Analysis of two feature articles from The Nelson Mail Monday June 11, 2012, using the following criteria (derived from the Non-fiction lectures):
1. Length: Are often longer articles than the ‘breaking-now’ news reports
2. Types: follow-up features, coming event, instant (e.g. death of a star), human interest, personality profile
3. Topics: it is usually best if it’s on something that interests the writer. (‘If it doesn’t interest you: it will show!’) BUT are not opinion pieces from the writer – keep yourself out of it.
4. Timely features: e.g. are often seasonal: e.g. summer/winter sports, changes in fashion, garden etc. Or ‘hot’ topics.
5. Aim for reader interest: Human interest stories (love hate – basic themes). ‘Names make news’. Reaction (+/-) is good!
6. Idea = subject coupled with an angle: What angle will you take? Get quotes.
7. Sources: Need quotes! (Gravitas imp. e.g. eyewitness or police.) Usually need research too.
USE THE USUAL COPY-WRITING TECHNIQUES:
1. ‘Attention-grabbing’ headline: actually may not be yours to do –is often supplied, or altered, by editor.
2. Logical order –beginning, middle and end
3. Go straight to heart of story in opening paragraph, then fill in the details. Further paragraphs in descending order of importance .
4. I.e. have the guts of the matter in the opening paragraph, then entice the browser to read further (did he die or not?)
5. Remember the editor will cut from the bottom up, so try to have everything essential in before your closing paragraph.
6. Keep the writing crisp. SIMPLE & SHORT words, sentences and paragraphs. Write in active voice, and use strong verbs. Beware of adverbs (e.g. say he raced, rather than he ran quickly) and don’t use too many adjectives. Don’t swap tenses in the middle of the story.
7. Include details of nature, time and location of event if relevant.
8. Have photographs if possible: ‘People like people.’
Page 3 – Evans rose above illness to lead her ‘charmed and blessed life’
This is a long follow-up article to the previous edition’s short news report which had announced her death. It is a biographical article that concentrates on the quality of her life and her contributions to the community. The first paragraph is a concise sentence that encapsulates the whole theme of the article. The circumstances of her illness and death come next, then her personality, lifelong illness, and joyous art. Her work on behalf of the Suter Gallery and in other areas is fully acknowledged. It ends with the happy memory of her ‘grinning from ear to ear’ over the drawings for the proposed new gallery. It has many quotes from friends and colleagues that illustrate her life. It is long, but the writing is crisp, and includes photos of Jane Evans and two of her paintings. The article is a fitting tribute to an important Nelsonian.
Page 6 – Mackenzie Basin dark-sky reserve
This is not a human interest, ‘death of a star’ type story as above, and it is given less space. There are no photos, but the writing mostly follows the rules above. I wish the first paragraph had included the 3 words ‘International Dark-Sky Association’, as I had to go hunting to find the name of the ‘global astronomical body’. I also found the article jumped around a bit – it didn’t always feel it was following a logical progression. (E.g. the second paragraph belongs to the matters discussed in the second half of the article.) There are good quotes from dignitaries such as an international expert, the Chairwoman of the ‘Starlight Foundation’ pressure group, and a local government official. This rather dry article is tucked into an inside page, and perhaps I’m being uncharitable here: but it doesn’t give me the feeling that a top-dog reporter had worked hard on it.