In general the factual content in newspapers,
magazines, websites and on TV and radio can be divided into
NEWS and FEATURES.
Features can be defined negatively as all the editorial matter
in a newspaper, magazine or radio or TV schedule with is FACTUAL
but which is not NEWS (in the sense of happened immediately).
It follows that products like monthly magazines (which are
not in a position to print any news) must consist almost entirely
of feature material. A rolling TV or radio news schedule, on
the other hand, selling entirely on having the latest news
and therefore has relatively little news. Newspapers, which
get beat to breaking stories by the electronic media, have
a mixture of news and features. The same is true of scheduled/formatted
news shows on radio and TV (eg The Today Programme; Newsnight;
Channel Four News) which mix genuine news with mini-features
to fill out to the scheduled length.
It is often said of newspapers (and electronic news programmes)
that "people come for the news, but stay for the features".
Features are also very important in setting the "tone" for
newspapers. Basically the news is the news (particularly when
there's a clear news story like the World Trade Center attack)
and there is little for the consumer to choose between one
title and another.
This all important "differentiation" is achieved
by feature material. For all these reasons the features
content of newspapers has increased in recent years - the process
of "featurisation" - so that newspapers increasing
work like daily magazines aimed at particular markets (editors
know that readers will normally get the "hard" news
from the BBC the previous evening, so it won't sell the paper
the following morning. Note the way in which broadsheet newspapers,
in particular, now run feature "puffs" (adverts for
articles) above the title. When folded in the newsagents these "puffs" in
the "flannel panel" are what potential purchasers
Some differences between news and features...
(inc "word pictures" on radio)
Aimed at whole audience Aimed
a "niche" sections of the readership
Length varies (importance) Length
fixed by editorial structure/TV radio /news agenda
Defined styles Many
styles/ generic types
Pictures useful Pictures
Published instantly Published
according to schedule
Done by staff reporters Done
by production staff/ freelancers
Event-led ("the news agenda") Production-led
(fitting schedule/structure of mag/newspaper
UNDERSTANDING FEATURE "FORMATS"
There is no such thing as "a feature" or "a documentary"
as such. The key to feature writing is to understand the various
FORMATS such as the confessional interview; the news feature;
the consumer review; profiles and investigations and so on.
The definition of these formats varies from journalism school
to journalism school and between editors and professional feature-writers
(it is more of an art than a science). But the ones discussed
on this web are the most common ones.
In many ways SUBJECT MATTER is secondary to the format. Think
about a TV schedule. The Parkinson show is a format - a chat
show. It is always the a chat show, regardless of who is on
it. Likewise the Today programme always has a feature interview
at about 8.05am every morning, and they are always treated
in the same way. The format/schedule of the programme means
there has to be one, otherwise the programme would just be
Likewise a newspaper will always have a profile on page X;
a comment piece on page Y; a news feature over the the first
few pages after the proper (more variable) news pages; a horoscope
on page Z; a feature interview with a sports star on the cover
of the sports supplement and so on. Magazines are even more
heavily formatted (advertising is sold to be included next
to a particular type of feature).
All of this is also true of the trade press; and specialist
consumer magazines. The formats rarely vary, only our old friend
THE AGENDA. Sometimes there are hybrid formats - but it is
rare for one of them to catch on.
If you want to FREELANCE as a feature writer the first step
is to understand the formats used by the title you want to
write for; mastering the style of that format (it is not about
your own style) and then obtaining the subject matter for that
format/section of the newspaper or magazine.
With experience you will be able to spot these formats across
a variety of newspapers and magazine, TV and radio shows and
see how similar they are. As with most things in journalism
the difference between titles is more about the AGENDA than
the style and format (which tend to always be the same). So
both Bella magazine and the Financial Times might both have
a regular PROFILE FORMAT type piece (in the FT it is called "People
in the News"). The main difference is that in Bella it
would be a TV star and for the FT it would be the chief executive
of some company or other.
To understand more read about the different types of feature
format described in these pages. Compare the formats to feature
articles as they appear in newspapers and magazines until you
You need to do this before you can get very far with practical
work. Practical feature writing, once you understand formats,
becomes much less daunting and mainly a matter of researching
subject matter suitable for a particular format.
Please comment or update these notes by adding information or comments on the blog below.