? Write a feature Story
For the topics, you need to write a "local" story of the larger national issue. In other words, you don't have to write the whole, overall story on hybrid cars or summer fashions (there are other topics as well). You need to find experts and sources in your area who know about what is happening in regard to these topics locally. Remember, this would be a story that would run in the local newspaper, so it would be any new development or trend related to the topic in your area. It's not just opinion interviews about the topic like the interview story, but interviews with people who use the product, participate in the sport, etc. So, you should pick a topic that has pertinence in your area or that you know something about, or know someone who knows about it. Some made up examples: HAPPYVILLE, Penn. -- During the week, Jane Robinson is a librarian who is happy finding books for senior citizens and reading to pre-schoolers. But on weekends, friends say, she's one of the fiercest dirt bikers in the state. Nut graf: Robinson is a participant in a burgeoning sport in this part of the country, etc. OR -- SMILEYTOWN, Ala. -- Madison Avenue may say persimmon is the hot color for summer, but not at Dot's Decorating Shop. Dot Davis knows her customers, and they want flowers and frills. Nut graf: Dictating the cutting edge of home fashion is a $26 million business nationwide, but styles across the country still reflect local tradition. Jim Bradford of the Design Institute says that means colonial furniture, eyelet lace and chintz for Smileytown homes.
Not every story is a breaking, hard-news story. Some stories are lighthearted. Some are entertaining. Some are informative, but about general topics rather than the news of the day. These stories are called feature stories.
Many of the stories I write are feature articles. If you google my name, you may see some of them on the Web. I wrote a story on online therapy for CBS.com and another on mid-life women and makeup for Discovery.com. I have also written features on more hard-hitting topics like arms control and how reporters cover it, technology trends and workplace trends.
Often, feature stories come out of covering hard news stories. Some of you may recall that in the 1980s, Michael Deaver was President Reagan's controversial deputy director of communications. I covered Deaver's trial on perjury charges as a reporter for United Press International. During the trial, I got to know Deaver's daughter and later interviewed her for a feature story for the cover of The Washington Post Magazine. As it turned out, she was instrumental in Deaver facing his excessive drinking and getting his life back together, so the interviews produced an interesting feature article, to say the least.
A feature story can be about anything. How about this feature lead that a colleague of mine once wrote? The story was about a garbage strike in New York City. It was the second week of the strike and the streets were starting to smell. Not a pretty thought, huh? But he wrote a great feature lead: If you wanted to take a bite of the Big Apple today, you had to hold your nose. How's that for painting a picture in your reader's mind?
Module 5 does a thorough job of explaining the kinds of timeless features and news features that reporters routinely write about.
So far, we've been writing straight news stories. We have started each story with a 25-word, single-sentence news lead and written the body of each story in inverted pyramid style. Feature writing is an entirely different animal. You do not use a 25-word news lead and you do not use inverted pyramid style when writing features.
The difference between writing news and writing features is the difference between show and tell: A news story tells what happens; a feature shows the reader how it happened and what its consequences are.
A news story says:
A bridge collapsed in Fanning County yesterday, killing two.
A feature story says:
An elderly couple on their way to spend their second honeymoon in the same hotel room where they had their first died en route when the Fanning County bridge they had to cross to get there collapsed from under them.
A feature story has a distinct beginning, middle and end. It doesn't rush all the important stuff to the first sentence and then peter out as the end comes near, the way a news story does. In fact, it's not written in inverted pyramid style at all; it's not intended for readers to skim through. The feature article is a piece that readers are supposed to spend some time with. It's supposed to affect them, make them think, entertain them. And that makes your job as a writer very important and kind of hard.
Here's an excellent feature lead, followed by the rest of the story:
In Troy Ramey's kitchen there is a straight-backed chair where he once sat every afternoon before leaving for work. He would sit there, with his miner's lunch bucket on the table, sip coffee and look through the kitchen window at a large oak tree in the yard.
Looking at that tree gave him so much pleasure, he said, that he sometimes began an unconscious whistle, soft and low. "I was happy," he said.
Ramey doesn't sit there anymore, nor does he whistle. The tree itself is dead now. It began dying, he said, about the same time two soldiers came to his back door and told him his son Tommy had been killed in Vietnam.
I don't know who wrote that story, but it's wonderful. It's touching, passionate, emotional, poignant. It's also well-written, clear as a bell and follows all the rules of journalism
. But it's sure not a news lead.
