Most of us don’t give a lot of thought to the technical definition of what we’re reading when we open a newspaper or other print publication or access one online. In fact, not all news stories are created equal. If you’re considering a career in journalism, your success can hinge on knowing the difference between a straight news piece and a feature.
A feature is a typically longer than a standard news story.
It’s written in a different style, typically with more detail and background based on more extensive research than would be required to simply report a news event. Features can vary widely — you might write a news feature, an arts feature or a human interest feature. Although the term implies softer news, a feature is often defined by its length and style, not necessarily its subject matter.
The style component is important. Features humanize events and issues rather than make a recitation of facts. Why should your readers care about the event you’re writing about? Explain why they might. You might address this question in your opening paragraph or paragraphs, hooking your readers, then move on to more of the nuts and bolts of your topic.
Think of it like the difference between Dragnet and telling a friend a story over coffee. A news report might be “Just the facts, ma’am.” Your feature will be friendlier, though not at the risk of solid facts and research.
Features in Magazines
Features often appear in magazines, although they also appear in newspapers and on websites. Readers tend to prefer them over straight-line hard news reports. You’ll usually find a magazine’s features toward the middle section of a magazine. This section is known as the “feature well.”
How to Write a Feature
Writing a feature begins with two important factors: your topic and how much space you can devote to it – your assigned word count. You must work within this parameter, which means you can’t stray off topic. You should, however, go into as much depth as possible. This usually includes conducting interviews and gathering background information. For example, a news report might read:
“Witnesses report that the pipe burst at 1:32 p.m.”
A feature might read:
“Joe Smith said he saw the pipe burst from his kitchen window just as he was cleaning up from lunch, at 1:32 p.m. “Water shot 10 feet high and drenched everyone in sight,” Smith said.”
Features typically include expert opinions. Why did the pipe burst? You might get statements from a knowledgeable pipefitter explaining likely problems the pipe may have had. Did any passersby sustain injuries? A news report would most likely give a yes or no answer to that, and, if so, cite the number of injured bystanders.
A feature would delve into whether the city or municipality that was responsible for maintaining the pipe might be liable for those injuries. It could include a statement from someone in authority at the city or municipality regarding the incident and whether that person believes any negligence might have occurred.
The idea behind a feature is to go one step further: You’re not just telling your reader what happened. You’re explaining why it’s important, who is affected and presenting the big picture.
References: the balance