BusinessDay

Mass media: Feature writing

Feature writing is one of the forms of writing found in print media and their electronic forms. It is essential to clarify that, with the advent of the Internet and social media, the boundaries of print and electronic media now overlap, with print media now having their electronic versions and live televisions. While feature writing is similar to news in a few ways, there are obvious differences in these two forms of information dissemination.

A news story is a timely report of an odd and catchy event. The most essential attribute of news is timeliness. A story or a report is newsworthy if it is broadcast just as it happens. A feature is an in-depth write-up on a topical issue that seeks to provide information and/or clarification captivatingly. The rest of this piece will discuss the similarities and differences between news and features, and also explain the characteristics, types, and parts of a good feature.

On the one hand, the primary similarity between news and a feature is that both are factual reports. They are not fabricated stories, but accurate reports of situations. Also, both give accounts of societal realities. On the other hand, while a news report has to be timely, a feature could be a little delayed. News reports come in bits, but features are usually comprehensive. A feature is usually longer than its news value can justify. While a news report is businesslike, a feature is more flexible, colourful, and stylish. Lastly, a newscaster or a writer does not infuse his/her thoughts into the report. A feature writer draws inferences from the information available to him/her and gives a conclusion and, sometimes, recommendations at the end of the feature.

Moving on, these two forms of writing also slightly differ in the functions they perform. While news reports account for immediate happenings, thereby putting readers in the know, features enlighten readers on the realities surrounding the news. Also, features serve more functions than straight news by addressing general issues that can be read for pleasure and general knowledge. Topics such as ‘Can intellectuals too make brand ambassadors?’, ‘Sex for marks: the other side of the same coin’ and ‘Christmas: a call for personal reflection’, as have been published by this writer, are examples of features.

Readers would also find a discussion on the sources of topics for features beneficial. The ideas to be developed in a feature can come from different sources such as breaking news. When there is a newsbreak, a feature writer can come up with details on such news. For instance, if the president of a country offers a citizen a ministerial position, a feature writer may want to present a piece to the general public on the personality and the suitability of such an individual for the appointment.

Also, feature articles can be propelled by seasons, times of the year, and special occasions, such as the example cited about Christmas and personal reflection. Evident societal issues such as poor infrastructure and educational challenges can also prompt feature articles. Features can equally be written about institutions, historical places, events, and whatnot. Insight and ingenuity will, however, keep the feature writer perpetually on his keypads or writing note.

Read also: Mass media: Writing an editorial

Before presenting the parts of a feature, it is important to state that a feature writer must select a catchy topic, after which s/he would source information on the subject matter of the feature through library sources, Internet surfing, personal observations, and structured and unstructured interviews. After gathering the information, the writer will have to create a framework for the article by drafting an outline that will show the sequential, chronological, and logical orders of the ideas to be developed.

The first or opening part of a feature is the lead. This term also applies to news. The writer will decide what to foreground in the introduction. Notwithstanding the individual choice, few things must be achieved in the introductory part of a feature:

1. It must catch the attention of the readers and endear them to the piece from beginning to end.

2. It should be clear, concise, and unambiguous, leading the readers to the focus of the piece.

3. The introduction must show the content knowledge of the writer, which must give the readers the assurance that the writer has vital information to communicate.

The second part of a feature is the body. The body should contain sufficient information to sustain the interest of the readers. Note that these pieces of information should follow a logical order. The writer must avoid things that make a piece boring to readers, such as grammatical and punctuation errors, incorrect information, narrow vocabulary, and grandiloquence (the use of high-sounding words). This infers that however informative the feature is, the pot of soup can be spoilt by too many or too few ingredients in terms of words. To want to be a writer and care less about grammar and vocabulary is to daydream.

Finally, a feature should have a conclusion. The ideas in the piece are tied together in this part and inferences are drawn. The concluding part of a feature can repeat the crux of the piece, summarise the focus of the feature, call for action on the part of the readers or stakeholders and/or give a general admonition on a significant societal issue.

In summary, features are used to comment on various topics emerging from society. This piece, thus, exposes its readers to the fundamentals of writing a good feature.

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