Chapter 15 - Features and in-depth packages
Chapter 15 web version
In the book version of this chapter we cover:
- Writing a wide range of features for print
- Writing news at the standard expected of trainee journalists employed in the media
- Creating in-depth packages for websites
- Advanced online research.
At the end of the chapter are a range of exercises and projects to enable you to practise what you have learned.
Here we will look at
- Links to all the examples cited in this chapter
- Links to additional, contemporary examples
- A wide range of supporting material.
Always have the book version of Multimedia Journalism to hand while you use this website – the off- and on-line versions are designed to work together.
15C1 Writing a wide range of features for print
In the book we look in detail at how to write a wide range of features. These links take you to individual features that demonstrate the lessons in the book, and to publications that regularly run high-quality features. Some are discussed in the book, some aren’t.
Features discussed in the book, plus additional examples
Examples of features inspired by news stories
BBC online magazine: Is there a 'rising tide' of anti-Semitism in the West?: www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-28853221
Telegraph: How marriage to my toyboy husband (22 years my junior) ended in tears: www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11030461/Divorce-research-Marriage-to-my-toyboy-husband-ended-in-tears.html
15C2 Interviewing for features
The Sunday Times magazine’s A Life in the Day feature is always worth reading. Here are a couple of examples:
A Life in the Day: I never think of myself as any different from anyone else
David Beckham, 38, on cooking Harper’s lunch and why his eldest son prefers not to be seen with him.
Interview by Mark Edmonds
I’m usually up early and will spend about five minutes getting ready. Once I’ve been in the shower, I’ll put on deodorant, aftershave and moisturiser, and style my hair. I then get the kids up around 7.30, but getting the four of them ready can be a bit more of a challenge.
If I’m at home for the day, which I often am, I’ll also do the kids’ breakfast. It’s healthy food, but if one of them wants a pancake with a bit of syrup, I’ll give it to them.
I then take the kids to school and, thankfully, we don’t get pestered by the paparazzi any more. The only one we don’t walk to the door is Brooklyn. Sometimes, he makes me drop him on the other side of the road. It’s not cool to be dropped off by your dad.
When you have kids, structure can go out the window, but though I’ve retired from football, I still have a lot going on. Some of it is brand-related. One of my projects is being an Active Kids ambassador for Sainsbury’s, so the other day I was shooting a TV ad for them. It’s to inspire kids to be healthy, to be active, and I enjoy it.
Generally, I don’t have a problem moving around London. I get in the car, or on my bike, and I usually wear a cap and a coat, and just keep my head down. Sometimes I get spotted in a shop and get mobbed, but if I’m quick I can be in and out without being noticed by anyone. I also do the weekly food shop — in fact, I’ve always done it. People are surprised about that, but it’s easy; I know exactly what the kids like and I know exactly what Victoria likes.
Once Harper’s home for lunch, I’ll make her something to eat. One of her favourite vegetables is broccoli — she calls them trees.
Victoria and I definitely have different ideas about lunch. She eats lots of fish, vegetables and fruit; I love pasta and meat. If I’m on my own, I love nothing more than a nice piece of meat, cooked well, with a few vegetables.
Maybe once a week we’ll go out and meet friends for lunch. When we were living in LA, Tom Cruise lived two minutes away. He’s a good friend. There were occasions when I’d call him up and ask him if he had a new movie that wasn’t out yet, and I’d go round and watch it with him.
I’ve met the prime minister quite a few times, too. He’s a really nice guy, but I’m not sure I could go and invite myself to No 10 in the same way.
I love living back in London; it’s where I was born. But, of course, I haven’t lived here for a long time because I was only 15 when I moved up to Manchester. I enjoy its big parks, especially ones like Battersea. I love walking through them after I’ve been playing five-a-side with some friends.
I have weekly meetings with my business team, whether it’s at my house or in the office. We’ll sit down to discuss what’s going on that month, whether it’s a photoshoot, an advert, a charity event... I’m always being asked for autographs and photos, but I’ve never had a problem with that, it’s just part and parcel of being me.