In fact, the lead is three paragraphs long. Feature leads break all the rules (well--not all the rules. Just because you can use more than 25 words doesn't mean you can be wordy. You still need to choose your words carefully, write efficiently, keep your opinion to yourself and use perfect grammar and AP style). But the feature lead is meant to set the tone for the rest of the story rather than to summarize the story in a single breath the way news leads do.
The story about Troy Ramey goes on to describe how Ramey and his family's life has changed since Tommy died. Here's how it ends:
The dead oak tree still stands outside the kitchen window, bare and stark now in the spring sunshine.
Ramey said he sometimes thinks about cutting it down, but that's about as far as he got. When you've loved something for a long time, he said, it's hard to let it go.
Would an editor ever dare cut the last paragraph of that story to make it fit in a small space? No way! So there's another difference between writing news and writing features: News stories written in inverted pyramid style leave the story's least-important detail for the last paragraph. The writer of a news doesn't wrap up the story or draw a conclusion in the last paragraph. The writer of a feature story does craft an ending but without expressing his or her opinion. The last paragraph is just as important as the first paragraph and, in fact, often harps back to the first paragraph. There are no "throw-away" paragraphs in feature stories like there are in news stories. Every paragraph contributes to the story.
Some people find writing feature stories more difficult than writing news. Others see the creative part of feature writing as less rigid and more fun. That's not to say that feature writing is creative writing, though; it's not. It's journalism
. You still need to use short words, write short sentences, keep one thought to a paragraph, use concise language and keep your opinion to yourself.
But you have to know how to get people to talk to you, to give you information that's going to make your story the one the reader is going to remember for a long time. And you have to work at turning a phrase so that your writing paints a picture for the readers.
Above all, you have to tell a story. You're telling a story, not giving a report. You're weaving a tale--a true one based on people's experiences--not reporting the news.
Features can be about people or things, but most readers prefer to read about people. (Note that you may not submit a profile or a participatory story for Assignment #6. Your assignment is to write about how people and groups in your community are taking action to help victims of the tsunami.)
Remember these rules for writing feature stories:
? Begin with a soft lead (see Module 5 Commentary for a full description and examples of soft leads). This assignment specifically requires you to write an anecdotal lead.
? Craft a beginning, a middle and end. Do not write a summary news lead. Do not write in inverted pyramid style.
? Weave the stories of your sources into your copy so that your story is full of examples and anecdotes.
? Use quotes liberally, but remember: If you can write it better than your source can say it, write it instead of using quotes.
? Make sure all of the information in your story is true and accurate.
? Follow all of the rules of journalism
: Verify all facts, use perfect grammar, follow AP style, use transitions, write short words, sentence and paragraphs, stick with active voice, don't raise questions you don't answer, etc.
In response to this topic, please answer this: A key to crafting a compelling feature article is extracting interesting anecdotes from sources with experiences relevant to your topic. Sometimes these stories are quite personal and guarded by those you interview. How will you get your sources to tell you their most personal stories? What kinds of questions will you ask? Why will they trust you enough to share their anecdotes? (Consider how the reporter who wrote about Troy Ramey got him to open up about such a sad topic.)
Below are two feature stories written by former Journalism
201 students. They both got As.
You'll see that both of the stories begin with a compelling anecdotal lead and a nut paragraph that summarizes what the story is about. Each contains lots of colorful quotations (properly punctuated and attributed) from sources. They do not refer to Web sites, but instead reveal information the writers have gathered from relevant sources.
The stories follow AP style and avoid grammar and punctuation mistakes. Each paragraph flows from the one before it, making both stories a good read.
And while the writers have taken a bit more license than they could in a news story with descriptions and anecdotes, they do not include their opinion and they attribute heavily. Those same rules apply here as apply when you're writing news.
Questions about writing feature stories? Post them here.
On a rainy Election Day last November, Myria Gray left the Friendship Post Office to deliver mail to homes along the winding back roads of southern Maryland. She never finished her route.
Jenny Taylor, the Friendship postmaster and Gray's boss, remembers the call from the police that afternoon. "They didn't tell me anything,? she recalls. Just that I needed to come to the scene of an accident to secure mail."
When she got there, Taylor says, mail was scattered everywhere. She recognized Gray's car and it looked bad. Gray, a 44-year-old grandmother who worked as a contract postal carrier, used her own car to make mail deliveries. She was on her route, when, police report, she failed to stop at the bottom of the hill where Sansbury Road ends. She drove out onto Route 260 in front of a truck. She died at the scene.
A few weeks after her death, a thin, white cross appeared near the site of Gray's crash. A few days after that, a cluster of plastic flowers was added.
Snow plows buried the memorial under several feet of snow last winter. Now, the spring buds are giving way to young leaves and again the small cross and flowers are nearly hidden to those who speed by. But Taylor knows where to look for her friend's memorial.
