Types of Feature Stories for Journalists

Profiles, live-ins, and trend stories provide the human angle

Woman listens on cell phone as she makes notes
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Just as there are different kinds of hard-news stories in journalism, there are several types of feature stories. Often described as "soft news," a feature story doesn't deliver the news directly, as a hard-news story does. A feature story, while containing elements of news, aims to humanize, add color, educate, entertain, and illuminate, says Media-Studies.ca. These stories often build on news that was reported in a previous news cycle.

Examples of feature stories include news features, profiles, spot features, trend stories, and live-ins. Feature stories can be found in the main news section of a newspaper, especially if they profile a person or group currently in the news. But they are also likely to be found in sections farther back in the paper—in lifestyles, entertainment, sports, or business sections. They also can be found in other news formats, such as radio, television, and the Internet.

News Feature

The news feature is just what the name implies: a feature article that focuses on a topic in the news. News features are often published in the main news, or "A" section, or the local news, or "B" section, of a paper. These stories focus on hard-news topics but aren't deadline stories. They bring a softer writing style to hard news. These articles often are people stories, focusing on individuals behind the news, and they often seek to humanize a set of statistics.

A news feature could claim, for example, that a community is experiencing a methamphetamine epidemic. It would begin by citing facts such as arrest statistics from local, state, or federal authorities or treatment numbers from area hospitals and drug counselors. Then it might include quotes and information from people involved in different aspects of the story, such as police, emergency room doctors, drug counselors, and meth addicts.

This kind of feature story focuses not on a single crime, drug-induced death, or meth-related arrest; instead, it briefly tells the story of one or more of the above-mentioned characters, such as recovering meth addicts. The news feature seeks to put a human face on a crime statistic to bring the story to life for readers and inform them of potential problems with the issue.

Profile

A profile is an article about an individual, such as a politician, celebrity, athlete, or CEO. Profiles seek to give readers behind-the-scenes looks at what a person is like, warts and all, behind the public persona. Profile articles provide background about the individual: education, life experiences, and challenges faced in getting where he or she is now, as well as basic information such as age, marital status, and family details, including the number of siblings and children.

A profile can appear in any section of the paper, from the "A" section to the business section. For example, in 2016, The Orange County Register ran a feature story on Carl Karcher, the late founder of Carl's Jr. The story, written by reporter Nancy Luna, described how Karcher started the fast-food restaurant, which specializes in hamburgers, on July 17, 1941, by selling 10-cent hot dogs, tamales, and chili dogs out of a cart on a street corner in Los Angeles, California. "He financed a $326 food cart by mortgaging his Plymouth Super Deluxe for $311," Luna wrote. "He paid the rest in cash."

The remainder of the article told how Karcher rose from being a "poor Ohio farm boy with an eighth-grade education" to the owner of one of the most successful fast-food chains in the country. Karcher had passed away in 2008, so Luna interviewed a restaurant official to obtain background information.

Spot Feature

Spot features are feature stories produced on deadline that focus on a breaking news event. They are often used as sidebars to the mainbar, the deadline news story about an event.

Suppose a tornado hits a community. The mainbar would focus on the five W's and H of the story—the who, what, when, where, why, and how—including the number of casualties, the extent of damage, and rescue efforts. Complementing the mainbar, the paper might publish one or more spot features focusing on various aspects of the event. One story might describe the scene at an emergency shelter where displaced residents were housed. Another might reflect on past tornadoes that have devastated the community. Yet another might examine weather conditions that led to the storm.

The paper could publish dozens of spot features depending on the severity of the event. While the main news story would be written in a hard-news style, the spot features would convey a softer feature style, focusing on the human toll of the tragedy.

Trend

The trend story would likely appear in the lifestyle, fashion, cooking, high-tech, or entertainment section. These stories explore trends such as a new look in women's fall fashions, a website or tech gadget that everyone's going nuts over, an indie band attracting a cult following, or a show on an obscure cable channel that's suddenly hot.

Trend stories take the pulse of the culture at the moment, looking at what's new, fresh, and exciting in art, fashion, film, music, high technology, cooking, and other areas. Trend stories are usually light, quick, easy-to-read pieces that capture the spirit of whatever trend is being discussed.

Live-In

The live-in is an in-depth, often magazine-length article that paints a picture of a particular place and the people who work or live there. Live-in stories might appear in the lifestyle section of the paper or in a magazine that the paper publishes occasionally, such as once a week or once a month.

Live-ins have been written about homeless shelters, emergency rooms, battlefield encampments, cancer hospices, public schools, and police precincts. Live-in pieces are often a day-in-the-life or week-in-the-life stories that give readers a look at a place they probably wouldn't normally encounter.

Reporters doing live-ins must spend a lot of time in the places they're writing about, hence the name live-in. That's how they get a sense of the place's rhythm and atmosphere. Reporters have spent days, weeks, even months doing live-ins (some have been turned into books). The live-in in some ways is the ultimate feature story: an example of the reporter—and, then, the reader—becoming immersed in the topic.

Though they might have different names, depending on the medium, these types of stories are just as likely to appear on a TV screen, radio station, or Internet website, serving readers, listeners, and viewers in much the same way as they do newspaper readers: by adding depth, humanity, color, and entertainment to the news of the day.