Difference Between Hard News and Features in Magazines

Couple reading magazines at breakfast

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Most of us don’t give a lot of thought to the technical definition of what we’re reading when we open a newspaper, print publications, or access online articles. Not all news stories are created equal, and if you’re considering a career in journalism, your success can hinge on knowing the difference between a straight news piece and a feature. 

Features Are Defined by Length and Style

A feature is typically longer than a standard news story. It’s written in a different writing style, usually with more detail and background information based on more extensive research than would be required to simply report a news event. Features can vary widely—you might write a news feature, an arts feature, or a human interest feature. Although the term implies softer news, a feature is often defined by its length and style, not necessarily its subject matter. The style component is important; features humanize events and issues rather than reciting facts.

It's the writer's job to make sure readers care about the event they're writing about. You might accomplish this in your opening paragraphs, hooking your readers, then move on to more of the nuts and bolts of your topic.

Features in Magazines

Features often appear in magazines, but they may also appear in newspapers and on websites, and readers tend to prefer them over straight-line hard news reports. You'll usually find a magazine's features toward the middle section of a magazine, known as the "feature well."

How to Write a Feature

Writing a feature begins with two important factors: your topic and how much space you can devote to it—your assigned word count. You must work within these parameters, which means you can’t stray off-topic. You should, however, go into as much depth as possible, which usually includes conducting interviews and gathering background information. For example, a news report might read: “Witnesses report that the pipe burst at 1:32 p.m.,” while a feature might read: “Joe Smith said he saw the pipe burst from his kitchen window at 1:32 p.m. just as he was cleaning up from lunch. 'Water shot 10 feet high and drenched everyone in sight,' Smith said.”

Features typically include expert opinions. In the above example, you might get statements from a knowledgeable pipefitter explaining likely problems the pipe may have had that led to the burst. If any passersby sustained injuries, a news report would most likely cite the number of injured bystanders; a feature would delve into whether the city or municipality that was responsible for maintaining the pipe might be liable for those injuries. It could include a statement from someone in authority at the city or municipality regarding the incident and whether that person believes any negligence might have occurred.

The idea behind a feature is to go one step further. You’re not just telling your reader what happened—you’re explaining why it’s important, who is affected, and presenting the big picture.