Our Content Producer Benjamin Strum enrolled in Kathy Marks' Feature Writing class and learned some cool things.
It was late on a Thursday morning and I'd forgotten that I enrolled in Kathy Marks' Feature Writing class. At 11:55, the buzz of an iCal notification saw me quickly unplug a work laptop and race downstairs. I felt strange. How would students react to a college staff member attending their Journalism course? How would it feel going back to school six years after graduating from university?
Admittedly, I was awestruck by Kathy Marks before we'd even met. I'd seen the Walkley Award-winning journalist ask questions at Macleay's guest lectures. Her Manchester twang had a musical cadence; her articulation was so precise that I was unsurprised to learn of her achievements.
Walking into Room 1.04, my nerves about going 'back to school' quickly eased. Kathy was sitting next to seven students around a small table. "So, why have you chosen to take Feature Writing?" she asked, eager to learn more about her pupils.
Kathy Marks (centre) with Journalism graduates.
We went around the room, taking turns to share our aspirations. Kathy barely mentioned her own illustrious career, which includes a nearly two decades-long stint as Asia-Pacific Correspondent for The Independent, a Ned Kelly Award for True Crime Writing and, of course, a Walkley Award (Australia's most prestigious journalism prize) in 2013.
Before completing twelve weeks in her classroom, I'd assumed that writing ability was a case of nature not nurture. But Ms Marks proved me wrong. Anyone can follow in Kathy's footsteps and learn to write a great feature!
Here are the top tips I learned from Feature Writing with Kathy Marks:
Set the Scene
It's vital to convey a sense of place. A good journalist will use words to transport readers into the world of their story. Painting a picture makes the difference between an article being read or put down.
Include a News Peg
Having niche interests is good, but no one wants to read 'Twenty Ways to Use Flaxseed Oil' if it doesn't relate to events in the news cycle. The best feature articles have an original take on a subject but still pertain to current affairs. This helps to engage your readers. For example, a feature profile on an eccentric barista might be relevant if council construction is blocking the entrance to their cafe.
Have a Nut Graph
What's a nut graph, you ask? Well, it's the abbreviation for 'nutshell paragraph' – one that should explain the crux of your story. The nut graph will tell us: what's the story really about and why should we care? The nut graph should high up in the story.
Show, Don't Tell
Don't underestimate your audience. Vivid descriptions and dialogue allow audiences to infer information. It's more engaging to read about a President eating greasy food with his fingers than it is to be told that he is piggish.
Use Different Kinds of Evidence
Writing a feature is a bit like being a detective. In a feature opinion piece, utilise three types of evidence to back up an argument: anecdotal, factual and expert. Factual evidence could be statistics or surveys. Anecdotal evidence is stuff that's happened to you or someone else that supports your argument. Expert testimony is supplied by relevant professionals.
Keep Yourself Out Of The Story
First-person is not the perspective from which to write a feature. You should be invisible. Even in an opinion piece, only use 'I' when sharing a personal anecdote.
Have a Call to Arms
If you are writing an opinion piece, develop a clear argument. A good op-ed will end with a call to arms and have a conversational tone.
The best feature stories give new insights into burning issues. Always ask: how does my work contribute to a broader conversation?
Why choose a Macleay College Journalism Course?
At Macleay College we believe in real world course content to ensure you're job ready.
- Our course material and teaching method incorporates the latest industry practices and real world experience.
- Our lecturers have industry experience and up-to-date knowledge.
- Our small classes feature personalised teaching that nurtures your unique strengths.
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