Books & Literature

Book Review: Writing Feature Stories, by Matthew Ricketson & Caroline Graham

A thought-provoking book that should help feature writers become comfortable in both the print and online worlds, featuring exercises and discussion topics.

The first edition of Writing Feature Stories was published by Matthew Ricketson in 2004. He has worked as a journalist for The Age, The Australian and Time Australia magazine and is currently Professor of Journalism at the University of Canberra. For the revised 2nd edition, Caroline Graham, an award winning journalism lecturer at Bond University, joined Ricketson.

This 2nd edition has been updated to reflect the many new media platforms available to writers and some of the challenges of each different type. In this arena of new technologies, the book is thought-provoking and suggests that feature writers need to be comfortable in the print and online worlds – rather than seeing an either/or division. Both have much to offer and blending the two may provide the reader/viewer with a great experience.

Given the 24/7 bombardment of news and information overload we all experience, one might question the need for feature stories. I agree with the authors that as the ‘hard news’ we used to see, hear or read shrinks, pushed aside by ‘infotainment’, the role of long form journalism becomes even more important to help us understand not just what is happening, but also why.

As an aspiring writer, I found Chapter 5 Generating fresh story ideas especially helpful. As my editor will attest, I read voraciously and already use some of the often-overlooked sources the authors mention. I look into details such as history (the story behind the story); I try to follow up stories where so often I’m left asking ‘And then what happened?’, and silent voices – why are they absent from mainstream media and what do they have to say?

Practical exercises and discussion questions within and at the end of chapters serve to reinforce the information provided. Here’s an extract from an exercise to help find a story idea: note down three strange things you’ve seen this year; think of three old wives tales or myths/legends you could investigate; list five things happening in the news (page 103). I found the exercises useful, enjoyable and often stimulating too.

Less enjoyable are the infographics which, according to Wikipedia, are ‘visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly’ (source). The ‘graphic’ part is barely present and the array of various sizes and shapes of text boxes does not in any sense ‘clearly’ present the information. Perhaps it’s a function of my age that I prefer either text or graphics, not a mishmash of the two.

This, however, is a minor criticism of a very useful book that is eminently readable and accessible, full of good ideas and suggestions and uses up-to-date articles and popular culture references to assist readers to understand the concepts presented.

I highly recommend it for all aspiring feature writers.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Rating out of 10:  8

Released by: Allen & Unwin
Release Date: February 2017
RRP: $44.99

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