News vs. features

In a few weeks’ time I will be spending several sessions teaching year seven students about writing feature articles.

Here’s how I would start to explain the difference between a news story and a feature article – in terms of the imaginary world of Insect Media.

A news story informs us succinctly that, say, another fly has been trapped in a spiderweb.

The feature article explores the circumstances of the entrapment in detail:
– Why do we know about the fly’s character? In other words, why did it fly so perilously close to a web?
– What was the lead-up to the incident? Had something provoked this risk-taking behaviour? Was the weather a factor?
– What do we know about this particular spider’s history as a fly killer?
– Was there anything unique about the shape or location of the web?
– What lessons can be taken from this tragic incident?

A news reporter lays out the facts of what happened and sometimes includes reactions from affected parties. The feature writer is more forensic. They probe deeper, spending more time on the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of what happened. If they fail to go beyond the facts reported in news (and sometimes this is very difficult) they probably haven’t succeeded … and probably won’t be published.

By the way, both styles of writing are good skills for life whether you’re a journalist or not.

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