Organizing the Feature Story
The intro is the most important part of any news story. It should be direct, simple and attention-grabbing.
The intro should contain the most important elements of the story - but not the whole story. The details can be told later.
It should arouse the interest of the reader or listener, and be short. Normally it should be one sentence of not more than 20 words for print media, and fewer for radio and television. First you must decide what makes the story news.
The intro is the most important part of the news story, because it determines whether the rest of the story will be read.If the intro is dull the reader will not want to read on. If it is too complicated the reader will give up.
Also not all possible intros are appropriate. It would be wrong to write a humorous intro for a story about a tragedy. Serious news stories call for serious intros.
Your time and effort in gathering information and writing the story will all be wasted unless you write a good intro.
Short and Simple
Your intro should normally be no longer than 20 words. There is no minimum length. An intro of 10 or 12 words can be very effective. Usually, an intro will be one sentence. However, two short sentences are better than one long, crowded and confused sentence.
You should not try to give too much detail in the intro. The six main questions which journalists try to answer - Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? - will all need to be answered in your news story, but they should not all be answered in your intro.
The golden rule for intro-writing is KISS - Keep It Short and Simple.
Your readers or listeners will be provided with the most important information straight away. Even if they stop reading or listening after the first one or two sentences, they will still have an accurate idea of what the story is about.
One simple way to do this is to imagine yourself arriving back at your office and being asked by the chief of staff: "What happened?" Your quick answer to that question, in very few words, should be the basis of your intro.
With some years of experience, you will find that you can recognize the most newsworthy aspect of a story almost without thinking.
• The purpose of the intro
The intro should be based on the most newsworthy aspect of the story
The intro should be kept short, uncluttered and relevant to the main story
It should be simple grammatically
The intro should make the reader want to read the rest of the story
The intro should be appropriate in style to the story
Before you write anything, you have to decide what is the most newsworthy aspect of the story. To do this, let us remind ourselves of the main criteria for news:
Is it new?
Is it unusual?
Is it interesting or significant?
Is it about people?
Any fact or opinion which meets some or all of these criteria is called a key point. All the key points belong in the news story, but only the most newsworthy belong in the intro. It is your job to decide which.
Go through your notes, go through the handouts and, on a piece of paper, list all the key points.
Now go through the list of key points, ranking them in order of newsworthiness, according to the criteria we have just mentioned.
The key point which best meets the criteria will be number one on your list.
In most events journalists report on, there will be multiple ways of looking at the facts.
The news angle is that aspect of a story which we choose to highlight and develop. We do not do this by guesswork, but by using the four criteria for news (how new, unusual or significant), which helped us to select our key points.
The news angle is really nothing more than the most newsworthy of all our key points.
Writing the Intro
• When writing your intro:
List the key points
Put the key points in order of importance
Choose the main key points as your news angle for the intro
Preparing the Intro
By applying the approach of identifying the key points and ranking them in order before you write, you should be able to write an intro for any story. Remember the intro should be:
Twenty words or less
Attractive to the reader
Appropriate in style
Just as an artist develops an eye for subtle coloring and learns to portray it in a painting, so must the feature writer learn to see life and his surroundings with an
inquiring mind that demands to know all the answers. He must keep his eyes open for stories all the time, on duty and off.
SOURCES OF FEATURE IDEAS
Look around you. What ideas for possible feature stories do you see?
The power of observation -- the ability to accept nothing at face value,
but to dig into unanswered questions below the surface of the event – is an invaluable asset to the feature writer.
Sometimes the idea is obvious. Sometimes it is hidden. The ability to take bare facts from the news page and to give them meaning can produce a good feature article. But the feature must reflect local interest.
For example, when a news story announces a change in the town's property tax base, the feature writer can show how this change will affect the local
home owner. Thus, the writer localizes the news story for the reader and gives it expanded meaning.
It takes an alert writer to turn bare facts and sometimes dull items into
interesting, meaningful articles.
Focus and Outline
You might decide to limit the ground you will cover in the story.
Focusing means to test your collected facts against the original idea you
identified in the first step of this process, and to redefine the idea if the facts no longer support your original thesis.