When the kids finish school, they might have different activities going on, like football or rugby. But when they get home we’ll often play one of their favourite games, like Connect 4. They also love Lego. So do I. The last big thing I made was Tower Bridge. It was amazing. It had about 1,000 pieces. I think Lego sometimes helps to calm me down.
It’s the same with cooking. I find it very therapeutic, which is just as well as I’ll often do the evening meal. When I was in Italy, I loved the food and learnt how to cook it. Luckily, the kids love it too, so it’s easy for me to put something together.
I might have a drink in the evening, maybe a glass of red wine. One thing I really love about being back here is the pubs — I even have a couple of locals that I actually go to. The people there know me, so it’s easy enough to go in and have a pint.
When I go to bed, I often find my mind is kind of wandering from one thing to another. Since retiring, it’s the first time I’ve really sat down and looked at my career and the success I’ve had as a footballer. But I never think of myself as any different from anyone else. I don’t look at my life like that.
All I think is that I’m a dad, I have four kids, I’m married, I do the school run every morning and make the dinner every night.
David Beckham is a Sainsbury’s Active Kids ambassador. Visit sainsburys.co.uk/activekids
© The Times. Used by permission for The Times.
A Life in the Day: What have I got to worry about? Nothing!
The actress Jennifer Saunders, 55, on wussy breakfasts, wardrobe dramas and her secret naughty habits.
Interview by Danny Scott
Getting up has become a two-stage operation. I wake at 7.30, get out of bed, put the TV on, make a strong espresso, fart-arse around on the computer, then go back to bed. I can easily laze around until 9, but if I hear the theme tune to Homes Under the Hammer, I know I’m in trouble.
For breakfast, my husband, Ade [Adrian Edmondson], makes real porridge — mine’s a wussy, Southern porridge with maple syrup, followed by a multi-vitamin. I’ve always been a bit suspicious about breakfast: I worry that if I start eating, I’ll just carry on all day. I attempt to do a bit of exercise, even if it’s just taking the dog for a half-jog/half-walk around Hyde Park.
We are currently living in our house in central London — we still have a place in Devon — and we’ve just installed this amazing tiled shower that turns into a steam room. God, I can spend hours in there! The only drawback is that it makes me look like a rather overripe, sweaty tomato.
Someone bought me a magnifying mirror for the bathroom – the worst thing you can give a woman. Yes, it’s a necessary evil, but you start looking at every pore and now I can see all these bloody great hairs growing out of my chin. Why didn’t somebody tell me?
I’ve got my make-up routine down to 10 minutes, but my hair’s a pain, so I tend to just keep it messy. Choosing something to wear is harder. I fret over outfits, just in case I look like shit. I don’t mind buying expensive clothes, but as I’ve got older, I’ve found myself thinking: “Am I really going to be wearing this in 15 years?” I’ve always thought it would be easier if we were all just given a uniform when we were born and had to wear it for ever.
Lunch is light – maybe tomatoes and mozzarella with a bit of bread, while I’m watching Bargain Hunt – unless I’m going out to meet girlfriends. Then it’ll end up involving a few glasses of wine, too. I don’t call myself a smoker any more, but if I see my mates huddled round a door, I’ll end up having a sneaky one.
After the last couple of years with the chemo and everything, I thought I’d get this urge to look after myself more. Sadly, it’s not worked out like that. I could be healthier, but you’ve got to have a bit of fun, haven’t you?
Lunch, followed by a bit of shopping with my grandson, Fred, is my idea of heaven. His mum — my eldest daughter, Ella — lives in Devon and I get real pangs of grandmotherly love when I don’t see him. Being a granny is just the biggest joy. When your kids grow up, you miss them; you miss their smallness. I feel so attached to Fred… and so responsible.
We go down to Devon a lot. It still feels like home, but after the kids left, it did seem rather empty. That’s why we moved back to London, where our other two daughters, Beattie and Freya, live. They often come round in the evening — usually when they hear the words “free food”.