The roadsides of rural southern Maryland are dotted with memorials like Gray's, reminders of lives lost in accidents on the roadways.
Debbie Jennings, from the Maryland Traffic Safety Council, says in 2001 there were 602 fatal crashes in the state. In Calvert County last year, according to Jennings, there were five fatal crashes. Sgt. Ricky Thomas, investigator with the Calvert County Sheriff's Office, says there are 10 deaths in the county already this year.
Not every highway death is honored with a memorial, according to Thomas. "I couldn't estimate how many memorials we have in the county because the number is always changing. You will see [memorials] pop up on the anniversaries of deaths that are not there all the time," he says. Other memorials have been maintained for many years, he added.
"Often people will memorialize loved ones at the site [of their accident] ? as a connection to the last place the person was alive," says Patricia Kelly, a bereavement counselor at Hospice of the Chesapeake. "There is a great and healthy need to ritualize death. People are doing something active to feel less helpless."
"The rush of grief ? the fear of forgetting," says Carol Goodman, a bereavement counselor at Calvert Hospice, are reasons for the memorials.
Sally Vander Leest, a customer on Gray's mail route, says even though she didn't know Gray well, she didn't want her to be forgotten. She says she drove by the site of Gray's crash every day and saw the painted lines and arrows on the pavement from the police
investigation. They were the only reminders of what had happened and, Vander Leest says, she wanted there to be something lasting to remind people of Gray.
Vander Leest says a man at her church made the small cross, but it is only temporary. She says she is going to put up a larger, sturdier cross that will be more permanent.
Maria Hester was one of Gray's customers, too. She didn't know who put up the cross, but knew it was for Gray and added the flowers. "I just wanted there to be something ? a reminder for people who drive by."
"In the eyes of those who are grieving, [the memorial site] is ground zero," says JoAnn Kushner, a 20-year resident of Calvert County who has noticed an increase in the number and character of roadside memorials.
A 22-year resident of the county and a county commissioner, Linda Kelley, says years ago she remembers sites of fatal accidents adorned with a small cross or cut flowers. "If it helps people to heal, what's the harm?" she says.
But, Kelley says, recently there have been a few sites along busy Route 4 that concern her. There is a memorial tribute with laminated pictures at the site of a fatal motorcycle accident and a site with helium-filled balloons strung on a sign post, she explained.
The commission has no position on the memorials, says Kelley. But, if a memorial creates a hazard for drivers, "something of a carnival atmosphere," then the commission would have to act, she says.
Goodman says she has noticed more modern memorials, such as balloons and teddy bears, attached to crosses. This type of public display could be a new custom, according to Goodman, reflecting the person who was killed.
The memorial to 17-year-old Sheena Creek is eye catching. Creek's memorial consists of a cross placed in the Route 4 medium surrounded by stuffed animals and flowers. Across the northbound lanes a bouquet of 20 helium-filled balloons is attached to the Harvey Road sign near where, police report, Creek drove into the path of a pickup truck.
Gray's memorial is simple and respectful, but with a cluster of vibrant yellow, blue and purple plastic flower bouquets.
Vander Leest described Gray as a "sweetie" who would drive down her long driveway to deliver packages to her door and always had time to chat for a few minutes.
Gray was a kind woman who was always "upbeat," according to Hester. "She had a lot of traits I admire."
"Myria was always trying to save my soul," says Taylor. She recalled how she didn't want to go to Gray's church because she thought she would feel uncomfortable. Taylor says she told Gray, "People are always jumping up and singing out at your church."
But Taylor did go to Gray's church. She went for her funeral. And when the minister asked Gray's friend to stand up, she did ? but she was too overcome to sing out.
Genevieve Burns says she wasn't quite sure what to expect when she answered a small ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer for a community health nurse to work with the homeless. She certainly didn't realize that it would eventually lead her to be on the front lines in the battle against one of winter?s greatest dangers: hypothermia.
Burns is practice director in downtown Philadelphia for the Mary Howard Health Center, which was named after a homeless woman who died of hypothermia-related complications.
The center specializes in assisting the homeless, and in winter one of its outreach workers? greatest concerns is hypothermia and its complications suffered by their clients.
"I remember one gentleman," recalls Burns, "whose shoes were frozen to his feet. He walked over the bridge from Camden, N.J., and when I tried to untie his shoes, I realized they weren't going to come off."
Every homeless shelter outreach worker can tell similar stories.
