Sparty shows us news features are everywhere

employableThursday, my Advanced Media Reporting students have to tell me what they are working on for their second stories.

I know how that will go.

At least a few will tell me, “I can’t think of anything in-depth. There is nothing really deep or important going on here.”

Well Col. Sherman Potter from M*A*S*H* used to have an expression for that: Horse Hockey.

I just got around to looking at the College Media Association’s Best of Collegiate Design from the last year. Hey, I’ve been busy. Right there on the first page of winners is a great story idea in the informational graphic design category. The State News at Michigan State University has a story and large graphic with the hed:

Are you employable?

The deck reads, “Recent statistics show which majors are most, least employable, how much students make in those careers.”

What a great story idea. So I Googled “are you employable? and state news” and found the story. It is based on a source I tout to students all the time. A study. And it employs a trick we discussed in class. Use a person to illustrate a larger issue. The student reporters here, Isabella Shaya and Samantha Radecki begin with a student whose major holds bleak prospects:

When psychology sophomore Derek Ortiz tells someone his major, he usually receives a questioning reaction.

Ortiz is one of 1,486 MSU students as of fall 2011 who are earning an undergraduate psychology degree – one of the most unemployable college degrees according to a recent survey.

The survey, conducted by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce published in The Wall Street Journal, used 2010 census data to compare the unemployment, earnings and popularity percentages of 173 college majors and fields.

I would have rather seen them get a quote from Ortiz up top, but they effectively let readers know that this issue is about sophomores with names and not just numbers.

In an article on a North Carolina State Student Media blog, students can find some great information and tips for not only feature writing but news feature writing. The post reminds us of William E. Blundell, a former features editor at the Wall Street Journal, and author of The Art and Craft of Feature Writing, who has a list of the five things people want to read about.

1. Small., cute things

2. People who are actors

3. Facts

4. People who are observers

5. Numbers

Those five are the essence of the news feature. In-depth or think pieces don’t have to be boring. As this article tells us, there are reporters — be one — and there are storytellers. Both are the key to effective advanced news stories. People want those facts and numbers, but the small, cute things and the people keep them reading.

When I taught a feature writing class at Missouri Southern State University, I used Blundell’s book as my text. I still have it somewhere. I might bring it back out. And if you are in my JOU 302 class this semester, you might want to read this NC State article. I have a feeling it will reappear Thursday.

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