Ask yourself: What is this story about? Why am I writing it? What is the main point to tell the readers? Write down your main point in the form of a sentence.
The chronological pyramid has a strong lead, a brief bridge, and the body is written in the order in which events happened. The body usually leads up to a strong, climactic conclusion.
The feature pyramid uses a strong lead and an ending that is equal, or nearly equal, in importance to the lead. It is perhaps the most common form used. Facts are given in order of increasing importance, and this is the most common structure in feature writing.
The feature story usually includes these parts: the lead, bridge, body
• The Lead grabs the reader's attention and "sells" the story
• The Bridge is a transition between the lead and body
• The Body develops the story with details
• The Ending may leave the reader with a strong conclusion or summary
This helps you identify the facts that fit. It can be a formal process with headings and subheadings. Or it can be as informal as tearing pages out of your notebook and reordering them.
The point is,some form of outline will help you order the facts so you know how to begin, what to put into the middle and how to end your story. Very often
the difference between writing a difficult story and a simple one is an outline.
You must leave out facts that don't pertain to the focus you've established. Just
because the source gave you an interesting quote doesn't mean it must be
Use only facts that fit. Often a person has other interesting hobbies or aspects of his life. Mention them, but don't get sidetracked
We have different choices at this point for writing the rest of the story.
We could tell it chronologically - that means in the time order in which the events happened.
Or we can tell it in descending order of importance of the key points.
We can also use a combination of these two approaches, i.e. we can begin by giving the key points in descending order then fill in the less important details in chronological order.
Before we hand the story in to our chief of staff or news editor, there are two more things we have to do to make sure that it is accurate; we must check for mistakes and we must check for missing details.
Inexperienced journalists are often so relieved that they have actually written a story that they forget to check it properly. You should read your story through several times before handing it in.
Whichever option we choose, there must be a clear logic behind the way the story is told. This will make it easy for the reader to follow and understand it.
You must choose a clear and simple sequence for telling the facts and giving relevant opinions. In this way your readers or listeners will not become confused.
Elements of Journalism
The actual length of the news story should not be confused with the strength of the story.
Some very strong stories about major issues may be written in a few sentences, while relatively minor stories can sometimes take a lot of space.
Whatever the length of the story, the place where we stop writing, should be the same. That is the level at which further details fail to meet the criteria for newsworthiness.
As with writing the intro, if you follow a step-by-step approach to the rest of the story you will make your task simpler and easier.
The amount of detail which you include will be different for print and broadcasting. If you are writing for a newspaper, you will need to include as much relevant detail as possible.
If you are writing for radio or television you will give much less detail.
The conclusion of all good feature stories should be appropriate to the mood of the story and to the type of structure in which the story was written.
As in the lead, the writer is limited only by his ability in composing a conclusion.
There are several types of endings which are commonly used in feature writing: summary, stinger, climax, unending, wrap-up, tie-back and combination.
Summary ending-- Summarizes the story for the readers
Stinger ending-- Presents a startling fact or surprise
Climax ending-- An obvious or logical ending to a story
Unending-ending-- Leaves the reader hanging,outcome is still uncertain
Wrap-up -- Ties up any loose ends, answers a question or solves a problem
Tie-back -- Refers back to an idea, key word or quote planted earlier
Combination -- combines two or more of the above types
Remember to refer to the following to help develop your organizational skills when planning and laying out your feature.
Use the lead to set the tone or mood of the story and make sure that it is appropriate to the type of story you are writing.
Develop the bridge so that it links the lead to the body of the story and try to carry the tone or mood of the lead throughout to help maintain your story's focus.
• Avoid using clichés
• Use vivid verbs and nouns
• Give appropriate description of the people, places and things
• Delete unnecessary, nonfunctional adjectives and adverbs
• Use meaningful quotes to humanize the story and assist in its flow
• Use transitions to carry the reader from one thought to another
• Alternate sentence and paragraph length
• Ensure that your feature is free of any factual errors
• Ensure that your feature is free of libelous statements and does not
• violate security, accuracy, policy or propriety