercise, and his only important relaxation – though lately, he began to like battleship cruises in the Baltic or the North Sea – is music. He is deeply musical. Wagner is one the cardinal influences on his life; he is obsessed by Wagner.” This shows the writer’s knowledge of Hitler’s personality. The best writers are therefore the most well-informed.
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