Assessment time has crept up very quickly this term! The Professional Practice module has comprised a number of subjects:
The assessments have been set to reflect this range of subjects and aside from our final documentary pitch, final piece and written contextual analysis they form the last set of assessments on the MA! Eeeek!
So here is the brief:
Practical portfolio (80%)
- A radio news bulletin (produced, edited, scripted and presented live) – 20%
- A television news bulletin (produced, edited, scripted and presented live) – 20%
- An online news story (written and uploaded to UCFJourno) – 10%
- Print Assessment – 25% – this consists of two exams on news writing and sub-editing and one 1,200 word international news feature
- A 4 1/2 minute political radio package based on one of the following topics – 25%
1. Political Restraints versus Press Freedom
2. The Role of Worldwide Governmental Bodies
3. The Role of Non Governmental Organisations
4. Religious Tolerance and Intolerance
Personal blog (20%)
A series of blog posts that reflect on and critically evaluate the radio package production process – 100%
So now we know what a feature is and what it must include. This post will explore the structure of how to write a feature.
Unlike a news story a feature has a clear beginning, middle and end. This is broken up as follows:
The first paragraph is very important. Imagine you have ten seconds to grab your reader’s attention. Here are some handy devices to consider using:
- A strong provocative statement
- An anecdote (story) to illuminate the theme of the feature
- Scene setting (description) – ‘Imagine you’re…’
- Historical background (not boring though!)
- Striking contrasts – can inject urgency and special interest, although be careful about overusing the maybe/but formula
- A question – that focuses the reader (although this can be considered lazy so don’t overuse) Also if you start with a question do not end your feature also on a question
- A striking quote
- Never start with the ‘when’
Aside from these it is important to remember that in feature writing you can BREAK THE RULES! Sometimes it really works to do this.
If the above don’t help you and you are more of a broadcast journalist who thinks in images then try thinking cinematically:
- Start with a close-up and then pan out to widescreen
- Or do reverse…start with a wide-shot and then close in
- Start at the end or the middle
Main body of copy
After hooking your reader in with the introduction you need a ‘nub par’ – nub = crux of and par = paragraph. So this is a paragraph that tells the reader what the piece is actually about. The relevance of writing the feature. This must be in the first five to six paragraphs of the feature.
Generally a paragraph should be about 50 words.
Key points to remember:
- Stick to your brief and what is relevant to that (not nice to know but need to know)
- Keep checking you are following a line of argument for your angle
- Maintain balance although you can also be subjective by having more of a focus on one side
- Don’t use too many quotes and only use those critical to your angle
- Don’t write in the first person
- Turn yourself into the reader and keep going back to the beginning and reading through
- Think about the tone you want to adopt
- Vary your sentence type (long, short)
- Think interesting, lively and accessible
- Try to introduce a new nugget of information in each paragraph
- Make sure the paragraphs flow together with linking words and phrases
This could be your last few paragraphs. Use them to conclude.
Produce a strong ending. Also unlike when writing news stories in the pyramid style, where the ending will be the first thing to get cut, the ending is crucial in a feature and will therefore not be the first element to be cut if it needs to be shortened.
You may choose to:
- Tie in with the beginning
- Use a strong quote – that perhaps throws it forward to the future
- Raise a pointed question
- Never use cliche’s like ‘only time will tell’…
Feature writing is quite exciting as it’s the first time on our MA International Journalism course where we are allowed to really explore a topic in detail and write in a different style to the succinct news style we’ve been practicing so far.
There are some key things to remember when writing a feature:
- Find a unique angle – something to grab your reader
- A good feature makes you laugh, cry, think
- Find a human angle
- It is good to pick something that you are an expert at
- Bring to light a distinctive part of an issue/event or person
- Your angle should reveal a side to a story that previously has not been explored
- Include facts (fact boxes and graphics can help to bring these alive)
- Plenty of original sources and quotes give a feature credibility
Types of feature
- News – this provides background and analysis to a news story or ongoing story
- Profile – of a person, organisation, event
- Specialist – on certain topic/theme
- Review – not necessarily a ‘proper’ feature but can count
- Column – an opinion piece, usually by an expert
- Advertorial – not journalism, but PR. A paid for article about a product/service to make it seem less like an advert
What does a feature do?
- Inform – tell the reader something they didn’t know
- Persuade – tell the reader how they should feel about something, what they should do
- Entertain – amuse
- Educate – provide background and understanding
What do you need to consider when writing a feature?
