By Christina Elias

While features and profiles originally began as content for people uninterested in business or politics, they have become staples of modern journalism. Features can vary from classic profiles of celebrities, highlighting interest people or shining a spotlight on big issues.

Cynthia Gorneytop-10-tips-ch-7

Gorney writes to her subjects’ characters in her profile of Dr. Seuss that demonstrates his contributions to American culture while simultaneously echoing his own writing styles to a degree. Her advice for feature writing is to be curious: “You have to know five times as much as you’re ever going to use in the story.”

Saul Pett

Prett uses one of his leads as an example of how he writes creatively in his reporting – a 280-word lead ending in “clear?” to ironically show just how unclear the events of that story were – by using the story to shape the writing instead of the other way around.

His profile of New York City Mayor Ed Koch is filled with alternating sentence lengths, metaphors and detail. He includes his own voice in the story obviously based on his impressions from interviews as well as using Koch’s quotes to narrate at points. The anecdotes about the mayor show instead of list his qualities.

Mirta Ojito

Ojito’s story about her Cuban neighborhood is successful because of the detail she includes and how she makes certain aspects resonate with readers. She begins her article describing her own experiences and tells others how people in this neighborhood live through her own memories and descriptions, rather than a traditional array of interviews. She does include the stories of current residents but always comes back to her experiences, something deeply personal that draws readers in and captivates them.

David Finkel

Finkel writes about a ship pilot’s life years after hitting a bridge in Tampa. Interestingly, Finkel seems to use more observations from his time with the pilot, rather than using quotes as narration as we’ve seen with many pieces lately. He lets the pilot’s actions speak to where his trajectory has taken in life and instead uses the man’s quotes to emphasize certain points, like the ending.

Tommy Tomlinson

Tomlinson used a unique approach in his story about a mathematician solving a problem that had gone unsolved for 25 years: he wrote in question-answer format, reminiscent of how one might approach a problem. That alone allows the reader insight into part of the process and story that would otherwise have to be relayed in plain language, possibly less effectively.

Blaine Harden

In Harden’s story about the African Zaire River and how it reflects the politics of the region is fascinating because of the extreme detail, references to The Heart of Darkness and commentary from Harden at times.

Ken Fuson

Fuson also takes an interesting approach to his assignment, much like the other writers included in this chapter. He chose to list all of the things people could do on an unusually nice March day in Iowa in place of his editor’s instructions: “the dramatic change of weather in Iowa as winter thawed into spring.” While creative, it’s strange to me he consciously chose not to include any news- or fact-based information.

Other examples:

They Burn Witches Here

By Kent Russell, The Huffington Post

Russell writes a riveting multi-part story about tribal practices in Papua New Guinea, its effects on local communities and groups attempting to stop the tradition of burning suspected witches in rural areas. He profiles the various people he speaks to, integrating their stories into a larger web that starts to provide a better idea of why communities continue to kill their own.

The Really Big One

By Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker

Schulz brings to light an issue not many in the general public regularly think about through the lens of seismologists. Rather than just stating that the Japan earthquake had defied many scientists’ predictions, she took readers through the scientists’ thought processes, actions and discussions to show how major natural events are handled and what it means for similar areas going forward.


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