Feature Stories

Stories that go beyond the facts! Lesson Plan

What is a feature story vs. a straight news story? 

Features go beyond facts

Tom Hallman

The feature story is the most misunderstood genre in the business. Everyone understands the investigative piece and lauds it as an example of hard-digging and dogged reporting. The drama and pressure of cranking out a breaking story on deadline is part of journalism’s lore. But the feature story is often considered to be some kind of distant cousin in the industry because it isn’t considered real journalism with a capital J.

On the surface, a feature story often has little to do with the news. When the budget is hashed over in news meetings, feature stories certainly aren’t considered to be the so-called important story of the day.

And yet, what do readers remember? The feature story.

Decades later, I continue to hear from readers about some of the stories I’ve written. What’s the big deal about a door-to-door salesman? Nothing when it comes to news. But the story I wrote on Bill Porter will live on long after I retire from journalism.

No one really remembers the stories on the tax increases or the forest fires, or whatever seemed to be so important at the time they were written.

What resonates with readers is the quiet story. The feature. As the world around us becomes more splintered, the in-depth feature fills a unique, and increasingly important, role in our communities. The feature story has a remarkable power. A rural reader may not care at all about inner-city schools. And a city dweller skims right over a story about a new zoning change that effects agricultural land in the far reaches of the state.

But a well-written feature story has the ability to touch all readers. And they work because these stories have nothing to do with news, but with life itself. The best feature stories touch on universal themes in life, themes that remind us just how similar we are when it comes to hopes and dreams and fears. These stories help readers find meaning in life.

The best of these feature stories are built, not on fancy writing, but on strong, in-depth reporting. They require as much reporting as is needed to pull off a blockbuster investigative piece. The reporter must enter a character’s world and then find a story and report it in a way that makes readers not just think about facts, but feel.

Tom Hallman is a reporter for The Oregonian. He’s won SDX awards for feature writing in 1996 and 2000, and he was part of a team that won for non-deadline reporting in 1989.


Listen to a hard news story and a feature story. 

Draw a VENN Diagram. As you listen to the stories, write what is UNIQUE to the hard news and the feature stories in the outer rings. In the MIDDLE, write what they have in common. 

You will then share them with your clock partners. Then we will review the qualities of a hard(news) and soft (feature) story.

Qualities of a Feature Story 


Qualities of a Feature Story
• Feature stories are descriptive and full of detail.
• Feature stories generally have a strong narrative line.
• Feature stories have a strong lead that grabs readers and makes them want to read on.
• Feature stories often depend on interviews.
• Feature stories include quotations from the person(s) involved.
• Feature stories combine facts and opinion, with a focus on the human interest side of the story. While they can report news, the news content is not of primary importance.
• Feature stories both educate and entertain. They can include colorful detail as well as humor.
• Feature stores contain the voice of the writer.
• Feature stories can be organized in a variety of ways (i.e., chronologically, narrative fashion).
• Feature stories often put the “meat” on the “skeletal bones” of a news story.

 What Makes You Interesting?


Prewriting Questions: “What Makes You Interesting?”
1.In what way(s) are you different from other members of your family?
2.In what way(s) are you different from your friends?
3.If you had to make a video of yourself, what would you be doing in it? Why?
4.What’s the greatest accomplishment in your life so far?
5.What’s the biggest danger you’ve ever faced?
6.What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
7.In what ways are you strange, eccentric, or mysterious?
8.Describe something that has happened to you that would fit into a novel. 


Revising and Reviewing 


Review and revise your reading with the graphic organizer listed above and shown below. 

Reviewer Response Sheet—Feature Story

Name of Writer:   _____________________________

Name of Readers:_____________________________

Directions: After the writer has read the paper aloud, reviewers should work as a group to complete this Response Sheet which the writer will use to revise the next draft. Reviewers do not have to agree on all comments, but all opinions should be included for the writer to consider later.

1. What are the strengths of the story? In other words, what is so good in the story that the writer should not change it in the next draft? Be specific!

2. Describe your first reaction to the story. What did it make you feel?

3. What do you think the writer’s central point is?

4. If the writer could change or improve only ONE thing in the story, what would you suggest that it was?

5. Beyond that one change, what other suggestions for revision can you offer?

6. Are there any other aspects of the story that the writer would like the group to comment on?

Checklist: The following characteristics are important aspects of a polished feature story. Initial each item when it is completed. If you do not feel the writer has successfully completed an item, suggest improvements to him or her before you put your initials on it. 

Does the story
Have a good title?
Open with a good lead?
Include the subject’s name spelled correctly?
Incorporate necessary and accurate factual data?
Include at least two significant quotations?
End with a memorable line?


Sample Leads for Feature Stories

Read each of the following student-written leads, and determine which you think are the strongest and which need more work. Be prepared to give reasons for your choices. Also, be prepared to suggest how to improve the leads that you consider weak.

• If they’re lucky, most people figure out what they want to do for a living sometime in their mid-20s, but the decision to become a nurse came, well, early to Andrea Early.

• At age thirteen, John Beck skipped eighth grade and entered Wachusett Regional High School.

• David Arnold has liked motorcycles for a long time.

• For most of us, computer programming isn’t a simple task. Neither is flying an airplane. But for Wachusett senior Mark Patterson, learning how to do both wasn’t all that difficult.

• Several years ago in his native Albania, Lored’s parents decided that the time was ripe for their growing son to move, not down the street, however, or to the town next door, but from one country to another.

• Although Paxton’s Ellen Sullivan is the oldest of three children, she’s used to being the youngest one around sometimes.

• School hasn’t stared yet, and already Gary Butler’s day is jammed packed:
􀂃 5:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.—Work clearing brush at Bedrock Golf Course
􀂃 1:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.—Shower and attempt to scrub tree sap from hands

• For those of us who never want to get closer to an operating room than watching ER, Mark Weaver assures us that’s a pretty accurate description.

Writing the Story - Formatting Assistance

How to format your stories -- some help! All you need to do is copy and paste. When asked, print as a PDF (it will be a document). Then we can upload them to moodle and the school newspaper.