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Five Tips for Producing Great News Features

Get Real People, and the Numbers as Well

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Five Tips for Producing Great News Features

A Reporter Does An Interview

Tony Rogers

A news feature is a kind of feature story that focuses on a hard-news topic. News features combine a featurey writing style with hard-news reporting. Here are five tips for producing news features.

1. Find a Topic That's Doable

News features typically try to shed light on problems in our society, but many people doing news features for the first time try to tackle topics that are just too large. They want to write about crime, or poverty or injustice. But books - indeed, hundreds of books - can and have been written about subjects so broad.

What you need to do is find a narrow, focused topic that can be covered reasonably well in the space of a 1,500-word news feature.

Want to write about crime? Focus on one particular neighborhood or even a specific housing complex, and narrow it down to one type of crime. Poverty? Pick a particular kind, whether it's homeless people on the streets of your city or single mothers who can't feed their kids. And again, narrow your scope to your community or a neighborhood.

2. Find Real People

News features tackle important topics but they're still like any other kind of feature - they're people stories. That means you have to have real people in your stories who will bring the topic you're discussing to life.

So if you're going to write about homeless people you'll need to interview as many as you can find. If you're writing about a drug epidemic in your community you'll need to interview addicts, cops and counselors.

In other words, find people who are on the front lines of the issue you're writing about, and let them tell their stories.

3. Get Plenty of Facts and Stats

News features need people, but they also need facts and plenty of 'em. So if your story claims there is a methamphetamine epidemic in your community, you need to have the facts to back that up. That means getting arrest statistics from cops, treatment numbers from drug counselors, and so on.

Likewise, if you think homelessness is on the rise, you'll need numbers to back that up. Some evidence can be anecdotal; a cop saying he's seeing more homeless people on the streets is a good quote. But in the end there's no substitute for hard numbers.

4. Get the Expert View

At some point every news feature needs an expert to talk about the issue being discussed. So if you're writing about crime, don't just talk to the beat cop: interview a criminologist. And if you're writing about a meth epidemic, talk to meth users, yes, but also interview someone who's studied the drug and its spread. Experts lend news features authority and credibility.

5. Get the Big Picture

It's crucial to have a local focus for a news feature, but it's also good to give a broader perspective. So if you're writing about homelessness in your town, try to find some stats on homelessness nationwide. Or if your story is on a local meth epidemic, find out if other cities around the country are seeing the same thing. This "big picture" kind of reporting shows that there's a larger context to the issue you're writing about.

As for finding national statistics, federal government agencies crunch numbers on virtually every aspect of our lives. So check out their websites.

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