English 307, Feature Writing

Instructor: Kim Pearson

Asst. Professor of English

Fall Semester, 1997

Office Hours: Tues, Thurs, 2-5pm, and by appointment

104 Bray Hall




This course will allow you to become proficient in writing short features for newspapers and magazines. We begin with a foundation in hard news reporting: the classic inverted pyramid. Then, we examine the kinds of stories below the fold on page one, and throughout the rest of the paper: the news analysis pieces, opeds, profiles,lifestyle stories and investigative stories. These are all common types of feature stories. Every writer who hopes to make a living in print or electronic media needs to know how to create these kinds of stories.

In particular, this semester, the entire class will work on one large story: Is the recent reported drop in crime real, or a numbers game? For reasons that will soon become clear, we will focus upon New York City. This investigative story will form the basis of a special issue of UNBOUND, the online news magazine created by journalism students at this college. This will require the accomplishment of many tasks simultaneously:completing the background readings, forming and participating in reporting teams, and participation in the editorial process. Thus, each of you will be required to lead class and e-mail discussions of the the readings, turn in bi-weekly reporting journals, and write four 1000-word stories, at least two of which must be ofsufficient quality and newsworthiness as to justify inclusionin the special issue. The stories that are selected for UNBOUNDmust be in HTML format, and you must supply documentation for fact-checking purposes. They MUST be submitted in both paperand electronic form, or the assignment will be considered incomplete.


For Purchase:

Public Affairs Reporting

Handbook of Feature Writing

Reporting for the Media or AP Stylebook

On Reserve:

Bouza, Anthony. The Police Mystique

Fallaci, Orianna. Interview With History

Mitford, Jessica. Poison Penmanship

Vera Institute for Criminal Justice; New York City Crime Atlas

Vera Institute for Criminal Justice: Crime Vicitmization Studies

Grading Policies

Grades will be based on combination of grades on first drafts of stories, final portfolios, participation in writing and reporting teams, homework assignments and class participation.

Class Requirements

An e-mail address to me by 9/8: 5 percent

One panel presentation of readings, posting of e-mail discussion questions to the class list: 10 percent

Thoughtful responses to any 5 e-mail questions during the course of the semester, posted to the class list -- 10 percent

Bi-weekly reporting journals from each reporting team, distributed to me and each team leader -- 15 percent (group grade

Four 1,000-word stories, as specified above -- 50 points

Fullfillmeent of editorial responsibilities as assigned -- 10 percent

Grading Criteria
A Logic and facts are in order. Writing and reporting are clear, effective, and interesting. No substantial spelling, grammar or mechanical errors. Presentations are delivered in the appropriate style and format, within the established time frame.
B Logic and facts are in order. The writing are clear and competent. Errors are minimal.
C The writing is thoughtful and produced with care. Some errors.
D An effort has been made to meet the requirements of the assignment, but substantial work is needed.
F The requirements have not been addressed.
0 The work has not been handed in, and no extensions have been given.

Class Covenant

We will:

ASK whatever you want to or need to

Class Schedule


4 What feature writing is and why it matters. Introductions. Types of feature stories. Look at .Pulitzer Prizes site.

Discuss crime reporting story. Form reporting teams.


  1. Review VERA New York City Crime Atlas on reserve, 1994 Crime Victimization Study. Check out the VERA site.
  2. Read Public Affairs Reporting on Crime, Libel manual
  3. Read Poison Penmanship, introduction. Mandatory e-mail questions follow. Respond privately to me. Only the answer to the first question will be distributed:
4 -- What feature writing is and why it matters. Discuss types of feature stories.
9 Questions for Dr. Lola Odubekun. Is there a story here? Setting out work for reporting teams. Read CJR War Stories

11 Cultivating sources

16 Research Journalists' Toolbox

18 Interviewing: Read Fallaci -- Introduction, Interview with Kissinger

23 Fairness, context and data interpretation. One controversial example: America: Who Stole The Dream, along with commentary Series Triggers Sharp Opinions

, and threaded discussion from Inquirer Readers

25 Focus on the Criminal Justice system: Overview

Improving Criminal Justice

ACLU CJ Site list,

30 Approaches to Crime reduction -- Policy arguments -- From Left and Right The War on Drugs The War on Drugs is Lost, NRA newsletter, Noam Chomsky on Crime Policy,Th e Clinton Administration Plan


2 The Courts

The Craft of Justice

7 The Police. Read;The Police Mystique

9 Police, Crime and the Media

14 Status of Story proposals. Review Production schedules

16 Reporting on both sides of a controversy. Choose one of thefollowing pairs of interviews from the Fallaci book:

Ghandi- Bhutto


21 Youth Crime Heritage Foundation Report

23 Leads, verbs, and evocative detail. Read Rosa Lee's Story, Are The World's Fisheries Doomed?

28 Exposition Read Seeking a Good Death

30 Story status


5 Commentary. Read Pulitzer Prizes for Commentary(1997), Prize-Winning Commentary for 1996

7 Criticism. Prize-Winning articles in Criticism, 1995

12 Editorial Writing An Editorial Investigation

14 Story Status. Media Race and Power,News Reporting and Race.

Deadlines and readings tba

2 Read Nothing Sacred and be prepared to discuss

4 Film and discussion