Co-wrote an article with friend and colleague Brian Poulter that has been published in the current issue of Teaching Journalism & Mass Communication. This evolved from a workshop we presented at several conferences on ways to improve writing skills by employing photographic approaches. Check it out.
As you develop features and profiles, don’t forget to focus on conflict, a driving force in all storytelling. A profile story without conflict is typically as exciting to read as someone’s resume. Don’t just cite someone’s accomplishments and stats, sprinkled with some general comments. Instead, tell stories that involve your characters, scenes, plots, and conflict. That means you’ll need to dig through articles, observe locations, and interview as many people as possible in order to find a compelling angle. During interviews, keep talking until you find a major conflict. Once this person starts talking, listen for visual markers and other specific details that will enable you to paint the story more clearly. If this information is not supplied, ask for it – “What was the weather like?” “Where were you standing?” “Describe the trail you ran on.” “What did the heat feel like?” There are a million ways to write a profile, or feature, but there is really one primary factor that drives these stories – conflict. So go find it. Your readers will be most thankful.
Look at most college newspaper sports sections and you’ll see pretty much the same thing – stories about games: Precedes, folos, sidebars, columns. Sometimes, live tweets. Unfortunately, few college sports sections focus on stories outside the lines, as the Indiana Daily Student did this week. Why the dirth of non-game coverage? Habit. Laziness. Lack of imagination. Probably a little of each. To be fair, sports journalism newbies lack the perspective and context to drive these off-the-field stories. As aresult, student media advisers and journalism professors need to guide students away from exclusively covering games and to be sports reporters. It’s far easier to write about a sports event, where everything takes place in front of you and where sports information directors feed all kinds of background, stats, and key plays before setting up post-game interviews. To write a story like IDS’s Stephanie Kuzydym, you’ll need to think more creatively, do considerable research, and ask numerous follow-up questions. One more thing – as you read this story, notice how well this writer tells the story in her own voice, without inserting quotes every other graph. The story is a pleasure to read.