An Introduction to the Feature Article

I am opting to explore feature articles for my second experiment! I have always enjoyed reading feature articles in newspapers and magazines. I am drawn to this type of journalism because it provides more in-depth looks at relevant topics and makes the news or pop culture feel more relatable somehow. I also like how diverse the genre is. You can read a feature article in a magazine like Cosmopolitan or in a distinguished newspaper like The New York Times. Feature articles can also range in content. For example, an investigative reporting piece, a profile of a celebrity, and an article about an emerging trend can all be considered feature articles, depending on their conventions.

As for convention, feature articles differ from traditional news articles written solely to inform. They often include a more human aspect to them and are longer than news articles. The purpose of a feature article can be to inform or entertain, or both. They typically focus on a specific topic or individual, and place what they are talking about in context. The subject of a feature article should be timely, meaning the author should have a reason for writing the piece at that given time. Speaking of the author, they can write in either first or third person point of view, depending on what is most appropriate for the situation. Feature articles generally start with a lede, which is a hook that engages the reader right from the start. This can come in the form of a quote, a statistic, imagery, etc. Following the lede is the nut graph, which provides some background information or context introducing the topic that will be discussed in the article. The piece should end with a kicker, which wraps up the article and may give the reader some food for thought. Other features of a feature article include:

  • An interesting title
  • Bylines that make the reader interested
  • Interviews with a subject or subjects
  • Pull quotes from these interviews
  • Subheadings
  • Photographs of subjects or scenes relevant to the article

 

For more information about the conventions of a feature article, click here. If you’re interested in learning more about different types of feature stories, check out this article.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Spotlight, the journalists are investigative reporters that write feature articles. Their purpose is to inform readers of shady things that are going on in and around Boston. If you haven’t seen the movie, it is about reporters at The Boston Globe who uncover the rampant sexual abuse committed by priests in the Catholic Church and the cover-up by the Church. It’s on Netflix!

Here is an example of a profile article about a gymnast abused by Larry Nassar that was published in Cosmopolitan. Here is another from The New York Times, about ISIS. Here is yet another from The New York Times, a Pulitzer Prize-winning series about bribery and Walmart.

 

P.S. Sorry for the lack of original pictures in this post. My computer is not cooperating.

A First Glance at Digital Journalism

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In beginning the research portion of my project, I started surfing around on a few digital magazine/content provider sites that Professor McDaniel suggested I look into. For those of you who might not know, my capstone project is centered on challenging the notion that print journalism is dead. In particular, I am investigating print articles in a number of prominent magazines, and highlighting what print journalism is still doing better than digital journalism. In this case, though I will not focus on digital content providers, for instance, BuzzFeed, Slate, and Salon, I plan to use them as points of comparison. Below were my immediate thoughts at first glance:

BuzzFeed:
I am extremely familiar with BuzzFeed, and think its content, design, and utility is both innovative and unique. BuzzFeed offers a wide range of article types, including everything from long form to “listicles”. What I like most about BuzzFeed is that its content is presented in a visually appealing manner. Each article is supported with effective images, categorized into sections, or written in a friendly yet witty manner that is easy to understand. I believe, however, that BuzzFeed does not always offer the most newsworthy content to readers. As Michael Massing alludes to in his article on digital journalism in The New York Review of Books, BuzzFeed has a reputation for its cat photos and humorous listicles. I think the “News” section of the site is effective in terms of significant journalism, however, it’s “17 Boozy Ice Cream Recipes To Get You Through The Holidays”- and “19 Times Lindsay From “You’re The Worst” Was A Goddamn Inspiration”-type articles are more effective at entertainment, rather than journalism.

Slate:
I was a bit overwhelmed by Slate when I first arrived on the website. The content seemed endless and sort of all over the place. At the top of the page, the content was not sorted not by topic or category, rather, by reader activity and recency. It was divided into columns titled “Most Read,” “Most Shared,” “Most Recent,” “In Case You Missed It,” and so on. The interface, however, was extremely representative of “digital journalism.” There were videos, slideshows, and audio recordings embedded into almost every article I clicked on. Overall, though it was difficult to sort through the information, Slate offered a very interactive reading experience, as well as a wide range of content.

