In Defence of the Feature

When we think about newspapers, we think of the glaring headlines on the front page. Breaking news stories will always grab you attention when you’re flicking through your morning newspaper. But features take up a more substantial chunk of newsprint than you might think. As well as dedicated feature pages, you’ll find them in news-analysis sections and in the ever-growing mass of supplements that come with today’s papers.

Features have an unfair reputation for being fluffy. In fact, because of their length and broader focus, they can reach into places that news stories cannot. In my view, the feature plays two roles. It explores the issues underlying the main news stories of the day and it shines a light into neglected corners of society.

The most common type of feature is the service feature. It offers practical lifestyle tips in easy-to-follow steps and usually centres on travel, technology and consumer advice. The news feature is also common. Effectively, it explores the stories behind the news. For example, a gangland murder in an urban area may give rise to an article discussing how the laws surrounding the burden of proof can be modified.

Many features are based on one-to-one interviews. The public are always interested in features which promise to give an insight into the lives of their favourite celebrities. Other interviews take the form of human interest stories, celebrating triumph over adversity. Profiles analysing the life and contribution of a prominent person are a staple of news analysis pages. Reviews and comment pieces also come under the umbrella of features.

Feature-writers have a freer hand than news journalists when it comes to style. Features are typically 800-1500 words, which is 2-4 times the length of the average news article. This gives the feature writer the scope to use more expressive language and provide a richer tapestry of detail. The extra space also enables the feature writer to do justice to their subject, to dive under the surface of a story.

The feature is often seen as a filler or a soft option. But in fact, the feature has even more power than news. It encourages originality of thought and gives interviewees a greater chance to tell their story. It can bring issues that were previously hidden to light, which after all is one of the remits of media. Above all, it gives ordinary people a voice. They are more likely to be the subject of a feature than of news and the feature is often about an issue which directly affects them in their daily lives. The feature has proved that it deserves its place in our newspapers.

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