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News Reporting and Writing
Soft News & Features
Gerry Doyle
“Soft news” and features
 Basically, any type of story that is not hard
news.
 A story about an interesting subject that you
come upon, either by accident, or because you
specifically went out looking for it.
 The story is about something the general public
would be interested in knowing about.
Hard news v. soft news
 Hard news usually deals with serious topics:
war, murder, fire, a protest or a speech.
 Soft news and features: lighter, less urgent and
less somber topics: How to buy a cat; a profile
of a clown.
 But features can also be hard-hitting: consider
“Snow Fall”
Timely and timeless
 A timely feature is related to the hard news of
the day, but looks at that news from another
angle.
 A timeless feature can stand on its own and
run at any time.
The marks of a feature
 Features can be “soft news” – less urgent events
that are not as swiftly reported.
 More time for research, interviews and
observations.
 Focus, writing tone and story structure are all
different from news stories.
 Requires a different type of lead.
The marks of a feature
 Feature stories still have to get the reader interested
enough to read through the rest of the story.
 The “nut graf ”: a paragraph or paragraphs that
explain the point of the story.
 The “nut graf ” serves the same purpose as the lead in a
hard news story.
The Ken Wells Theory
 “There are only two kinds of [feature] stories:
the ‘no [email protected]#&’ story and the ‘holy [email protected]#&’
story.”
The “no [email protected]#&” feature
 Tells readers something they already know.
 Spouts conventional wisdom.
 Belabors the obvious:
-- There’s violence and drug-related crime in the
inner cities of the United States.
The “Holy [email protected]#&” feature
 Surprises.
 Teaches.
 Might even vex or disturb.
 But it never bores.
 Gang members who have been shot get tricked-out
wheelchairs with gold wheels and custom spokes.
Feature topics
 Lifestyles: issues and
trends that affect our
minds (goals, jobs,
families,
relationships) and
bodies (trends in
fashion and fitness).
Feature topics
 Health: Your
audience wants
advice on improving
their health. This
includes dieting tips,
exercise advice and
medical news.
Feature topics
 Science and
technology: These
cover technology, the
environment,
computer gadgets.
Feature topics
 Entertainment:
What people do for
fun – movies,
concerts, theater, art
galleries, books,
recordings, computer
games, restaurants,
beer festivals.
Feature topics
 Food: Advice on
how to buy it, cook it
and even grow it.
Feature topics
 Home and garden:
How to dig it, weed
it, build it, repair,
redecorate and
rewire it.
Types of stories
 The personality profile: A portrait in words about
someone worth reading about. People want to know
how newsmakers think, talk, act and look. Profiles can
also be about places.
 Human-interest story: When you have a tale to tell
about people. The situation can be tragic, funny, odd or
inspirational.
Types of stories
 Color story: In this case, “color” means flavor or
mood. Focus is on events: parades, strikes, festivals,
funerals, rallies and even disasters. Interview
participants and report on the sights and sounds.
 Behind-the-scenes: A story where you take your
audience “behind the curtain” of some event or
ongoing news story.
Types of stories
 Trend story: Keep audience plugged in to the people,
places, things and ideas affecting our culture. The
latest, hottest, coolest, oddest.
 Reaction story: A sampling of opinions to big news.
Experts, victims, “ordinary” people are interviewed.
Types of stories
 Flashback: Commemorative stories – the 15th
anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China;
the fifth anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake.
 How-to: Teach the audience how to do something:
invest money, lose weight, win big at a Macau casino.
Types of stories
 Consumer guide: A public service category. Where to
buy the cheapest shoes, the best dim sum. Almost
everything we do, buy or eat can be rated.
 Personal narrative: Written in first person, which is
rarely practiced. But if you have a powerful experience,
personal narrative is an effective tool to use.
Types of stories
 Memoir: Someone’s trip down memory lane.
 Explanatory: Also called an analysis. Writer seeks to
explain the issues or answer questions raised by some
news event. Or, explain how something works.
Types of stories
 Participatory: The reporter takes part in something.
 Historical: The reporter takes the reader back to some
important event or person.
 Seasonal: Stories that work in certain types of the year.
Types of stories
 Adventure: Someone’s unique trip, voyage or
expedition, or encounter with nature.
 Travel: Stories about interesting places that we might
want to visit.
Types of stories
 Occupational: Describing how a person performs their
job.
 Backgrounder: Through research and interviews you
focus on an issue or event. You explain how it
happened, why it matters and what comes next.
Summing up
 The reporter still has to answer the who, what, when,
where, why and how.
 But additionally, you are putting a human dimension
in your story.
 And you add context – a way of making your story
important and relevant to your audience.
Summing up
 Incite emotions: joy, curiosity, sadness, anger or other
emotions.
 And remember, good feature stories have strong
themes – the essential idea of what the story is about.
 Good features help your audience think, see, hear and
feel.
Homework
Read: “English Language News Writing,” Pages 115-125.