I’m not bad in the kitchen, but Ade’s fantastic. If you were coming round for dinner today, we’d probably cook corned beef and boxty, which I discovered while I was filming Blandings in Fermanagh. It’s cured beef, boiled for a couple of hours, then roasted quickly and served with veg and a kind of potato cake made with grated potatoes, flour, baking soda and buttermilk.
While Ade’s cooking, I might dig out the hand-held Dyson and hoover up a few of the crumbs lurking on the kitchen floor. Then it’s time for a glass of white wine, pyjamas and my Margaret Howell dressing gown. God, I could wear that thing for the rest of my life. I’m sure I’ll be found dead in an old people’s home, clutching at its gorgeous woollen sleeves.
© The Times. Used by permission for The Times.
A feature about Saunders's autobiography: www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2445091/Jennifer-Saunders-account-battling-breast-cancer-honest-uplifting.html
15C3 How to structure a general feature
PLEASE NOTE, TIMES CONTENT IS PAYWALLED.
- Lee Karen Stow:
- Simon Chilvers
- Bryan Appleyard
Two features from me:
Examples of features structure
Quote, transition, quote
This addresses the points in order way of structuring a feature. Sometimes you have a number of good chunks of copy, but you need to link them effectively.
This example from Camilla Long in the Sunday Times gives a great demonstration of how to manage the transitions between those chunks with style:
She is interviewing Joan Rivers, who slips into a coma before the piece is published, and dies shortly afterwards.
Rivers is a great interview performer, and a stream of brilliant, and brilliantly funny, quotes pour forth. Long has gathered them under a series of general subject headings, and worked neat transitions between the different topics.
Here are the subjects in the piece, in order:
- The face – plastic surgery
- Slipped into a coma
- Houses of her and daughter
- Her life's narrative – and basic of her act
- What she's like during interviews
- Family background
- Desperate to be famous
- Loves men
- Cries a lot
- Daughter Melissa
- Ending: back to the coma.
Points in order
After my makeover, Harvey Nicks will be absolutely fabulous again:
Chronology as structure
An example of the hourglass structure:
John Follain: Is this the face of a killer?
Geography as structure
Scenes as structure
Example of using scenes as structure from the book version:
The Sunday Times Magazine ran a profile of the then-Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik headlines: Political Party Animal.
Each scene is used to show the subject in a different setting, and to reveal something new about them and their life. So the scenes in this case include: a pub in the MP’s Welsh constituency; out at night in the constituency; in the hospital that put him back together after a paragliding accident; and in Parliament. Not quite the entire feature is set in these places – there are asides to run through his past, and to talk about his girlfriend, but the locations are the unifying structure.
A different take on scenes as structure
When Matt Rudd interviewed Day Aykroyd, the former actor, about his new venture in the vodka business, his subject insisted he sample a series of powerful cocktails. The headline is Double Vision all round www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/Magazine/article1476407.ece
Rudd built the interview around those drinks, with the recipes for Cocktail No 1, No 2 etc appearing at regular points through the piece. Then, cleverly, as each new cocktail was consumed, he switched to a new area of Aykroyd's life to talk about. So, under cocktail No 1 it was how he got into distilling vodka and related points about cocktails. After No 2 he reprises Aykroyd's life and career, and so on. As the interview goes on the writer gets more and more drunk.
Ending a feature – the circle technique
Examples of the broken up feature
The weekly free Sport magazine (www.sport-magazine.co.uk/features) uses large pictures and short reads, often breaking text up into top 10s.
Its interviews are in Q and A format, with the questions in bold so that you can scan down to spot something that grabs you, rather than having to read the whole thing.
Another free magazine, Shortlist (www.shortlist.com) uses similar techniques.
Features are broken up and presented often as lists, such as Famous Films in Two Frames: www.shortlist.com/cool-stuff/design/famous-films-in-two-frames
Here’s a Q and A interview: www.shortlist.com/entertainment/films/michael-keaton-i-m-batman-i-m-very-secure-in-that and a quiz: www.shortlist.com/entertainment/sport/who-said-it-footballer-or-philosopher.
