Feature writing: Why telling someone’s story is better than any FOIA request

Nothing. Not schemes. Not FOIA requests. Not breaking a story. Nothing compares to the love I have for feature writing.

Do I get excited when breaking news occurs? Hell yeah. What journalist wouldn’t? Do I love being the first to tell an important story that impacts an entire community? Um… Yeah. I do. Do I love asking the tough questions and providing readers with important information that can affect their daily lives? Abso-frackin’-lutely.

But I love feature writing more. I love the description. The ability to tell someone’s story. Taking a walk in someone else’s shoes. (Please, ignore the terrible use of a cliche. I am trying to make a point.) Bringing other peoples successes and failures to life with a few questions and some creative thinking. I love it. I love it so much.

Even though you keep your distance and remain impartial, becoming a part of someone’s life just long enough to tell their story requires a great amount of trust between yourself and the subject. It’s a big deal. And some could argue that getting someone to open up about their personal life is much more of a challenge than tracking down a corrupt government official. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. But some might.

One example that comes to mind is a two-part series I wrote for The Alestle about a student (a speech communication major) who uses a wheelchair getting handicap buttons installed outside of the speech comm department offices. At first, it seemed like a pretty straightforward news story. But this girl was willing to talk about anything and everything. She let me into her world and allowed me to see things from her perspective.

In fact, I ended up finding out that we attended school in the same district (different high schools) before going to SIUE. And, I gave her a ride back to campus the weekend I was working on the story. During that time we did the interview. She didn’t have to go on and on like she did, making the interview take up almost the entire 45-minute drive from St. Louis to Edwardsville. But she did. She told story after story, without much asking, and allowed me to create one of the favorite stories I’ve ever written.

It wasn’t just about her making a change on campus. It was about her life. Her accomplishments. It was her life’s story. And I loved being the one to tell it.

You just don’t get the same satisfaction from a well-written news story that perfectly uses inverted pyramid as you do from crafting the words that reveal someone’s life to the world. There’s nothing like it.

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