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Example Journalism Essay
Produce a draft plan for a Feature Article on:Effects of new communications technologies on youth culture in the United Kingdom
Unlike news stories which are dictated by strict style guidelines and time and space considerations a feature article is more flexible. Having an increased number of options makes a draft plan essential to the creative process. Features may inform, entertain, persuade or amuse. A feature article goes beyond the factual brief of news and broadens the scope of the subject – features “offer an opportunity to tell the story behind the story.” This places responsibility on the writer to determine what the “story behind the story” is, why it’s worth telling and how best to tell it. Approaching the topic of the effect of new communications technologies on youth culture in the United Kingdom there are numerous possible angles. The first job of the writer is to decide which one to choose and where to pitch the idea.
A feature’s tone and content can vary widely depending on the target market. For example, an analysis of new communications technologies for a mobile phone trade magazine would be very different from one written for a pop culture magazine. For the purpose of this plan the target is a broadsheet newspaper, so the article will be addressed to a general audience who know some information about youth culture and technology, but who may not have considered the impact of one on the other. The first question to ask, and answer, is why will they care? The theme of this feature takes a cultural analysis perspective. In social discourse “language is linked with practice, truth is constructed, and power exercised,” The importance of new communications technologies on youth culture is that the truths they construct and the power they exercise will become a part of the cultural landscape as they grow up.
A focused target and robust theme are the essential building blocks of a feature. Next comes research. In this case, define the subject (does “youth” mean 14-18 years old? 16-20?) and then focus on getting the raw data: information on the types of new technology, percentage of the target age group that uses a given technology, the amount of time an average youth spends using new communications technologies. This information can be gleaned from news sources, product manufacturers and relevant related features. Good organisation is essential, use techniques such as feature files for storing all the data, contacts, questions, notes and information on a feature. The broad gist of this research should be to show that new communications technologies are widespread and widely used enough to be of serious cultural interest.
The next step is to find the human element in the facts and figures – people’s experiences distinguish features from news and bring the story to life. First identify useful potential interviewees. These include experts who can explain the function and scope of new technologies, cultural observers who can offer cultural or historical context about social change, teachers, parents and young people. Then decide what order to address them in; the order of your interviews is important to the direction of the story. Conducting interviews is a critical step. Make sure the questions and technique are suited to the subject. A teenager will respond different than a professional who is used to giving interviews. Listen and observe carefully, allow for pauses while the thinks and collect the facts objectively. When writing about young people bear in mind any legal issues. For example, publishing anything that could lead to the identification of someone under 18 who is under police investigation is an offence.
When the research and interviews are completed it is time to write the feature. Write an outline or use notes to create a first draft, paying attention to the structure (i.e., will it be chronological, bullet-points or a narrative?) Make sure there is a gripping opening using a dramatic fact or anecdote. Since the theme of the feature is the socio-cultural impact of the effect of new communications technologies on young people it might be interesting to compare the UK with other countries as a way of establishing the global significance of communication technology. For example, a study about technology use by Czech young people showing that: “CMC [computer mediated communication] is providing opportunities, before unknown, for young people to participate in post-socialist civic discourse in very creative ways” makes a thought-provoking parallel. Bearing in mind the general audience keep technical jargon to a minimum and focus on accessibility and clarity.
Boxes and sidebars are essential to features and are an economical way to convey important facts or information. Adult newspaper readers are probably not familiar with all the different new communication technologies so a box profiling the most popular communication tools could be useful. For example, “hardware versus software” outlining innovations like touch-screen mobiles, blue-tooth headsets, Twitter and Facebook Mobile.
After completing all the steps of the draft feature plan read the feature with an objective point of view. A plan is a guideline to create a professional piece of work, but if there is something missing, or something in the original plan doesn’t fit with the finished piece carefully consider and revise. The job of a feature is to speak to its audience – if the plan gets in the way then the plan needs to change.
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