Examples of features that offer other great lessons in good writing and/or structure
Nailing the subject
This profile of Tony Armstrong (www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/Magazine/article1454938.ece?shareToken=c779a7b049f7478b0b78524a4965f25e) gets to his essence with the writer's realisation that there are two Tonys: the chummy chap, and the man who married into the royal family. When the writer realised that, they had their focus, and their structure.
Coping with a difficult interviewee
Using a mix of charm and grovelling to get through to a tough subject: www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/Magazine/article1479094.ece?shareToken=a528e3868c56e6a67aa904e0caa97776
Other good feature writers
The links typically go to just one feature, you’ll find plenty more examples from most authors by searching for them on www.journalisted.com
A A Gill
Adrian Levy & Cathy Scott-Clark
15C4 How to write a profile
Another example of a profile:
15C5 How to write a review
Christina Lamb book review example: www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/culture/books/article78715.ece
Big Linda review example: www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/culture/music/article78710.ece
15C6 Columns and other first-person pieces
Caitlin Moran example: www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/magazine/article4174026.ece
Jeremy Clarkson features:
Giles Coren features: www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/profile/Giles-Coren
15C7 Creating in-depth packages for websites
Mark Payton, digital editorial director at Haymarket Consumer Media, outlining the importance of in-depth coverage online.
Examples of in-depth content areas
In the book we discuss the merits of the following archive and special content areas.
Here are some examples of how in-depth content areas are organised:
You'll find the BBC's special reports section here www.bbc.co.uk/news/special_reports/
The BBC archives special reports on major events, including natural disasters, major conflicts, the progress of world leaders including presidents and popes. Not all the stories remain current, but those that are can be updated periodically as news develops.
All reports are divided into news, comment, and then a series of areas that give context and background.
So, for example, the one on Pope Francis here (www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-21701046) has a profile of Francis and another on the Vatican, an explanation of how popes are elected, a clickable guide to St Peters Square, a virtual Sistine Chapel to explore, a glossary of Roman Catholic terms and traditions, a portrait of the Catholic church globally and many more items.
Another Special Report is of 9/11 10 years on: www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-14760962
While its centrepiece is an extensive account of how America marked that anniversary, the analysis of how the world has changed since then is probably the most valuable element in a special report such as this.
There is much material from 11 September 2001 itself, which captures the unfolding horror, and other material that gives the full background and context. Major events since, such as the death of Bin Laden, are also covered in depth.
Another you might like to look at covers the conflict in the Middle East: www.bbc.co.uk/news/special_reports/middle_east_crisis/
CNN's specials are linked to from here: http://edition.cnn.com/specials
One example is a special on the Eurozone Crisis: http://edition.cnn.com/specials/business/euro-crisis/index.html
It leads on the latest news, and has sections focused on analysis, a 'blag your way' guide that gives an outline of the elements you need to know about in order to understand the crisis, a section on how the crisis impacts on the rest of the world. There are also profiles of key figures such as Angela Merkel and an Editor's Choice section which provides pointers to a number of individual news stories that help give you a through overview of the subject.
However, I find it hard to go to one place that will give me a crisp summary and introduction to the subject.
Another CNN report is more of a campaign, and is driven less by one overarching developing story than a concern about a social issue: modern day slavery: http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/
Very often, what appear to be areas of organised, in-depth coverage do not give anything like the structured break-down of a major story that I've been discussing.
Too many supposed special, in-depth areas or sites use the technique of pulling in stories that have a particular subject tag, and the result is highly unsatisfying.
The Guardian, which is in many ways a superlative multimedia offering, does it. Here are links to three examples.
Privacy and the media
The problem is that, while there is plenty of relevant content, it is not organised coherently. The reader has to sift through it to try to find the thing they want, and context, background and overview is hard to find.