Tomorrow’s newspaper in New York is a very different beast! With the increasing availability of instant news and information 24/7, the ‘news’ part of newspapers is rapidly morphing. If I want to know who did what when or what today’s big issue is, whether that be globally, nationally or locally, I have a seemingly unlimited choice of instant news services from which to choose. Even my old mobile phone grants me immediate internet access, meaning keeping up with the Jones’s has never been easier.
So why do we still have newspapers in New York ? Everyone knows that circulation is plummeting, but a few of us die-hards believe there will always be print. Why? Because it is comfortable. The Y-Gens are still buying their magazines and books because they also enjoy that relaxing slump on the couch with a drink, snacks and an engaging read. The operative word here of course is engaging!
When writing a feature story, one of the first things you must consider is the target audience. Is it for the general public or is it for a specific group of readers? If you are writing for the readers of a lifestyle magazine or for the lifestyle section in the newspaper, for example, you would need to consider whether you should write from the view of a third person or second?
Most feature stories are written from the third person. Exceptions where the second person is used instead is when the story is about 'what you should get', say, for an occasion or a festive season. Seldom is the first person used for feature writing except when the author is the narrating his or her own experience.
Take for example the first paragraph of a feature story on entrepreneurship written in the third person:
- John lost his job two years ago due to the economy downturn. Believing it to be only temporary, he actively seeks employment while upgrading his skills through short-term courses. Today, he is still unemployed. Now at the age of 41, he is forced to consider self-employment and entrepreneurship but is hesitant because he has been an employee his entire working life.
If this first paragraph is written in the second person, it would read:
- You have been an employee your entire working life. Two years ago, you lost your job due to the economy downturn. Believing the downturn to be only temporary, you actively seek employment while upgrading your skills through short-term courses. Today, you are still unemployed.
As you can read from the two approaches, the third person's voice draws the readers into the story better than the second person because there is no need for personal involvement in the story unless it is a call to action. It works fine to use the second person if you are writing for a lifestyle magazine showcasing shopping goods, but not quite fine for a news feature story that aims to convey a message containing facts and advices.
When writing for a news feature story, four components should be considered: anecdotes, quotes, facts, and statements of theme.
An anecdote in a news feature story should be written from a third person as the narrator. The purpose of this is to use content 'pull' to attract readers to a sense of reading a novel or a storybook. For a feature story to be successful, at least one anecdote should be included to help readers visualize the 'reality' of a situation or the life of the person being told in the anecdote.
A feature should also include facts and quotes for angles of human interest. Facts may be research finding that quantify the content of the story, official statistical figures, or actual events witnessed by people:
- According to official figures from the manpower department, unemployment is now at 4.5 percent.
Quotes are actual account of events by witnesses or spoken comments of people interviewed. Quotes can be direct or indirect. For a feature story to be credible and interesting, both direct and indirect quotes are necessary.
A direct quote is the actual spoken words by persons interviewed:
- "I have been an employee my entire working life," said John Doe, 41, a retrenched worker.
An indirect quote is a paraphrased or rephrased writing of actual words spoken by persons interviewed:
- John Doe, 41, said he has been an employee his entire working life.
Statements of theme are sentences that links original theme of the story to various parts of the feature. This is especially useful when there are multiple sections or story points that need to be expanded in different areas of the feature. The objective of statements of theme is to draw the readers back to the main theme of the story.
The feature story is usually written with each paragraph pulling the readers forward to read on to the point of closure or a conclusion or instructions to proceed further. It is usual to end the story by drawing the readers' attention back to the points being told at the lead paragraph, but with added knowledge on the subject.
Writing a News Feature Story
It's hard to imagine a time before television news and radio news, not to mention news on the Internet, but during the Civil War, citizens had to rely on two major sources of news - word of mouth and newspapers.
Although word of mouth was the most expedient source of news about the war, newspapers provided citizens and soldiers alike with the most detailed accounts of war that that had ever been published in America or in any other country for that matter. New printing technologies allowed newspapers and magazines alike to publish another new technology - photographs. The advent of the telegraph made news from the front lines of the war available to the press room in minutes rather than days or weeks. Newspapers provided a tangible account of a war that developed by the day.
By the time the Civil War began in 1860, newspapers had expanded from the large cities in the northeast to almost all major cities throughout the United States, and even into some smaller towns, where an enterprising publisher could set up a press.
However, at the outset of the war, most newspapers were still yet unequipped to cover the war. Not only was the Civil War one of the most geographically large wars fought to the time, but the sheer numbers of those involved made the task mind-boggling. Although most of the larger papers, such as The New York Herald, The New York Times and Harper's Weekly had Washington correspondents, few had ever employed correspondents for the wide expanse of country the war encompassed. Thus a new position in the American newspaper office was born - the war correspondent.
War correspondents were sent out to the front lines, along with special artists, who until photographs became widely used toward the end of the war, sketched the action. These brave writers and artists experienced the same harsh conditions of life in a military camp as the soldiers did.
The ability of newspapers to get information from the front lines was often troubling for officers and others in positions of authority during the war. At various times, newspapers were censored for fear that the news they reported would be used by the enemy to advance their cause. This was more a problem in the North than in the South for obvious reasons - the South had had fewer major newspapers before the war, and blockades had resulted in such a shortage of paper, ink, and other supplies necessary that many papers shut down, never to reopen. But in the North, the threat of the press was taken in hand; Lincoln himself feared the repercussions of newspapers that were either opposed to the war or sympathetic to the Confederate cause, and suppressed many of these papers.
But Lincoln's courting of editors that supported his cause sometimes came back to haunt him, as is the case of his supporter Horace Greeley, of the New York Tribune, whom, in an effort to stir up support for the Union, undoubtedly contributed to the battles at Bull Run, which were both notorious losses for the Federal Army.
By far the most popular newspaper during the Civil War era was Harper's Weekly. Harper's was one of the more even-handed newspapers, due mostly to its popularity in the South. Although the paper supported Lincoln and the Union, it still reported with disinterest, and remained a mainstay of the Southern household during the war.
Aside from its impartiality, Harper's circulation of more than 200,000 during the Civil War era is attributable to the fact that the paper employed some of the most distinguished writers and artists of the time. Political cartoonist Thomas Nast was a mainstay of Harper's, as was artist Winslow Homer. Other notable artists who contributed to Harper's during the Civil War era include Theodore R. Davis, Henry Mosler, and the brothers Alfred Waud and William Waud.
Newspapers were the most reliable source of news during Civil War America. While newspapers served the citizens of the time well, they are also an invaluable resource for historians who study the war, providing insight not only into the actions of the war, but into the popular opinion of the war, as well.
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