How to Approach Timeliness in Feature Writing

We have just published an interview feature on The Record¹¹ newspaper’s website and I want to clarify how to approach timeliness in feature writing. This is because it appears some young writers are confused about how long they are permitted to take to compose a feature story.

Although a feature story can take longer to assemble and publish than a straight news story, undue delay can make the subject irrelevant. It may seem stale and over-flogged by the time your story is out. For that reason, I recently disallowed a story based on first-year orientation on campus. The writer took her sweet time with it.

What to bear in mind though is that there are different types of features which allow different levels of timeliness.

A news feature, for instance, is a story about an event which requires feature treatment. Since the story is event-based, you don’t need to do extensive research to report it. You just need to add the necessary background and tell the story of the event in a leisurely or entertaining manner.

However, one may choose to write a different kind of feature as an offshoot of an event which has been covered in straight news and news features. You may focus on a personality involved in the event or an aspect of the event.

Take the last edition of the Youth Digest Campus Journalism Awards held in December last year as an example. The event was covered in different media. A student recently decided to interview the overall winner and get more information about her journalism journey, her niche and vision. Since the winner still holds the position she won and applications for the next edition of the contest typically close by the end of October each year, the story is still timely.

But when you write a story on a subject later than others, you must ensure you have a fresh angle so that readers can find good reason to give it their attention.

Another student can choose to do a story on campus journalism outfits in different schools and how they are doing, possibly looking at the schools some of the winners of the awards have come from.

Other possible offshoots could be utility features on how to write award-winning articles, how to give public speeches (prepared and extemporaneous) and how to build a writing portfolio to impress employers.

Someone could also choose to do an interpretative feature on the work of journalists in the contemporary age and the significance of it.

Such stories would usually include information about the awards which inspired writing them, pointing out their aim and some past winners as background material. The writers may even mention other similar awards.

What makes these stories relevant is that they may expose new people to these awards, some schools may be challenged to establish or improve their campus journalism outfits, prospective contestants would find the guidelines for excelling in their writing and public speaking helpful ….

But if you want to write a feature story on an issue like the crisis emanating from the scarcity of new Naira notes, your story should be submitted while the crisis is ongoing, except you want to draw lessons from the fiasco in hindsight. So the more fleeting the issue, the faster you should work on it.

Takeaway: Write feature stories based on events and fleeting issues faster but take more time to address their offshoots or features that address matters outside the news.


¹The Record newspaper is published by the Department of Mass Communication, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

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