- Know your audience – which publication? How many people buy and read it? Average age of reader? Male or female? Lifestyle of person? Job of person? Where do they live? Political/social/religious affiliations? Disposable income? Interests?
- Define your angle – the main slant/approach/interpretation. This will frame your questions and research. Think original.
- What is your peg? – it must be topical. Why am I writing this now? Why is this interesting to my readers?
- Research – quotes and facts – quotes are the lifeblood of a story. Do not forget the importance of setting the context with facts and information. You can get opinion and analysis across through quotes – this is stronger than just giving your opinion.
- Internet research – look beyond wikipedia. Ensure you are using credible sites. Don’t plagiarise by lifting quotes from other articles. Always cite your source.
- Think cover lines/visual – plan the shape of your feature before starting to research/interviewing. Have a vision of the end layout of your feature. Think of appropriate photos/graphics/video footage to accompany. Think about the ‘cover line’ – what would sell/attract readers?
News and feature writing module for print/online
This module seems quite intense so far but really good and definitely very useful. I came onto the course to focus on video but after 2 lessons in writing I’m really enjoying it and learning a great deal and see the importance of it regardless of what specialism I would like to take.
The module covers:
- Theory – pyramid. This really makes sense and is a great tool to visualise as you are writing a story.
- What type of story? – who? and what? are the most common.
- Use strong active verbs and avoid passive constructions (although can be used in a who story for impact)
- “It is a means of imparting information as quickly and efficiently as possible”
- Intro – 10 – 25 words MAX. This is like the ‘top line’ in broadcast.
We have weekly assignments and timed practical’s in class to get us used to writing well and under pressure. Click here to read my first assignment – an article on housing for asylum seekers in Britain.
Lesson two: news writing
- Feedback on assignments – I received at 2:1 for my first article which I was pleased with! Comments included formatting/style of quotes and that it would have been nice to have included another quote for more balance in the piece….a good start to print I think!
- Tips and rules on using quotes and punctuation…there are many and they are quite specific!
- Timed exercise – 50 minutes to write a 450 word article on the Pakistan floods from a media pack and 2 videos. This had to be submitted electronically and it was on a timer so meeting the deadline was key. We were told we HAD to submit in order to receive feedback…eek! I did feel the pressure initially but got on with it and managed to submit 358 words and an image…it will be interesting to get feedback next week and see how well I did writing under pressure!
- Homework assignment set – we were given an article and told to re-structure it conforming to the ‘pyramid’.
Lesson three: sub editing
- Given back our structure assignment – I did pretty well here, with 4 out of the 5 top lines in the correct place! I had included a quote higher in the story than was necessary and after explanation I realised that it wasn’t an essential but rather a ‘nice to know.’
- Feedback on the timed Pakistan article given. I was really interested to get this feedback as I wasn’t really sure how I’d done! I got another 4/5 marks – so a 2:1 which I was very happy to see! He liked my piece despite not having met the word count in the time given. He suggested a couple of changes such as swapping the order of two paragraphs.
- Sub editing introduction – why, what and how
- ‘Building the furniture‘ – the elements used in print such as headlines, sub heads, bylines….etc.
- Headline and sub heads practice….I found out this area is NOT my strong point!! For a Sun article about John Prescott’s mobile phone going off at a Chinese wedding he attended I suggested……’Prezza: ring-mein’!!! – Yes, that’s right! I was trying to be clever with the whole use of the word ‘ring’ (phone and wedding ring) and link it to China (chinese food….chow mein)….anyway, I think that’s enough said about that!
- Timed sub-editing practice
- Homework sub-editing assignment set
Lesson four: feature writing
- This week was our first session on feature writing. A lot was covered so I’ve dedicated a separate blog post to telling you all about how to write a feature!
- Homework for this week is to read eight news articles and gain inspiration for two features.
Lesson five: feature writing
- Homework feedback – I was surprised that my ideas were quite well received, given that I had not put a lot of thought and time into them. This gives me a bit of confidence for pitching my assessment feature soon!
- Our second session on feature writing covered structure of a piece and involved a short exercise where we had to write a couple of ideas for intros of a feature from some copy we were given. I got some good feedback which was surprising as I felt so tired I just put down the first thoughts in my head – maybe this is a good tip….not to over think all the time!
- You can click here to read some tips on feature writing structure.
- Our homework for this week – prepare a proposal for our assessment feature! Now this is going to need some thought!