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America’s Best Newspaper Writing- Features and Profiles

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Feature writing, which started out as the over sensationalized yellow journalism, is human-interest stories. People want to read about people so why not connect news to individual lives? Feature writing “finds the human behind the celebrity” and “celebrates the life of uncommonly common people.” Feature writers, like all good journalists, need to be hard workers and good listeners. However the role of the feature writer is much different than the investigative journalist. The feature writer does not exploit his sources, he uses virtues to gain access to these sources. Feature writers must represent their subjects with fairness, honesty, thoroughness, and courtesy. The stories of these sources are then combined with the issues of today as a powerful reflection.

Cynthia Gorney recognizes all aspects of a good profile by including detail, observation, quotes, testimonies from friends and family, biography and history. She gives the advice to find a writer you love and read all you can of that writer. To do a feature story, you have to passionately interested in everything, or else your lack of passion will show through your story. She echoes the personality of her subject (Dr. Seuss) in her writing.

Saul Pett tests the limits of traditional journalism. He varies sentence structure and length to give the story a rhythm and he fills his stories with metaphors. He brings a personal side to the story by mimicking how the subjects speak. For example, he writes out “bill-y-on” in one of Ed Koch’s quotes to portray how Koch speaks. This is a unique technique that you don’t see in many stories. Another unique writing approach is Mirta Ojito’s writing in first person. It brings a more personal and therefore more universal approach to the story. However, the most unique tactic I’ve ever seen was the one in Ken Fuson’s story about the weather. The article is literally two sentences, 1 short one and 1 extremely long one. This is something you hardly ever seen, and wouldn’t want to see much of, but in certain instances it works and fascinates.

One writer that I found incredibly observant was Tommy Tomlinson. He noticed every little detail about his subject, like how the subject’s “eyebrow rose over the rim of his glasses.”

Other great writing:

Fatal Distraction by Gene Weingarten

This piece is about parents accidently killing their children by forgetting them in their cars. The story is extremely sad and disturbingly descriptive, but the reason I chose this article is because it is similar to the story by David Finkel about the man who crashed the boat into the bridge. It tells the story of people who caused accidental deaths and shows their emotions throughout the story.

Pearls before Breakfast by Gene Weingarten

This story, also by Weingarten, tells the story of a world-class violinist who plays in a subway station in DC.  It mimics the subject because the story is told casually, just like the subject is casual. Weingarten also uses a unique technique by adding in caps locked lines saying things like “hold on, we’ll get you some expert help.” This also adds to the casualness.

A Muslim Leader in Brooklyn, Reconciling 2 Worlds by Andrea Elliot

I chose this story because it employs the same technique of Saul Pett’s use of metaphors. For example “his long robe billowing like a ghost through empty streets.”

A wicked wind takes aim by Julia Keller

I liked this story because of the way Keller immediately engages the reader in the lead. She tells the reader to count to ten. This gets the reader involved and wanting to know more about the story. She also uses lots of detail and observation: “the lights flickered,” “she had just pulled a frozen pizza out of the oven, ”the basement door was toward the front of the bar, under the stairs leading to the second floor.”

At a certain age, nothing is more important than fitting in by Tom Hallman Jr.

The reason I chose this story is because I think it does a great job of bringing that human perspective that feature stories are supposed to have. It tells the story of a boy with deformities who had surgery to fix them. I feel like most people think people with deformities are so different than regular people, but Hallman shows that the boy is just like any other boy. His mom bothers him to brush his teeth, he does boy scouts, he puts chocolate syrup on his cereal. He’s just like any other boy and Hallman brings that perspective to the story.


Written by juliasayers

March 11, 2011 at 10:19 am

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