Salon:
I was more comfortable with my experience surfing through Salon than I was surfing through Slate. There were topical categories at the very top of the homepage, which made it easier to sort through the information. Even still, the website provided me with a very- for lack of a better word- vertical experience. I felt the scrolling process was never-ending, that there was an overabundance of content featured on the homepage alone. I felt I had to personally choose which articles were worth clicking on, rather than being shown or told which were most relevant and worth my time. I do recognize that there are less spatial constraints on the Internet, and that digital news organizations take advantage of posting a ton of content at once. I, however, find this aspect of digital journalism overwhelming, rather than beneficial.

Down the Rabbit Hole I Go…

down_the_rabbit_hole_by_fit51391-d5m5uk0When I made it to the Research Guide page, I immediately clicked on the Humanities category. Some of the other sections interested me, but most of the courses I’ve taken in college are humanities-based and it’s become the field in which I feel most comfortable.

The Humanities category has a wide range of topics in it. I was turned off by the Communications and media links because I want to branch out and do something different in my project. I first looked at the Children’s Literature link. I think it would be fun to write a children’s book; it would be a new challenge for me, and compel me to approach writing in a way that I have not before. I’m not sure what I would write about that is applicable to my life or education and is accessible to children. Another hurdle is animation or art, which is almost always necessary to children’s books. My artistic talents do not go beyond the ability to draw a stick figure, so drawing pictures for an entire (albeit) short book would be very difficult.

As I was perusing the Humanities page, I found myself looking for a journalism link. I didn’t find one, but I think the fact that I wanted to says something about what I am interested in. On the first day of class, while speaking with my partner about potential project topics, I came up with the idea of a newspaper column. I –without any shame –am a big fan of Sex and the City, and was inspired by the protagonist’s fictional weekly column. The columns wouldn’t be quite as scandalous as those of Carrie Bradshaw, but I do think this project would allow me to incorporate humor into my project. As with the children’s book idea, I’m not sure what my topic or angle would be with the column, but the flexibility of such a project would enable me to come at it in different ways.

Overall, the rabbit hole activity was very helpful. The Research Guide didn’t necessarily point me to one specific topic, but helped me think about what I am interested, which is one of, if not the most important steps in choosing a project.

Come On, Mitch. You Can Do Better Than That.

Mitch Albom penned an opinion article this weekend discussing the most recent uproar from BAMN (By Any Means Necessary): a protest against the University of Michigan Admission Office for denying Brooke Kimbrough admission. Despite Kimbrough’s 3.5 GPA and score of 23 on the ACT, BAMN, an affirmative action advocacy group, claims that Kimbrough was denied admission on the grounds on race.

The intention of this blog post is not to comment on Kimbrough and BAMN’s efforts. Instead, I would like to discuss the quality of Albom’s article covering the topic. Admittedly, I haven’t read anything from Albom since senior year of high school, at which point I thought Tuesdays with Morrie was a work of art. I recall enjoying Albom’s work for his simple yet direct use of language. Reflecting back on what I read, it wasn’t incredibly thought-provoking. Perhaps this is the reason I enjoyed his work so much in high school.

Upon revisiting Albom’s work when I opened this article, the quality of the piece was disappointing. It was not well-phrased by any means, in fact I thought his argument was written quite poorly considering the journalistic nature of this piece. There were several instances throughout the article when Albom could have used stronger language and more thorough support for his argument. For example, he uses the following passage to explain his interaction with Kimbrough:

When I asked Brooke why it’s wrong for U-M to set a similar bar (she was denied admission with below the U-M averages of a 3.6 GPA and a 23 on the ACT) she said U-M needed to “represent the state. Blacks are about 14% of the population, so it should be 14% roughly.”

