We often use news stories and feature stories interchangeably as if they mean the same thing. The truth couldn’t be any farther. Feature stories or features, as they are more commonly called, are intrinsically different from news stories. While the line at times might become blurred, the differences sustain by and large under the general circumstances. Having said that, it is rather difficult to put the difference in specific terms.
What Is a Feature Story?
To begin with, Oxford Dictionary defines a feature article as “a newspaper or magazine article that deals in depth with a particular topic.” Cambridge Dictionary is a little more encompassing when it calls a feature article as, “a special article in a newspaper or magazine, or a part of a television or radio broadcast that deals with a particular subject.” In very simple parlance, feature stories emphasize on people, places and issues that affect the lives of readers.
Let us take a very simple example. A story that narrates the plight of the homeless people in Mumbai can be considered to be a feature story. While it is as important as a news story, it isn’t governed by the immediacy factor. Notwithstanding, a news event can also inspire a feature story. While the news story will focus on the facts and figures and reveal the 5Ws and 1H, the feature story will adopt a specific angle and go deep into it.
A feature story is not really a hard piece of news and is distinguished by the way it is written. In fact, feature stories should be unique in their style of reporting and should have a different style of writing and expression. An apt example could be the anchor piece in a newspaper, which is invariably a feature story.
It is another thing though that news writers follow the inverted pyramid structure while feature writers go by the upright pyramid structure. To be more precise, a feature must essentially conform to the three-act structure of storytelling wherein the narrative is divided into three distinct segments – the setup, the confrontation and the resolution.
The APPLAUSE Formula
According to a popular theory, a feature story must subscribe to the APPLAUSE Formula, where each letter of the word APPLAUSE stands for the following values:
- A Appeal
- P Plain Facts
- P Personalities
- L Logic
- A Action
- U Universal/ Unique
- S Significance
- E Energy/ Enthusiasm
Let us now try to comprehend the significance of each of the words used above:
Appeal: A feature must evoke interest. If it doesn’t, it can’t ever become a feature story. At some level and somewhere, it must appeal to the senses of the readers. The Syrian Refugee Crisis appeals to the emotive chord of the readers and hence it is potential feature material for most of the news organizations.
Plain Facts: Facts are stranger than fiction and so goes the adage. If we are to believe this, it becomes obvious that facts sell more than fictions do. A feature report must essentially deal with facts for it to become acceptable. A reported must ensure that the feature has enough plain facts.
Personalities: Readers like celebrities. If a feature narrates the personal story of an individual who is important enough, readers will lap it up. An interview or a biographical piece can be very interesting depending on who it deals with. We can take the example of Sachin Tendulkar’s interview published in any newspaper or a news magazine. Copies of the concerned newspaper or news magazine will automatically be sold more.
Logic: Obviously, a feature story has to conform to logical considerations. If it isn’t dictated by a natural flow of facts, no one will buy the argument inherent in the story. The story has to move from one part of the subject it is dealing with to the other part seamlessly. Let us take an example. If a story talks about the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, it has to start from how it was commissioned and flow seamlessly into an account of the protests that happened. However, if the story deliberates only on the protests without taking into consideration the background, the story will remain logically incomplete.
Action: A feature should ideally incite people into action. Only then, it fulfills its objective. What is journalism if it doesn’t spur people into doing something? The inherent purpose of journalism is to bring about a positive change and a feature is a distinct tool to do just that.
Universal/ Unique: A feature should have a decidedly universal orientation. It needs to be palatable and useful to all and sundry. It can’t necessarily target a certain section of readers alone. At the same time, the feature can do extremely well if it deals with something that is unique and essentially different.
Significance: The feature has to ideally deal with a subject matter that has impact on people’s lives. In some way or the other, the feature should have some relevance in the daily lives of people. Let us take an example. The Goods and Services Tax (GST) that was imposed on the 1st of July, 2017 has a direct repercussion on the economic lives of Indian citizens.
Energy/ Enthusiasm: A feature should be emphatic in its approach. It should be convinced about its own subject matter. In other words, a feature story needs to be energetic and enthusiastic in nature.
In The Universal Journalist, an iconic textbook on journalism, the British journalist David Randall argues for the following different types of feature stories:
Colour Piece: A feature story that essentially tries to enlighten readers on a particular theme or subject.
Fly on the Wall: A feature story that is conceived and narrated unobtrusively and mostly without the explicit permission of the subjects.
Behind the Scenes: A feature story that shifts its focus from the principal event to the background and narrates an interesting tale.
In Disguise: A feature story that is told while the storyteller is a part of the event.
Interview: A feature story that develops itself around questions asked to a respondent, who is usually in a place of prominence.
Profile: A feature story that is based on the exploits of a particular eminent person with or without his/ her interview.
How-To: A feature story that is dependent on research and helps readers in solving a problem or deciphering a scenario.
Fact Box/ Chronology: A feature story that provides plain and simple facts mostly in a chronological order.
Backgrounder/ A History of: A feature story that provides detailed information.
Full Texts: A feature story that is nothing but extracts from a book or transcripts of an interview.
Testimony: A feature story that is the first-person account of an individual.
Analysis: A feature story that scholarly analyzes an event.
Vox Pop/ Expert Roundup: A feature story that accumulates opinions from the general citizenry and thought leaders concerning a subject.
Opinion Poll: A feature story that conducts a research of opinions and presents a generalized summary of the accumulated opinions.
Review: A feature story that reviews a work of art and presents a generalized opinion.
While news items are extremely important, feature stories play the extremely critical role of building opinions and inciting actions. Features are extensively used for the purpose for advocacy as well.
Feature writing is a skill that is acquired over a period of time. Proper training modules are required to turn a naturally gifted writer into a feature writer. Only a professional and comprehensive course on journalism can do that. Just in case someone wants to take up feature writing as a conscious career choice, it is advisable that he/ she takes admission in a media school and convert his/ her passion into profession.
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