UPDATE: Since doing the session I read this post – Small is beautiful: your guide to becoming a global micro-publishing phenomenon – which chimes with some of the issues I raised in my talk. It is an excellent piece for understanding how you might make money from publishing
Later on today – in about 2 hours – I am running a class on feature writing. I’m covering for Mike the lecturer who is currently stuck in Italy. As a part of my preparations I thought I’d pull together a few links that I’ll be sharing tonight (see below). I have doodled a couple of images as a way of sharing my thinking. The one
above (jeepers, I drew the pyramid the wrong way round and discovered that when I put it up in the class #fail) represents the traditional structure of a news story. I know social media means the lifecycle of a story and the process of harvesting, filtering and checking is complex but the end news ‘story’ still tends to fit this structure.
The main thrust of my thinking is that stories for feature writers tend to exist already and may have been told in other ways – in news, on film etc – which means picking up on something that exists and building on it. I don’t see a start and end in a traditional sense, more a story flow with ups and downs of activity. A one thousand-word feature might sit in this activity but it will form only one part of it as publishing content is always the start of something – for example, as conversation starter in the comments section of the article.
I haven’t drawn a doodle to describe the feature itself. It would look the same and within the feature there would be ups and downs of ‘excitement’ to keep the reader reading. For example, opening a feature with a provocative quote is a powerful way to catch the eye. This can be followed by context, research, data, counter-points to help provide hotspots of interest within the story (see story arcs below).
I’ll start by setting the context with this interview with Paul Mason, economics editor on the BBC’s Newsnight. He shares his advice for new journalists and also these three tips which I think are useful for any would-be journalist:
- Know nothing and ask obvious questions.
- Inquire about the new not just the old.
- Understand the content of the future.
Listen to the interview
In the session I’ll be asking a few questions, including:
What do you like writing about and why?
I’d like to tap into the passion first and foremost. It never ceases to amaze me what people are interested in and why. Think this is a good place to start if you want to write.
What is a feature?
well, that’s what we are here to talk about so be good to have a sense of what we think one is.
What a feature is not
Always helpful in defining what something is – share what it is not.
What are the different types of feature format?
This follows on from our definition – be good to explore ideas around this. It is more than words, I would argue.
What is the journalist’s role in feature writing?
In our world of abundant opinion I’d like to explore some of what journalism is actually about ie impartiality, balance and creating that through reserach, context and quotes.
When does a feature start and when does it stop?
This image below is my attempt at saying that features are just a part of already present stories and narratives and that our digital world means we can let the story unfold in many ways. Our story will be moving on other narratives that already exist.
Who is it for?
Here we will talk about audience and publications – having a deep undersdtanding of who we are doing this for, especially of the aim is to get paid for it.
How to make it happen?
The students have to write a 1,000 word feature as a part of their course work. I’d like them to leave the session feeling inspired, full of ideas and a sense of how to do it.
And here are some resources to go with the session.
- Writing and reporting advice from 4 of The Washington Post’s best
- Feature writing advice from Stylist’s Associate Editor
- Principles of good writing
- Out with the long
- How to interview
- 6 ways of communicating data journalism (The inverted pyramid of data journalism part 2)
- George Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing (in the paper Politics and the English Language). And they are (he added a sixth, by the way):
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
I’d also like to explore long-form journalism, using some of these links as a guide:
- A Q&A on Longform with Esquire’s Mike Sager
- Definition of ‘new journalism’
- How to Structure A Story: The Eight-Point Arc
And last but not least, we have to remember the challenge we face in creating compelling content for users who spend seconds on your content before potentially disappearing.
Well, that’s my thinking for the session. We’ll see how it goes . . .