I pointed out that whites were 79% of Michigan’s population, but officially 57% of U-M’s, so should we adjust that up? “That’s ludicrous,” she said, claiming it should only apply to minorities. I then noted U-M was 11% Asian American, but our state was only 2%. Should we adjust down?

“I don’t understand what you’re asking,” she said.

While I appreciate Albom’s logic, this was a lazy way to explain his point of view. Instead of including research on other universities or even citing UM’s efforts to become more inclusive of minorities, Albom asked Kimbrough, 17, to answer these questions and simply inserted a few statistics which require little effort to obtain. It is important to note that Kimbrough is just 17. While one could argue that Kimbrough brought this media fire upon herself, she shouldn’t necessarily be expected to have all the answers to deeper issues of race and inclusion. Although Albom did state that he found Kimbrough, “passionate, affable, intelligent and, like many teens her age, adamant to make a point,” this passage portrayed her as careless and short-sighted. Kimbrough may have a lot to learn; however, this passage was written in poor taste.

Additionally, Albom made several unsupported statements throughout the article. For example:

And in the future, if she really wants to change things, she can create a two-parent, high-standards home for her own children, and follow an age-old pattern of each generation pushing the next to do better. More than any ethnicity argument or admissions policy, home life will determine educational success.

This passage is full of offensive assumptions. First of all, why does Kimbrough have to change this by making a better environment for her children? Did she mention she wanted children or is this an assumption based on her gender? If Kimbrough wants to change UM’s diversity policies in the future, there are numerous ways she can go about doing so besides having successful children.

What’s more, several studies have concluded that two-parent homes yield more successful students, yet Albom doesn’t mention any of them. This is a blind assertion that would easily offend anyone coming from a single-parent household. 61.7% of households with children in Detroit are single-parent households, and this article was published in the Detroit Free Press. Therefore, Albom alienated a large portion of his audience. Furthermore, the phrase “age-old pattern of each generation pushing the next to do better,” sounds condescending towards Kimbrough’s family and families of other students who were denied acceptance to their universities of choice. This wording makes it sound as though the parents of those students did not create a “high-standards home” or push their children to do well, which is likely not the case in many instances.

More importantly, the last sentence ignores major sociological factors that determine academic success. Home life is critical to success for students, but so are the school environments that students have access to. Inner-city schools more often than not have high drop-out rates and rarely send students to post-secondary institutions of UM’s caliber. If Albom wished to be more convincing, he should have acknowledged this fact and then cited studies about home life and its effects on educational success.

The final key issue with Albom’s article, which I alluded to earlier, is that Albom took advantage of a 17-year-old to make his point. Kimbrough was an easy target and Albom certainly leveraged this fact to write an easy argument. Albom discusses Kimbrough’s future success in his conclusion:

And with that, Brooke Kimbrough wasn’t white or black: She was one of countless kids today who feel that without their first college choice, their future is doomed. I told her it’s not. She can do great things attending Michigan State, Iowa, Western Michigan or Howard — all fine universities that accepted her.

I think Brooke Kimbrough has a bright future. She was tossed into a fight that she doesn’t want to become personal. That’s good. Because this decision wasn’t personal. It wasn’t a “noose.” What she experienced was disappointment, not racism. And when she said, “I don’t have all the answers,” that, Brooke, is the start of wisdom.

After Albom condescendingly dismantled Kimbrough’s arguments earlier on, the conclusion seems like a half attempt to make himself seem level-headed and kind. To me, the conclusion comes off as incredibly patronizing.

Though I agree with Albom’s logic in this piece with regard to the actual issue, I believe this article could have been revised to make a stronger argument and do more service to Kimbrough. In addition to isolating a large audience, Albom ignored several critical components to educational success. This dampens his credibility as a journalist. Hopefully Albom isn’t planning on writing any novels about diversity and education any time soon.

Sorry, Mitch. Might be time for a J-school refresher course.
Sorry, Mitch. Might be time for a J-school refresher course.