Types of Feature Stories for Journalists

Profiles, live-ins, and trends 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 different types of feature stories. Often described as "soft news," a feature story does not deliver the news firsthand as in a hard-news story. A feature story, while containing elements of news, aims to humanize, to add color, educate, entertain, and illuminate, says Media-Studies.ca. These stories often recap major 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 are profiling 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 and entertainment or even in the sports or business section.

The News Feature

The news feature is just as the name implies—a feature article that focuses on a topic of interest 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 kinds of stories focus on a hard-news topic, but they are not deadline stories. News features combine a softer writing style with hard-news reporting. These articles are people stories, which tend to focus on individuals more than deadline news, and they often seek to humanize a set of statistics.

Suppose, for example, that a news feature claims that a community is experiencing a methamphetamine epidemic. This kind of feature would begin by citing facts such as arrest statistics from local, state, or federal authorities or treatment numbers from area hospitals and drug counselors.

The news feature might then include quotes and information from those involved in the different aspects of the story, such as police, emergency room doctors, drug counselors, and of course, meth addicts themselves. This kind of feature story focuses not on a specific crime, drug-induced accident or death, or meth-related arrest. Instead, it would briefly tell the story of one of the above-mentioned characters, such as a recovering meth addict, or even several of the characters. In this way, the news feature seeks to put a human face on a given crime statistic to bring the story to life for readers, and inform them of the potential problems the issue may be causing.

The Profile

A profile is an article about an individual, such as a politician, celebrity, athlete, or CEO. A profile seeks to give readers a behind-the-scenes look at what a person is really like, warts and all, away from their public persona. Profile articles generally provide background about the individual—his education, life experiences, challenges he faced in getting to where he is now, as well as basic information such as his age, marital status, and family details (such as the number of siblings and children he has).

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 successful fast-food restaurant, which specializes in selling hamburgers, on July 17, 1941, by selling 10-cent hot dogs, tamales, and chili dogs out of a single cart at the corner of Florence and Central Avenues in Los Angeles. "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 described how Karcher rose from humble beginnings as 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 long passed away (in 2008) by the time the story was published, but Luna interviewed a restaurant official to obtain background information.

The Spot Feature

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

For example, 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 the 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 are housed. Another might reflect on past tornadoes that have decimated the community. Yet another might examine the weather conditions that led to the destructive storm.

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

The Trend Story

The trend story would likely appear in the lifestyle, fashion, cooking, high-tech, or entertainment section. These stories seek to explore trends such as a cool new look in women's fall fashions, a website or tech gadget that everyone's going nuts over, an indie band that's attracted 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 the world of art, fashion, film, music, high technology, and cooking. The emphasis in trend stories is usually on light, quick, easy-to-read pieces that capture the spirit of whatever new trend is being discussed. In other words, trend stories tend to be light and fun to read.

The 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 just as likely 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 fair bit of time in the places they're writing about, hence the name "live-in." That's how they get a real sense of the place's rhythm and atmosphere. Reporters have spent days, weeks, and even months doing live-ins (some have been turned into books). The live-in is really the ultimate feature story, an example of the reporter immersing herself—as well as the reader—in the story.