"There are always people who simply refuse to come inside," says Steve Cleghorn, deputy executive director of the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness in Washington, D.C. "But with the mayor's order that allows police to bring in anyone intoxicated during a hypothermia alert, we've been able to save lives."
In temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the city's Emergency Management Agency issues an alert that runs on television and radio stations, encouraging citizens to call shelters if they see someone with the signs of hypothermia.
Intoxicated people are not imprisoned, but instead kept warm and safe until they are sober. This order, Cleghorn says, has enabled the police to identify potential hypothermia risks and take care of the problem before the person becomes a statistic in the season's cold-related death count.
Generally, the standard for hypothermia is a core body temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Both Burns and Cleghorn agree that alcoholism can mask symptoms of hypothermia, as can mental illness. Some of these signs include slurred speech, fatigue, slowed breathing rate and cold, pale skin, which sometimes is referred to as mottling.
Burns recalls a case in her days as a community health nurse when a patient, considered mentally ill by shelter outreach workers, came in after a significant drop in temperature. "He just seemed odd, and I couldn't really determine if it was mental illness or hypothermia,? she recalls. ?So to be safe we sent him to the hospital and, as it turns out, it was hypothermia."
Treating hypothermia requires raising a patient's body temperature.
"Rewarming is critical," says Dawn Frees, certified emergency nurse at Ephrata Community Hospital in Ephrata, Pa. This is often accomplished by using a blanket called a bear hugger, which is a heated blanket with warm air blown through it, as well as administering heated intravenous fluids.
Even if a patient is brought to the emergency room without a pulse, rewarming is done. "I know it sounds horrible," says Frees, "but we always say no one is considered dead unless they are warm and dead."
But the homeless are not the only ones who have to think about hypothermia. Bill Caplan, a ski boot designer working at Langhorne Ski & Sport, suggests customers dress in layers and keep perspiration and moisture away from the body.
"It's always best to be with a partner, even if you're alpine skiing," says Caplan, who finds that most of the customers he deals with are well-dressed and prepared. "We don't see much hypothermia, but we do see cases of frostbite."
In extreme cases, the cold can cause brain damage, coma and loss of limbs, he says.
"A lack of oxygen to the brain can cause the loss of balance function or ataxia, the loss of control of the limbs," says Dianne Miller, licensed physical therapist.
Hypothermia affected Miller's personal life several years ago when a friend became hypothermic during a hike at Mount Washington.
"She had never been hiking, had new boots and a new outfit," says Miller. "She fell asleep in her wet clothes at camp and woke up naked, surrounded by strangers from the camp trying to warm her."
At the Mary Howard Health Center and the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, outreach workers are trained to teach clients to recognize when they need to seek help.
"I always tell clients to make sure their first layer is plastic," Burns explains. "It doesn't matter how many blankets they have. If they are wet blankets, hypothermia is a risk."
? Begin with an anecdotal lead and a nut paragraph. Features that begin with other kinds of leads are not eligible for an A.
? Quote at least five sources, including at least one expert.
? Do not quote Web sites, books or brochures. All of your quotations must come from people.
? Use lots of colorful, direct quotes, properly attributed.
? Leave boring and irrelevant quotes in your notebook. You don't have to include everything.
? Make sure each paragraph has to do with the ones before and after it; use transitions.
? Use anecdotes and examples as evidence of statements throughout.
? Avoid lists. Do not stack quotes or list actions or rules.
? Remember: You're telling a story, not giving a report.
? Keep your opinion to yourself.
? Do not include yourself or your questions in the story. You are a fly on the wall, not part of the story. Do not use the words "I," "me" or "we." Never write, "When asked..."
? Make sure all concepts and terms are adequately explained. Don't make the reader guess.
? Don't raise questions you don't answer.
? Write a one-word slug and byline at the top of the first page.
? Repeat the slug and page number at the top of each subsequent page.
? Write -30- at the end of the story. (If you were printing out your copy, you would double-space it and write MORE at the end of each page except the last, which would include -30- at the end.)
? Follow AP style to the letter. You will lose points if you don't. Pay particular attention to:
* capital letters
* construction of quotes
? Attribute, punctuate and capitalize quotes correctly. Review the Modules and Conferences. Consider this a test of the information you have accumulated during the semester. You will be graded on how well you follow each rule we've covered this semester.
? Use proper grammar. Watch out for:
* sentence fragments
* run-on sentences
* subject-verb and subject-pronoun agreement
? Write in active voice
? Make sure all facts are accurate and names are spelled correctly.
? Proofread your story before handing it in. Missing words confuse readers and lower your grade.
Questions about feature writing or Assignment #6? Post them here (optional).
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