NEWS FEATURES: "Bringing you the
news behind the news..."
Notes by Chris Horrie
These are longer "wrap up articles" printed on or
around the news pages of a newspaper or during a scheduled
news bulletin to fill out the details left out of a fast breaking
News features are the main feature format used in news bulletins
and outside the designated "features" sections of
newspapers and magazines.
Style is similar to normal news writing, but may have a multi-point "washing
line" introduction instead of simple summary WHO-WHERE-WHAT-WHEN
Normally written by the news-desk. Often have a heavy emphasis
Examples can be found in any national newspaper. Also BBC
News Online; Sunday Times News Review section; Time magazine;
Newsweek magazine; The Economist; The Spectator; The New Statesman.
Trade press – any major B2B title. Consumer press, not
so much. They tend to be too far off the news agenda (partic.
Writing depends heavily on access to "press clippings" -
the archive of articles previously published on the subject.
The classic example would be a train crash. The crash is the
news, but the news feature would be a "wrap up" of
all train crashes in the recent (and maybe distant) past to
give the reader a full briefing.
The approach is the same on radio and TV where the anchor
will introduce "our transport correspondent Sid X..." to
do the wrap up, perhaps with archive sound or pictures.
The TV equivalent to the newspaper "news feature" is
the 3 min "package" mini-feature on the Today programme;
on Newsnight (they love them) or on Channel Four news. If the
package/mini-feature is related to the news we say it is "pegged" to
the news. Almost all news features have to be pegged in some
way. But this can be tangential - eg a big thing on Global
Warming to mark the official arrival of winter; or something
about rising transfer fees for footballers to mark the start
of a new football season, etc, etc.
Because of the reliance on press clippings, these types of
features are often known as "clippings jobs". The
method is essentially to assemble all the press clips and write
up an account. Probably there will be a similar "clipping
job" from last time the same sort of event happened. The
job then is to put a new "top" on the story. When
printed it too will go in the clipping library (or less likely,
but possible, an electronic storage system for radio and TV
output. Then when it happens again it will be dusted off and
so on forever.
The best funded news organisations have MASSIVE clippings
libraries (eg Press Association; Wapping; BBC) which makes
this types of work quick and easy. At the BBC you can call
up as many clips as you like on an electronic archive called
NEON (try it, if and when you are on attachment there). You
can't have access as a freelance. PA allows you to do it but
charges around £50 an hour. But you name a subject or
a person and you will get absolutely everything printed about
the subject in every paper in tabloids and broadsheets going
back for 50 years.
Getting press clippings ("the clips") for students
to practice on used to be an absolute nightmare. But now you
can use the fully searchable story archive at ELECTRONIC TELEGRAPH
(put "electronic telegraph uk" in Google. You need
to register the first time you use it) and also search
the archive at BBC NEWS ONLINE.
Both go back to the mid-90s and provide all you need to practice
writing news "backgrounder" features while you
are a student.
A very effective online press clipings service called InfoLinx
is available through the Unviersity of Westminster library
Writing/presenting style for this type of feature is basically
secondary to understanding the format. You can study the style
by looking at or listening to the dozens of news features and
A typical example, if we need to discuss one, can be found here.
A news feature written by CH for BBC news online, filling out
the news that the US had named Osma Bin Laden as the world's
most wanted man, and assessing where he might be hiding. It
is nothing special - just a typical example of a news feature.
Note the importance of "graphic journalism" - a feature
of all news feature writing.
Even classier would be the the classic is the Sunday Times
black-ink; numbered boxes of a plane crash, etc, done as a
cartoon strip. You can see these every week in the Sunday Times
news review section. Part of your job when writing or "packaging" a
news feature is briefing picture researchers and graphics people.
A news feature without pictures is not much good to anyone,
now we are in a mainly visual TV-led news environment.
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